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Sin City, a dark and brooding adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, comes to life in what is easily one of the greatest achievements in cinema history. Skilfully directed by Robert Rodriguez ( Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn) and Frank Miller himself, and with a special guest directorial cameo from Quentin Tarantino, Sin City is the quintessential embodiment of stylistic overdrive and sensational creativity that almost single-handedly pushes cinema to a new, and very definitive level. Sin City might not have been the box office sensation that Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith was this summer, and it might not have garnered as much mainstream popularity as Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds either, but in twenty years time only one of these films will be spoken of in every day film conversation, and it won’t be Star Wars: Episode III or War of the Worlds.

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Movie
Now, as I sit here, awash in the supple glow of my computer screen, with my fingers poised over the keys awaiting the command to strum, I find myself thinking long and hard of Sin City. What could I possibly say about it that hasn’t already been said before, and without making this review seem like a rehash of almost every other review out there? Sure I could ramble on and on about how amazingly cool and brilliant it is – but that would surely qualify as a retread, right? The truth is, Sin City is so good, and so poignant a film, that the only way to actually comment on it in some structured way would be to effectively ‘geek-out’. There is no way in hell this film can be reviewed without the need to get overexcited. Sin City is just one of those films I am afraid.

"I love hitmen. No matter what you do to them, you don't feel bad."
- Marv

I’ll never forget the day I went to see it at the cinema earlier this year. I sat there in a dead silence as the black and white images flickered before my eyes; it was a memory I will forever treasure. With every passing second I knew this film was going to be a cult classic; you can literally see it happen before your eyes. Scene after scene passes, and with every one of them the film seems to reach a higher plateau, and eventually it reaches a point where every thought and feeling you may have had in your body has vaporised into thin air.  All this might sound phoney and over the top, but like all the greats of cinema, Sin City is able to put you in the very centre of all the happenings in the film, which completely eludes you from the world that surrounds you. You’ll watch this and have every one of your senses pushed to their absolute limit. The only way I can describe the experience is to call it exhilarating. Sin City is a truly sensational thrill ride the likes of which no other film in 2005 has come close to matching, at least not as of writing.

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Now rumoured to have a few sequels in the pipeline (based on Miller’s other publications), this first chapter of Sin City houses a complex series of intertwining stories, and each told by different people and in their own unique style. Though voice-over-commentary is used in each of these bloody and excessively gritty tales, the film never once feels like a glamorized documentary – although in essence that is perhaps exactly what it is. Granted, it is a very dark, hellishly gory and eccentrically stylized one, but in its truest form that would be my best way of describing the narrative on offer here. We follow these inhabitants of Sin City around as they do what they do (and kill who they kill) in their worldly quests. The best story of the three we follow would probably be Marv’s, and his quest for revenge after his one-night-stand (Goldie) is found murdered by his side the following day. It doesn’t take him long to track down one of the weirdest on-screen characters ever seen – the bespectacled Kevin, played brilliantly, and silently by Elijah Wood. The other story centres on the soon-to-be retiring cop, Hartigan (Bruce Willis) who becomes embroiled in a disturbing case of paedophilia, rape and murder. He is eventually framed and incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. The last story deals with Dwight’s (Clive Owen) attempt at covering up a terrible, law affecting incident when a corrupt bully-like cop is savagely killed.

"The Valkyrie at my side is shouting and laughing with the pure, hateful, bloodthirsty joy of the slaughter... and so am I."
- Dwight

All of the stories intertwine and are fractured – such as with Quentin Tarantino movies – into a pleasingly complex arrangement. And with everything not running chronologically, you can expect to have to use a decent amount of brainpower to keep ahead. I know a good deal of people who don’t have the patience to sit though a film like this, which is a great shame – there aint no brain stimulant quite like a good old fractured movie in my opinion. Sin City, and everything that encompasses it, is clearly inspired by hardcore film noir. It even has a distinctive whiff of such classics as Dick Tracy, to give it that vintage edge and a touch of built-in nostalgia. The keen eyed will also notice a strange fusion of old and modern technology on display within the movie. Some of the cars appear to be vintage classics, while others are akin to the Ferrari’s, for example. You might also notice the use of mobile-phone like devices that populate this world, as well as classic receiver type phones. It is certainly a bizarre concept, but it actually works very well and feels perfectly organic. If there is one thing to be said of Sin City's concept, then it would be that this is not meant to be a real-life world with real-life characters, it is very much a comic-book fantasy world, and with only the faintest trace of reality grounding.

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Jessica Alba is an actress you will either love or hate. If you, like me, feel that she plays far too many of those characters you’d just love to slap, then you will be pleased to hear that her role in Sin City – though still having a trace of her usual bitchy energy – is a little more agreeable. I still think her place on the credits is misplaced, however. If you are a fan, then you already know that her name appears first on the opening credit sequence – something I have always found to be strange considering the on-screen time she has and especially in light of her bigger co-stars; Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Clarke Duncan and Josh Hartnett to name but a few. Aside from that, all of the casting choices were pitch-perfect and all of the actors become their characters from the pages as if it were magic. I cannot think of anybody out of place or anybody that would qualify as being miscast.

"When it comes to reassuring a traumatized 19-year-old, I'm about as expert as a palsy victim doing brain surgery with a pipe wrench."
- Hartigan

The visuals work on Sin City is exceptional. Shot entirely against a blue/green screen, one would think that its forty-five-million-dollar budget would be inadequate and far too slender to allow for a truly cinematic experience – wrong! I can honestly say, and without fear of contradiction, that Sin City is the best example of full-on digital cinema produced thus far – and significantly more so than George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels. The imagery here is top notch, and then some. Whereas George Lucas has no shame in making everything look digital – even his characters – Robert Rodriguez uses the same technique but to considerably greater effect. He somehow uses the cons of digital cinema as pros, and the way he does this is actually sheer genius. By making almost everything digital – cars, walls, snow, trees and so on – the film evokes a very unique live-action comic book feel that has to be seen to be believed. Sin City literally looks and feels like the pages of a comic book are coming to life before your eyes – and no, before you ask, it does not look like a black and white cartoon or videogame.

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A great example of this effect can be seen when Hartigan (Bruce Willis) approaches an ominously lit barn door in the snow. The snow and the barn door, and even the spherical glow of the light on the door, is evidently digital, but Willis looks like he is in the scene, yet the imagery has a very weird, cerebral and startlingly vivid look about it. You’d really have to see it to appreciate how amazing it looks, but this type of imagery is everywhere in Sin City, and much of it makes for the type of classic shots that can often stick in the mind forever. Yet another example of this would be when Marv (Mickey Rourke) takes out a couple of hitmen in a dark alleyway. The walls of the alley are digital, and Marv’s shadow on the wall behind him is too. You can tell both the wall and the shadow are computer generated, because every camera movement picks up on the effect in the way we’ve seen before in other movies.

"The silencer makes a whisper of the gunshot. I hold her close until she's gone. I'll never know what she was running from. I'll cash her check in the morning."
- The Man

But this technique isn’t how you might think it from all the hype and glamorous detailing. We’ve all seen cheesy bluescreen effects in films before, and in George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels we have seen even unnecessary items digitized, but in Sin City the effect is used to paint every frame with a look and style that cannot be matched anywhere. Every scene of Sin City has been hand-crafted to perfection; not a single frame of this movie can be flawed and not a single frame looks dull or boring; quite the opposite actually – every frame is timeless. Of all the uses of CGI in any film – even my beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy – Sin City beats them all for digital creativity and reproduction.

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The film also mixes slashes of colour and experimental imagery into the predominately black and white frame. Goldie (Jamie King), for example, has a monochrome face, yet bright, golden locks of rippling hair. Kevin (Elijah Wood) often has the lenses of his spectacles digitally whitened to give him a very dangerous, maniacal appearance, owing to the fact that his eyes are almost always masked. Most of the blood in the movie is either the usual crimson red or the brightest white you’ve ever seen. And Yellow Bastard is, well, yellow. Yet amid all of the black and white, his skin tones looks simply amazing. Put simply, Sin City is the best digital, visual film ever made, and strangely enough, despite its immense use of computer technology, never feels like some sort of CGI blow-out. Think of marvellous black and white images of Citizen Kane, and the very best elements from digital cinema, and that is the cinematography and imagery presentation of Sin City.

"It's time to prove to your friends that you're worth a damn. Sometimes that means dying, sometimes it means killing a whole lot of people."
- Dwight

One of the most eagerly awaited things about Sin City was the long rumoured Quentin Tarantino directorial cameo. For those who have not yet seen this film, I would love to be able to tell you that Mr. Pulp Fiction himself had a great and highly memorable scene to oversee, but sadly I was somewhat letdown myself when I first saw Sin City. His cameo scene is both short and not as creatively potent as it could have been (especially for a man of his unquestionable talents). It isn’t Tarantino’s fault though; the scene in question just wasn’t long enough or able enough to showcase his abilities. I am not saying that his scene was bad or anything, just that I would have been more interested in seeing something a little more ambitious. Still, Sin City isn’t and was never meant to be a Quentin Tarantino film, but merely a case of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller allowing him to direct a small segment in their film. In this regard, his scene plays out well, and definitely adds to the overall greatness and coolness of the film.

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There are come very interesting factual pieces regarding Sin City – the most interesting of which would probably have to be Robert Rodriguez quitting the DGA (The Directors Guild of America) when they refused to let him make Sin City with co-directors Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino. Apparently there is some clause in the DGA system that will not allow for multiple directors on a single project. I also believe that by walking out of the DGA, Rodriguez would not be able to petition Sin City for the Academy Awards. But that didn’t matter to Rodriguez – he had a film to make and a vision to fulfil, and no bureaucratic way of thinking was going to stop him from doing that. If the DGA had indeed had their way, it is very possible Sin City would not have been the masterpiece it is today. Who knows; it may never have gotten made at all…

"You keep holding out on me like this, and I'm going to have to get really nasty."
- Marv

Sin City is one of my all-time top-ten films. I would have never thought that on that day – when I strolled into my local cinema complex with an overflowing bucket of popcorn and an ice-cold soda – that I would emerge having seen a true cinematic gem which would take a hold of me, and inspire me further in the art of filmmaking. It isn’t a film for everyone, but those who do appreciate it will likely love it. Rarely do I hand out a perfect score, but Frank Miller’s Sin City was an easy choice for such an accolade. Sin City is moviemaking perfection, and a timeless, enduring classic that is one of the absolute finest. Just as Quentin Tarantino will forever be remembered for Pulp Fiction, Robert Rodriguez will for Sin City. This is his masterpiece, his work of art, and his contribution to the slender list of greatest ever films. If all of that sounds over-zealous and a little too hard to believe, why not check it out for yourself and you can see what all the fuss is about. Like it or loathe it, Sin City is cinematic brilliance of the highest order.

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Video
Perfect! Yes, you read that right; this transfer can be described in no other way. I’ve seen Sin City twice on DVD now; one was on my Panasonic 100Hz screen, the other on my Sony Projector – both were equally stunning. With the imagery being predominantly black and white, everything was embellished with the illusionary crispness you’d come to expect from monochrome, but with the digital pioneered technology to send it even further. Almost all of the on-screen artefacts we are used to seeing in pretty much the greater percentage of DVDs is non-existent on the Sin City transfer. This easily contributes to the visual glamour of the film, and perhaps enhances the overall mood and tonal emotion the visual artists were aiming for.

Scenes with heavy on-screen activity and complexity are handled with pitch-perfect precision on this transfer, and almost all of the colours in the movie come though very well. The only scene that seemed to struggle slightly on my 100 Hz Screen was the opening shot of the woman in the spectacular red ‘glitter’ dress. I found the crispness and overall detail on her dress seemed to be lacking to the point where the individual jewels were not clearly distinguishable. Everything else looked great though, not least Yellow Bastard; who is often seen looking very seedy and grimy, and the detail of his clothes and vivid matte skin look spectacular.

Contrast and luminosity throughout the other colour segments are also beautifully handled, so too are all of the monochrome shots. Quentin Tarantino’s scene, which captures bright neon colours of varying tones and set against a black and white car interior, looks fabulous. There is no one scene that stands out above any other in Sin City, there are simply far too many shots that push the black and white/colour palette well beyond anything we’ve ever seen before. What you get with this movie – and this transfer – is wildly stunning ‘freeze-frame’ imagery that is both highly artistic and elegantly preserved on DVD for you to enjoy time after time.

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Audio
It has been a while since I have reviewed a disc with both a Dolby Digital and DTS soundtrack on offer. It was quite a nice little surprise, therefore, when I discovered this film was going to have two soundtracks to choose from. In this case, I always, admittedly opt for the DTS track, but for reviewing purposes I sample both. Bass, and all other lower frequencies were definitely stronger on the DTS track, and the higher end of the audio spectrum was also superior on the DTS track. Dialogue was crisper, music was richer and more polished, and the finer subtleties were blended more smoothly into the background.

I don’t wish to make the Dolby 5.1 score out to be poor or substandard – it certainly wasn’t – but the benefits of DTS are certainly noticeable to audio appreciators and those with sensitive hearing. Some DVDs with both soundtrack options are practically indistinguishable, but I found the DTS score on Sin City to be a notable, if not downright commendable improvement over the Dolby alternative. If you have a system that supports DTS, I would advise you to activate it on this disc.

Extras
Containing only one featurette (I can almost smell a special edition brewing already), the Sin City DVD isn’t exactly going to wow the hoards of eagerly awaiting fans with content and depth, but should serve its barebones purpose until the new disc comes out. The feature, which can be accessed directly from the funky animated menu system, is simply entitled ‘Behind the Scenes’. The three major big guns behind this film (Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino) are interviewed and spill their thoughts and feelings on various aspects of the production, and there’s also segments with Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba and just about everybody else involved. Even though it only runs for ten minutes, this abridged 'making of' feature was one of the best of its kind I have ever seen. Though that will score the extras section a point higher, the real meat on the forthcoming special edition has to be fantastic. I fully expect a commentary from the writers and directors, and one from the technical staff too, not to mention a huge array of in-depth features covering everything that is Sin City – even the original comic itself.

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Overall
Sin City is one of those rare and highly exceptional films that only come along once every blue moon. Like it or completely loathe it, you cannot deny that the endlessly spectacular imagery, the exquisite execution and the sheer cool factor of this film is well beyond most others. Sin City raises the bar for comic book and literary adaptations so high, and so far out of sight that it is hard to imagine anything else surpassing it any time soon – if ever. If you have yet to see it then I cannot recommend it highly enough, and I would urge you to do so as quickly as possible. If you are already a fan, or you enjoyed it at the cinema, then you are still going to want to pick up this excellent DVD, even in spite of the fact that this is merely a barebones that will be replaced by a big and juicy special edition in the coming months. Not only do you get the amazing cinematic version of the movie, but hands down a brilliant digital image transfer and one hell of a Dolby/DTS soundtrack that will tide you over until Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller decide to unleash another dose of Sin City upon us.


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