Blu-ray
Must Own
4.5 stars
Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
5 Stars
Supplements
5 Stars
High-Def Extras
4 Stars
Bottom Line
Must Own

Sin City

Street Date:
April 21st, 2009
Reviewed by:
Drew Taylor
Review Date: 1
April 29th, 2009
Movie Release Year:
2005
Studio:
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Length:
0 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

It seems like a new superhero movie is released every few weeks, and each time, much ink is spilled discussing how faithfully the filmmakers have mimicked their comic book source material.

So it’s easy to forget that the 2005 Robert Rodriguez-led adaptation of Frank Miller’s influential black-and-white comic book “Sin City” started it all, in terms of slavish devotion. So picture perfect was the adaptation that Rodriguez invited Miller to the set, and he wound up as a co-director. Even Rodriguez’s buddy and future “Grindhouse” co-conspirator got in on the action, “guest directing” a small segment of the movie.

”Sin City” (both in comic book form and movie) is a loving homage to the film noirs of yesterday – lots of voice over narration, shadows so large they're more like swamps, tough guys who will just as soon knock your teeth out as say hello, killers of every stripe, and tough broads.

Except, given that all of this is filtered through the overactive imagination of Frank Miller, the man who made Batman into a bleak avenger with his landmark “The Dark Knight Returns,” everything is taken to the nth degree. Hookers aren’t just hookers, they’re a coven of gun-toting warriors; the hard guy is almost inhuman in his toughness; and a pervert becomes even more deviant after castration.

The movie “Sin City” is based on several arcs from the comic book, and they’re more or less separated in the feature film, although occasionally characters or situations will bleed over, one to the next. Still, the best way of running down the movie is by talking about the individual sections.

”The Customer Is Always Right” – This composes the opening of “Sin City,” which sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Josh Hartnett is a slick hitman hired to kill a woman. Like all things “Sin City,” there’s a devilish twist.

”The Hard Goodbye” – Before Mickey Rourke was the talk of Tinseltown with his career rejuvenating turn in “The Wrestler,” he was doing smaller, stellar work in movies like this. Here he plays Marv, a recently released con who spends the night with a hooker and wakes up beside her murdered corpse. From there he goes on a blood soaked rampage to avenge her death, leading to the highest levels of power and corruption in “Sin City’s” vast criminal underworld.

”The Big Fat Kill”

Clive Owen stars in this one (my favorite section), as a con who has his face surgically altered. When he takes out an even badder guy (Benicio del Toro), the shaky grounds of the truce between Sin City’s criminals and the corrupt cops that run the joint becomes even shakier. Co-stars the always-adorable Rosario Dawson in fishnet stockings.

”The Yellow Bastard”

Maybe the most film noir-y of the bunch, this one is about a straight copy (Bruce Willis), betrayed by his partner and, after castrating a psycho, is left for dead. He survives, and decades later he is faced by the same sexual psychopath, who has grown into a grotesque monster. And what’s worse – he’s after the same girl who he was targeting when Willis was shot.

As you can tell by the description of the different stories, “Sin City” is a tad extreme. If your tolerance for violence, even if it is in black-and-white, is low, then your best bet is to skip this all together.

What makes “Sin City” something of a marvel, even after so many movies have gone down similar paths of adaptation, is that it never gets bogged down by its devotion. Its slavish adherence to the source material doesn’t leave it dramatically inert. Instead, it brings it to life in even more outstanding ways. Instead of a pretty movie that looks like the comic book, it’s a true, living breathing, visually arresting version of the comic book

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

One of the more interesting aspects of the Blu Ray explosion is seeing how black-and-white films translate into high definition. So far there have only been a handful of black-and-white releases (I’m thinking specifically of “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “The Third Man” and the black-and-white version of “The Mist”), but each one has been pretty stunning in its own right.

But what makes “Sin City” different is the fact that director Robert Rodriguez was fully aware of the preconceived notions of black-and-white and what black-and-white could accomplish. In one of the many bonus features on the second disc of this set, he talks about how black-and-white before wasn’t really black-and-white but many, many shades of grey. So what he wanted to do was push the limits, having the blacks be super black and the whites be super white, and to sneak in color, as other movies have done (I’m thinking of Kurosawa’s “High & Low” with the pink smoke, or the red jacket in Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”) in new and interesting ways.

That said, he really knocks it out of the park. The blacks are blacker-than-black, the whites are bleached out (in the best possible way), and the way that colors are introduced, with subtlety and grace, are also stunning. Watching it on Blu Ray is like watching it for the first time. It really is something.

The 1080 p MPEG-4 AVC Video transfer (aspect ratio 1.85:1) is transferred directly from the digital source, so it's totally flawless. There is no noticeable grain or noise, no artifacts, and the picture really comes alive – shadows and black spaces (remember, Rodriguez was emulating Miller’s stark vision to an insane degree) feel positively bottomless. Whites shine, textures and colors (like the sick puke yellow of The Yellow Bastard) pop off the screen (page?), and the whole thing looks like a million bucks. Really, this is one of the best high-definition transfers I’ve seen.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Initially, there was concern that, given the bombastic nature of “Sin City” (lots of gunshots, knife swings, crunching heads etc.), it would be a very two sided mix – the front and rear channels getting a workout but the middle channels left sadly inert. This isn’t the case, thankfully.

The 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio is really something else. Not only are the front and rear channels utilized vigorously, but they're also pitch perfect. Dialogue (there’s lots of Raymond Chandler-esque voiceover) booms over the soundtrack but is never overbearing. Sometimes the dialogue is spread over all the channels, to give a more immersive experience. (It’s really neat.)

All the more surround sound-y elements, like the zooming cars and gunshots and action sequences, sound even better. They're sharp and well placed and really add a throbbing heart to the sound mix. But more than that, maybe most surprisingly, is the level of immersive ambience in the mix. You are IN “Sin City” while watching this desk, aware of the minor details (a twinkling of shot glass in a bar, for instance), just as much as the sucker punch of a particularly violent castration. And the score, by Rodriguez, John Debney, and Graeme Revell, sounds really wonderful too – all smoky horns and atmosphere.

In short: the sound mix is just as perfect as the video.

In addition, there is a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 dub, a Portuguese dub, and subtitles in English (SDH), Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese. It’s also equipped with D-Box technology, so if you have a chair that can shake and shimmy, you’re in for a treat.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Okay. Deep breath. There’s a lot of stuff here. All this stuff is just icing on the cake. If I haven’t convinced you to buy this thing, post haste, then I’m not doing my job. Anyway, awwwwway we go:

  • Audio Commentary with Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller This is a wonderful commentary, with directors Rodriguez and Miller talking about the source material, what was changed, how they made it all happen etc. My only tip would be to not watch this alone, because when you select the exclusive Cin Explore feature (more on that in a minute), it plays then, and it’s much better experience.
  • Audio Commentary with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino Again, this is an informative and fun track with Rodriguez, Tarantino, and maybe another surprise guest or two (just listen to the commentary). Rodriguez comes across as a hard working and fun loving guy, who has somehow managed the impossible: artistic freedom within the studio system. And what’s more – he makes that seem easy.
  • Recut Stories (HD, 142) - The biggest draw of the second disc may be the promise of the “recut” segments of the movie. As the menu suggests, you can “view the stories of ‘Sin City’ in chronological order.” So, if that’s your bag, do it. There is about 20 minutes of additional footage spread across the stories, but it’s hard to pinpoint which have been expanded (they are now even closer to the comics). The order in which they appear are: “That Yellow Bastard,” “The Customer is Always Right,” “The Hard Goodbye,” and “The Big Fat Kill.” The same video and audio specifications from the feature are presented here, with an addition option of a French dub. Sacrebleau!
  • How It All Went Down: Convincing Frank Miller to Make the Film (HD, 5:45) This is nice, but repetitive – Rodriguez shot some footage of himself, renegade-style, at his Austin, Texas home/studio, showed it to Miller, Miller was wowed etc. You’ll hear this story a million times on this disc, and on another feature you’ll actually get to see the crude footage that Rodriguez used to entice the weirdo comic book author.
  • Special Guest Director Quentin Tarantino (SD, 7:13) Basically, this feature runs down the relationship between Rodriguez and Tarantino and how Rodriguez wooed Tarantino to guest direct a short segment of “Sin City” with the promise of getting to play around with digital photography.
  • Hard Top with a Decent Engine: The Cars of Sin City (SD, 7:34) This was a surprisingly interesting look at bringing the cars from Miller’s book to the big screen. (It took a lot of tracking down classic vehicles.)
  • Booze, Broads, and Guns: The Props of Sin City (SD, 10:57) This is another feature that was surprisingly interesting, mostly because every prop on set had to be manufactured to mimic the Millerian look of everything in the comic book. See that knife? Well, it doesn’t look EXACTLY like the comic – we’ll have to augment it so that it looks scarier and more cartoon-y! That sort of thing.
  • Making the Monsters: Special Effects Make-Up (SD, 9:04) Another interesting look behind the scenes, this time at the special effects make-up that it took to bring Marv, The Yellow Bastard, and Benny to the big screen. Of particular interest is the fact that the Yellow Bastard, in order to get that sickly mustard color in post production, was colored entirely blue. Good stuff, especially since there’s footage of pre-comeback Mickey Rourke bitching about his make-up appliances while holding one of his tiny Chihuahuas in his lap. RIP Loki.
  • Trench Coats and Fish Nets: The Costumes of Sin City (SD, 7:34) Again: you never would have known that the costume designer had to look for and fabricate fabrics and textures that would reflect light perfectly, so that in post production there would be something that the light could catch… unless you watched this behind-the-scenes feature!
  • Teaser & Trailer(SD, 4:01 total) Look! Tiny scenes from the movie! Played before other movies!
  • Rodriguez Special Features:

    See, there’s a sort of sub-menu for special features that Rodriguez himself oversaw, and here they are:

  • 15 Minute Film School (SD, 12:24) This more or less reiterates what was already covered in the “Convincing Frank Miller” feature, but this has some of the actual test footage Rodriguez shot (in fact, many of the scenes star the director). Basically, he’s saying that these effects, while at the time were costly and time consuming, can now probably be done for a fraction of the time and money.
  • Sin City: The All Green Screen Version (HD, 12:27) Rodriguez introduces this, which is a sped up version of the movie (less than 10 minutes total), in its raw form, with the actors and props against a green backdrop. Only worth looking at if you’re a true die hard fan.
  • The Long Take With Quentin Tarantino (HD, 17:45) Again, with a Rodriguez introduction, we’re treated to an extremely long take from filming the Quentin Tarantino scene. It’s fairly interesting to see Tarantino interact with the cast and crew, and when part of the shot is incorporated into the final movie, it transitions to the finalized version, with lighting and effects, very nicely. Rodriguez says that one of the greatest perks of shooting in digital is being able to do these long scenes without cost overrides.
  • Sin City: Live in Concert (HD, 9:15) This is pretty cool – Rodriguez, when convincing Bruce Willis to come down to Austin to shoot his section of “Sin City,” said that he’d put on a live rock show with his band, Bruce Willis and the Accelerators, and that Rodriguez would shoot the whole thing in HD. And here is a song from that little concert, a pretty catchy number called “Devil Woman.” Rodriguez introduces it and says that not only was the cast of “Sin City” in attendance, but also the cast from Richard Linklater’s underrated sci-fi masterpiece “A Scanner Darkly,” which was also shooting in Austin, also attended.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

  • Kill ‘Em Good: Interactive Comic Book (8:27) If you’ve seen the recent “Motion Comic” version of “Watchmen,” you know what you’re getting into with this. It’s a slightly animated version of “The Big Fat Kill,” complete with Mickey Rourke voiceover. It’s cool but too brief to merit much attention.
  • CinExplore Feature This is a really, really cool feature and one of my favorites on the whole thing. It plays with the Rodriguez/Miller commentary (although you have to select the “CinExplore” feature, not the commentary itself) and, like many recent Blu Ray releases, has little bits of comic book artwork or conceptual artwork pop up on the screen as they’re talking. It’s a whole lot of fun and adds even more to the “Sin City” experience, without ever stopping the commentary to play a feature or anything; really outstanding.

Final Thoughts

This is a MUST OWN title for sure. Exemplary video, audio, and special features galore bring this one-of-a-kind movie to life in new and exceptional ways.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-50 Dual-Layer Discs
  • Two-Disc Set

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
  • SpanishPortuguese, and Chinese. It’s also equipped with D-Box

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • Spanish
  • Portuguese
  • Chinese

Supplements

  • Audio Commentaries
  • Recut Stories
  • Featurettes
  • Teaser
  • Trailer
  • D-Box

Exclusive HD Content

  • TBA

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