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