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My recent purchase of From Dusk Till Dawn was accompanied by the Blu-ray purchase of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s gritty Sin City, a film I really enjoyed at the cinema and in its various DVD incarnations. However, as with Dusk, I read a number of disturbing comments about the quality of the disc's video transfer. I had wanted to see the film in HD for some time, so decided to go ahead with the purchase on the basis that it wasn’t terribly expensive and I could always sell it on if I was unhappy. With the disc in my hands I decided to put this little review together to offer some of my thoughts, specifically about the video quality.

 Sin City

Feature


Robert Rodriquez and Frank Miller's Sin City is a neo-noir anthology that tells several intertwining tales against the backdrop of the permanently dark, super-corrupt Basin City. The first of these, entitled 'The Hard Goodbye', is the story of Marv, a giant bar-room brawler who wakes up next to a dead hooker named Goldie, the only woman to ever have shown him any kindness. Marv quickly realises he's been framed for murder, so he works the streets, beating information out of various lowlifes in an attempt to uncover the identity of the real killer. Along the way he encounters a silent, cannibalistic assassin and corruption at the very highest levels of the police force and the clergy, not to mention a spectre from his past.

'The Big Fat Kill' introduces us to Dwight, a murderer with a a new face who is dating barmaid Shelly. When Shelly's abusive ex-boyfriend Jackie Boy shows up and smacks her around, Dwight 'shows him the door' and then follows him and his crew to Old Town, an area of Basin City run by the prostitutes. When Jackie Boy and his friends step out of line they meet their end at the hand of deadly little Miho, enforcer for the girls of Old Town and lieutenant to Dwight's ex-lover, Gail. When they discover that Jackie Boy was in fact hero cop 'Iron Jack' Rafferty, Dwight helps the girls to dispose of the body in order to prevent the shaky truce between the prostitutes and the cops from disintegrating, allowing the mob to move in. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, there's a rat in Old Town...

 Sin City
In 'That Yellow Bastard' we catch up with Detective John Hartigan as he attempts to rescue a young girl called Nancy Callahan from the clutches of a sadistic paedophile, who just happens to be the son of a US senator. Although he successfully rescues Nancy and critically injures 'Junior' he is betrayed and shot in the back by his partner Bob, who is protecting the senator's interests. Hartigan is wrongly convicted of raping Nancy and killing several other girls and spends eight years in prison, where his only comfort comes in the form of letters secretly written to him by Nancy under the pseudonym Cordelia. When the letters abruptly stop he agrees to confess to the crimes in exchange for early parole, but soon comes to realise that his release is part of an elaborate trap set by a hideously disfigured Junior, who is seeking revenge against both Hartigan and Nancy.

Video


Alliance Atlantis present Sin City at 1.78:1 by way of an AVC-encoded 1080p/24 transfer. Detail levels are excellent; you can literally pick out every blemish on the actors' faces, every hair on their heads, and every stitch in their clothing. The brilliant whites stand out against the inky blacks, which are deep without losing shadow detail. Contrast is obviously of great importance in a film of this nature, and I'm happy to report that it's spot on. The use of colour is also incredibly effective, even more so on Blu-ray than it was on DVD. The reproduction is simply fantastic; the reds have never looked so vibrant, Goldie's hair as never looked so inviting and That Yellow Bastard has never looked yellower (or more of a bastard).

 Sin City
Now to the caveat mentioned at the beginning of the review. Before buying this disc I read a number of posts on various forums that complained about the image quality. This almost deterred me from getting the disc, but the cheap price coupled with my desire to see the film in HD eventually swayed me. Most of the negative comments related to blocking artefacts, with various people posting links to images that highlighted the issues. Personally I could not see the blocking under normal viewing conditions (sat around ten feet from my 42" LCD HDTV). The problem eluded me even after I went in for a closer look, so I resorted to turning the brightness up way past normal levels and I was finally able to see the artefact.

Now I don't know if the people who first raised this issue have significantly more sensitive equipment than me, but I'm fairly confident that my TV's black levels are calibrated reasonably well (I even double checked after this). Maybe the blocking is more evident on different types of display, such as plasma TVs or maybe even projection systems, the latter of which are usually used in conjunction with huge screens. Either way, I couldn't see it unless I really went looking for it. However, while I was closely scrutinising the screen looking for blocking, I did notice that patches of the background seemed to me moving in a very strange manner. One example of this was during 'The Hard Goodbye', when Marv wakes up in the farmhouse to find Lucille and the tiles on the walls appear to be moving, only ever so slightly, but moving nonetheless. I also noticed a similar phenomenon on the fabric of Senator Roark's jacket during his hospital visit with Hartigan in 'That Yellow Bastard'. It was very subtle and almost went without detection, but it's not present on the DVD version. I also noticed posterisation on a couple of occasions, but I seem to remember that from the DVD so it could be inherent to the source.

 Sin City
From what I understand, Sin City is due out in the UK and US at some time in the next year. Hopefully that release will arrive on a BD50 disc, which will allow for a higher bitrate encode that should remedy some or all of the video issues. In the meantime, I have a bit of a dilemma on my hands: do I acknowledge all of the faults, even though they didn't really affect my enjoyment, or do I go with a higher score? To be honest I would hope that people would read the entire review before making a decision, rather than by glancing at a number, but experience has taught me that this isn't always the case. It is for this reason that I have opted to go with a lower score, as I think the moving backgrounds alone constitute a big enough flaw to eliminate the possibility of awarding top honours (even though the blocking is't apparent on my display, it will surely infuriate those who can see it). I'll say one thing though: if future releases manage to improve upon this disc's shaky areas, they'll look truly spectacular.

Audio


The case incorrectly states a DTS 5.1 soundtrack, when in fact the disc offers full DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. I haven't watched Sin City for a while and I had forgotten just how dialogue-driven it is, but thankfully this element of the track is handled superbly. Voices come through loud and clear, even during the busiest moments, with Marv's gravelly tones serving as a particular highlight.

 Sin City
The rest of the track is also great, but not quite as impressive as a number of the recent standard-setters I've had the pleasure of listening to. The subtle things are handled well, with the gentle patter of rainfall hitting the streets creating just the right atmosphere. At times you really do feel like you're in a rain-soaked alley with police helicopters flying overhead and distant sirens wailing somewhere in the darkness. There are a number of action sequences that give the track a chance to flex its audio muscles, most of which occur during 'The Big Fat Kill'. Miho slicing and dicing, the escape from the tar pits and the final shoot-out in the alley all spring to mind. During these livelier moments the surrounds are given a plenty to do, with excellent placement of effects such as ricocheting bullets. Bass packs a decent punch without becoming overpowering, whether it be the deep rumble of the seemingly omnipresent thunder, the gunshots or one of the film's various explosions.

Rodriguez's gritty, sleazy score is a constant presence, expertly underpinning the action with it's bluesy, saxophone-heavy cues. It's placed at just the right level in the mix, never overpowering the other elements, but never getting lost amongst the carnage in the more active scenes. Although it's not as engaging as Casino Royale or as aggressive as The Incredible Hulk, this is still a fine effort.

Extras


 Sin City
As with From Dusk Till Dawn, Sin City has no extras to speak of. It's a bit of a pity really, as it would have been cool to watch the extended individual cuts. If you're looking for extras you'll probably want to wait for a more complete package to be released in the future.

Overall


Sin City is not a film for everyone. Many of the criticisms levelled at it - that it’s a one-note, violent, misogynistic exercise in style over substance - are actually pretty fair, but if you’re a fan of comic books and graphic novels it’s hard not to like the film. Never before have I seen source material so accurately recreated on the big screen, which for my money elevates it above many of lesser comic book movies of recent years.

 Sin City
So, do you buy this release or not? Well, if you're a total videophile I would suggest you hold out for the eventual release of the US or UK discs, which will hopefully remedy the video issues. However, if you're an 'average' viewer with a modest-sized HDTV and a hankering to see Carla Gugino's gorgeous figure in high-definition, the relatively low cost of this disc makes it an attractive stop-gap until something better comes along (whenever that may be). At the risk of destroying what little credibility I have as a reviewer, I still think it looks very good indeed; much better than the upscaled DVD. When you couple this with the impressive audio, I think you have a disc that's at least worth checking out if you're a big fan of the film.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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