Sin City review by Mike Long

Throughout the middle and late 20th century, comic book fans would read the four-color adventures of their favorite heroes and think, "This would make a good movie." In the 21st century, the converse is true, as someone now reads a comic and thinks, "I wonder when this movie is coming out." Yes, we live in an era where Hollywood has finally realized that there are many great stories in comic books and they seem determined to adapt them all, from familiar names such as "Spider-Man" and "Batman" to titles which are less well-known to the general public, so as Frank Miller's gritty series, "Sin City". A group of comics from this famed artist have been made into a movie by filmmakers Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, and their Sin City film gives the term "comic book come to life" a whole new meaning.

Sin City could be described as the ultimate film noir, as it takes place in a place called Basin City, but is better known by its more wicked nickname. The film follows three loosely (very loosely) connected stories which take place in the city and demonstrate how even the most twisted soul can aspire to do the right thing. In the first tale, Marv (Mickey Rourke), a man with a monstrously scarred face, is framed for the murder of a beautiful woman named Goldie (Jaime King). To clear his name, Marv tears a swath of violence across Sin City until he learns that her murder was no random crime and that it's part of something much larger. In the second story, we meet Dwight (Clive Owen), who we learn is a wanted killer who has a new face. When Jack (Benicio Del Toro) roughs up Dwight's girlfriend Shellie (Brittany Murphy), Dwight assaults Jack. Fearing that Jack may take his anger out on an innocent person, follows Jack and his cronies into "Oldtown", a part of Sin City, which is controlled by prostitutes, all of whom are armed and dangerous. There, a case of mistaken identity and a quick temper lead Dwight on a mad chase to keep Oldtown from being taken over by the mob. In the final tale, honest cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis) has been falsely accused of raping a young girl. But, even when he's being punished for this crime that he didn't commit, Hartigan knows that the girl's safety is his number one priority. But, while trying to protect her, a villain from the past emerges, seeking his revenge on Hartigan.

In interviews, Robert Rodriguez has said that his goal was not to adapt Miller's "Sin City" for the screen, but rather to simply film the comic, and he has succeeded in his goal. Miller's comics were drawn mostly in black and white, allowing him to use shadows and shading to create mood. Whereas filmmakers in the past has attempted to re-create the colorful nature of comic books, Rodriguez has brought "Sin City" to the screen with the black and white intact, creating a very dark world where only occasional objects or people are in color. Rodriguez has always been a cinematic visionary, giving his films a unique look and finding new ways to tell the story visually. More recently, with his Spy Kids films, he has been pushing the envelope of digital filmmaking technology. Sin City was shot in a fashion similar to that of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow or Spy Kids 3-D , where live actors were filmed using a few props, but otherwise the sets and backgrounds are all computer creations. Using this approach, Rodriguez, along with co-directors Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino (who directed one scene), was able to have complete control over this cinematic world and make it look almost exactly like a "Sin City" comic book come to life. Save for a few shots where moving cars look like something out of a video game, the look of the film is quite effective, as it creates a very unique environment to set the film's twisted stories.

But, it's these stories which are the film's flaw. Unlike Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, the episodic nature of Sin City hurts the film. Despite the fact that nearly 40 minutes is devoted to each tale, they all seem to lack a great deal of detail. By the time you begin to figure out who everyone and what they are doing, the story ends. And, the character's motivations for their actions aren't always clear, save for survival. My biggest problem with the film was the characters themselves. Sin City is almost bereft of any likable characters. Nearly everyone in the film is a cold-blooded killer and even if their actions seem morally correct, they are still hard to cheer for. Voice-over narration is a staple of film noir, but it's used to such an extent in this film that it borders on ludicrous. I realize that Rodriguez did a direct adaptation of Miller's stories, so I'm basically criticizing Frank Miller here, but I make no apologies for that -- the stories in this film deserve the kind of depth which the visuals contains.

Sin City represents a great experiment in making a visual comic book, and Frank Miller fans should eat this up. The look of the film is quite impressive, as is the all-star cast. But, many may find the film's narrative structure annoying and the plots could use more detail. Also, be warned that this is an incredibly violent movie and, white blood or not, one must wondered how the MPAA dozed through the carnage in this film. Whatever the case, Sin City is a visual feast and is definitely worth a rental for the stunning pictures at least.

Sin City splatters onto DVD courtesy of Dimension Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The picture looks fantastic, as it is crystal clear and free from any grain or defects from the source material. (I can only imagine that this was a digital-to-digital transfer, but I'm not positive about this.) The image is incredibly sharp and the computer generated sets have a great deal of depth. The black and white photography looks great, and the image is never too dark, nor does the white bleed over into the black. The flashes of color, most notably reds look great. I didn't notice any edge-enhancement issues, or any overt artifacting. The DVD carries both a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track and a DTS 5.1 track, both of which sound fine. Each track supplies clear dialogue and music reproduction with no distortion. The stereo, surround sound, and bass effects are all top-notch, but they are very well-balanced and never overpower the dialogue. The surround and bass effects become nearly omni-present during this action-packed film and they really add to the experience. The only extra on the DVD is an 8-minute "Behind-the-Scenes" featurette which includes interviews with Rodriguez, Tarantino, Miller, and much of the cast. There are some nice shots of the green screen work which comprised the film. Given the popularity of this film, it's surprising that it contains only one extra. I'm not a gambling man, but if I were, I'd bet that a extras-laden special edition will appear one day. The DVD comes packaged in one of four different slip-covers.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

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