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Basin City isn’t quite the centre of Hell, but it’s not too far either. Within the city’s borders, and sometimes on the outskirts, lives a rogues’ gallery of violent criminals, crooked cops, cannibalistic priests, murderous hookers, and castrated paedophiles. But there are also heroes in Basin City, dark and mysterious figures with violent pasts willing to do anything and everything necessary to achieve their own private brand of justice.

Sin City
In my 2005 year end wrap up I referred to Sin City as ‘likely the best major American theatrical release of the year’. I’ve grown up a bit over the last four years, and really don’t agree with that statement anymore. 2005 was a weaker year than 2006 or 2007, but it gave us Brokeback Mountain, which has aged quite well, a couple of slightly blundered near masterpiece special effects extravaganzas ( War of the Worlds[i] and [i]King Kong), the first great Star Wars film in decades (shutupIlikedit), and three real classics ( Munich, Good Night and Good Luck, and A History of Violence). Still, Sin City was a pretty cool technological step concerning affordability, and it has had an indelible impact of film as a whole.

The argument 2009 Gabe would levy against 2005 Gabe would likely not be levied had Zack Snyder’s adaptation 300 not been such a big hit. I don’t like 300, and its similarities to Sin City have developed negative connotations. This is a bad argument, of course, because Sin City did the whole Frank Miller green screen adaptation thing first, and because beyond this comparison the films are actually quite different, and most importantly, because it’s stupid to blame one film for another’s shortcomings. But I still question both my affection towards Sin City and my dislike of 300, and since I’m sure most of you have seen and already judged both films for yourselves I’m gonna harp a little longer.

Sin City
Both films are impressive technical achievements, bridging the differences between performance art and static comic art in exciting, sometimes beautiful ways, and both films often inspire with their frugality. Arguably the look of 300 is the more consistent, as is its overall dramatic tone, but it’s the inconsistencies that make Sin City more enduringly endearing, along with its snarky sense of humour. 300 is nearly humourless, save a few ironic comments, while two of the three major stories that make up Rodriguez’s film are arguably full-on dark comedies. Only That Yellow Bastard really swings for pure, dark drama, and arguably earns its shocks well beyond the more flatly represented shocks found in Snyder’s adaptation. The visual consistencies and technical achievements of Sin City are a little rough (sometimes the white blood just looks silly, and the separation of colour elements is less than perfect), but there’s an almost Dogma 95 creative charm that endures for me personally. In such a strange atmosphere the heavy handed dialogue and old school storytelling doesn’t seem so daft, or at least it seems pointedly daft.

$40 million seems a little too steep a price for the production, but likely a lot of that went to the amazing cast, and is still pretty minimal for a studio release with star clout (and 300 did cost more). The cast is a movie geek’s wet dream. All that are missing from the geek’s usual manifest are Johnny Depp and Bruce Campbell. Everyone is perfectly cast too, with one deep laceration of an exception—Jessica Alba. Not only is Alba not a good actress in general, but she’s entirely miscast in the roll, and actively sabotages the rest of the cast when on screen. Simply comparing Alba’s dim performance to those of Rosario Dawson, Carla Gugino and Brittnay Murphy reveals an onion’s worth of levels the actress simply doesn’t get the character, or how to speak the uncanny dialogue. On the other end of the spectrum, standing above the likes of Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro, and Nick Stahl (all on their top game) is Mickey Rourke. Hollywood insiders basically called 2008 for Rourke (even if Sean Penn took the best actor Oscar), but many of us remembered how good the once promising golden boy was based on this performance. Rourke perfectly balances the simplistic pathos and comedy of Marv, the indestructible oaf with a heart of gold.

Sin City

Video


The super-stylized, high contrast, ink and paint noir style utilized for Sin City actually looked pretty great on DVD, but the film was shot in high definition, and there are some compelling reasons to re-purchase it on Blu-ray. Improvements in detail are most easily seen in the fine textures of skin and clothing, as the digitally created backgrounds are purposefully so simplistic there isn’t much to miss in standard definition. Unlike many effects-heavy Blu-rays the enhanced definition actually leads to a more even melding of real and digital elements. It’s not as if realism is a big issue when it comes to our suspension of disbelief. The real reason to update your DVD is the nearly perfect blacks and whites, which are blended nicely at some times, and sharply divided others.

Rodriguez utilises digital effects to a fantastically stylized degree throughout the film, mostly to add slight sections of colour. My personal favourite effect is the reversed shadow effects as seen on brick or tiled walls, where outside a shadow a wall is white with black grout, but inside the shadow it appears black with white grout. The only effect that doesn’t really work, and is especially clear in hi-def, is the red blood against black and white faces trick, which was achieved through post production hue fiddling. Sometimes the areas that are lightly affected by blood look a little off. The longer cuts of each story all look as good as the theatrical version, though the extended sequences are a little washed out, and the blacks appear to have a slightly warm tint.

Sin City

Audio


The soundscape of Sin City isn’t quite as wide as I remember it, but is still quite expressive. Most of the surround effects are minimalist, and the majority of atmosphere is found in the eerie music. The world isn’t packed with sound effects, but when they show up the audience knows they heard them. Gun shots sound like canons, punches land like bombs, and car engines roar like a pride of lions. The spoken dialogue is plenty clear, but the narration is even better, spanning all three of the front channels, and enveloping the LFE as well, especially in the case of anything spoken by Mickey Rourke. The effect makes a clearer distinction between the dialogue and narration than was presented on the DVDs.

Sin City has an oddly singular score that riffs on more traditional ‘hard boiled’ film scores, but doesn’t quite represent any of them. The roll credits three people for the film’s music—Rodriguez himself, John Debney and Graeme Revell. Rodriguez covers some of the distribution of labour on the commentary, but not quite as much as I’d prefer. The music does mostly replace subtle sound effects, but it’s an even payoff because the score is widely represented throughout all the channels.

Extras


I suppose that the extended versions of each story counts as an extra. It's really hard to decide which way I prefer watching the film. I suppose the novelty of the additional footage has worn off now, so I slightly prefer the flow of the theatrical version, but it's a close race. If you haven't watched the longer versions yet I do strongly recommend it.

Sin City
Besides the Cine-Explore option (which doesn’t actually feature any new additions, but is a new way to view the film) the only new extra is the ‘Kill ‘Em Good’ interactive comic, which is sort of a mix of the partially animated Watchman motion comic and a not very interactive videogame. It follows the comic version of The Hard Goodbye (which was originally titled simply ‘Sin City’), which was made available with the DVD version of this release. The producers use the audio from the movie (which is presented in sharp Dolby Digital 5.1), and present some pretty decent 3D animation during the car chase section of the ‘game’. The controls are pretty unresponsive, but it’s still a neat idea, and makes one clamour for a real Sin City animated series.

The rest of the extras are how you remember them. Disc one features two incredibly entertaining and informative commentary tracks, and one silly, but fun audience reaction track. The first commentary features the film’s two chief directors, Rodriguez and Miller. Rodriguez slightly runs the track, and spends a smidgeon too much time telling Miller how great he is, but overall the tone is fully formed and an easy listen. The second track features a more technically minded Rodriguez running down the process, and making sure he thanks all the people he and Miller didn’t thank in the first track. Quentin Tarantino appears briefly to talk about his section of the film, and is equal parts grating and charming. I still want him to do a Kill Bill commentary, but can’t help but think four hours of him might be too much.

Sin City
Disc two features the ‘Kill ‘Em Good’ game along with non-anamorphic featurettes ‘How it Went Down’ (a six minute EPK that covers the basic making-of process), ‘Special Guest Director Quentin Tarantino’ (a seven minute run-down of Tarantino and Rodriguez’s relationship and the one scene Tarantino director), ‘A Hard Top with a Decent Engine’ (eight minutes about the cars of the film), ‘Booze, Broads and Guns’ (eleven minutes concerning the props), ‘Making the Monsters’ (nine minutes with KNB effects and their make-up effects), and ‘Trench Coats and Fishnets’ (seven and a half minutes about the costume design).

Disc two also features the ‘Rodriguez Special Features’, which include one of the director’s patented ‘15 Minute Flic School’ and ’10 Minute Cooking School’ entries. The flick school teaches many great lessons in hard lighting, green screening, and finding ways to overcome impossible comic book inking techniques. It also serves a great purpose as a before and after glance. It’s also never uninteresting to be reminded that many of these actors ever met. This extends to the twelve minute, fast-forwarded all green screen version of the film, which would’ve made a cool PiP extra in its normal speed entirety, like the volume footage that accompanied the HD DVD and Blu-ray releases of Beowulf. ‘The Long Take’ (eighteen minutes of behind the scenes, including an uninterrupted fourteen minute take), ‘ Sin City Live in Concert (a live performance with Bruce Willis’ band playing for the cast and crew), a trailer, and a teaser.

Sin City

Overall


So my opinion of Sin City has dipped a bit over the last few years, but not to depressing levels. It’s still a very entertaining film, and it still has a solid place in recent film history. It has a positive legacy in its use of green screens and stylized production (though George Lucas and company pretty much pioneered the digital incarnation of such filmmaking with the Star Wars prequels), but has started (in my eyes) an inadvertently negative legacy concerning steadfast devotion to source comic book material. Zack Snyder has taken both balls and run with them with 300 and Watchmen, and I think these represent both the best and worst of such films. Still, literal translation works very well for this particular post-modern comic book, and hi-def fans should enjoy the increased detail.

Before Sin City Robert Rodriguez was really only ‘that guy that makes cheap movies’, and unfortunately after Sin City he’s still that guy. His films are more respectable than good. Many fans have been desperately awaiting Sin City sequels, but I’d rather see him stretch himself further, and if he’s going to make another super-stylized green screen film I’d rather see him tackle Mike Aldred’s ‘Mad Man’, which he was rumoured to be producing before Sin City. Anyone that has read the first Mad Man mini-series knows that the book is even more filmic than any of Frank Miller’s exceedingly filmic tomes. It’s also a more interesting story, by the way, look into it.


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