Sin City arrives in high definition with some pretty high expectations. You get both versions of the movie here, and I have to say that I’m very pleased to see that. By now fans of the movie have seen the recut version of Sin City and likely have your own opinions as to what you thought of it. The fan base appears to be somewhat divided on the effort. For me it’s never been a case of better or worse. It’s merely a case of different. The two versions are very different experiences. Watching the recut version is not really like watching a movie at all. Frank Miller presents them more akin to the original graphic novel experience. For those we don’t already know, this version offers the movie split into four very separate pieces. They each come complete with their own title page and closing credits. You should be warned that these closing credits actually account for more than half the promised 20 minutes of extra footage. They are not even presented in the same order as the original film. Watching the movie this way appears a bit disjointed and leaves many of the movie’s fans feeling like they have been served up their favorite movie in television-like installments. But, there is value to this presentation. It allows you to watch it with a new perspective and a new completeness, albeit within itself. The only segment that just totally doesn’t work is the short The Customer Is Always Right segment, which originally bookended the movie in theaters. On its own it feels rather incomplete and makes very little sense. It’s only after watching the final segment that a newcomer to this material will finally make any connection. There are also many moments where characters appear in the background of one segment leading directly to their own moments. These subtle touches are a bit wasted when one views the parts independently. Of course, there is no escaping the joy of merely watching the original film the way it was presented at the box office. I won’t deny that it is only in that form that the true movie experience can be realized. So what to do with this duality of purpose and divided audience? You give us two complete Blu-ray discs in one release and offer us the choice. That’s exactly what Dimension Films has done for us in this eagerly anticipated high definition release of Frank Miller’s classic Sin City.
For the purposes of this review I spent most of my time in the recut version. I’ve seen the film countless times by now in the theatrical cut and decided to experience my Blu-ray journey with the new version. The audio and video elements are virtually the same, so all aspects of the review remain unchanged. For those new to this incarnation of Sin City, here’s a breakdown of the four segments as they appear on the second disc of this set.
That Yellow Bastard:
“Aim careful and look the Devil in the eye”.
Bruce Willis plays Hartigan. He’s a hard boiled detective straight out of Mickey Spillane’s clichéd world of crooks and dames. He saves a young 11 year old girl from the clutches of a child molester by removing “both of his weapons”. Unfortunately for Hartigan, the perp is the son of powerful Senator Rourke. That means that Hartigan eats the crime and does the time for the molestation rap, all 8 years of it. The only thing that keeps him going is that he gets monthly letters from the girl he saved. Eight years go by and the letters have suddenly stopped. Hartigan fears that somehow they got to the girl. He decides it’s time to protect her again. This time Junior’s back, but the treatments to repair him from Hartigan’s last encounter have left him a deformed “Yellow Bastard”. Now grown, Nancy (Alba) is hopelessly in love with her twice protector. After relieving Yellow Bastard of his weapons again, both of them, he must perform one more duty to protect Nancy… “Fair trade”.
The Customer Is Always Right:
“The wind rises electric. She’s soft and warm and almost weightless.”
This short piece was used as a bookend for the movie and was actually shot by Rodriguez to convince Frank Miller to do the movie. Josh Hartnett stars as a hit man who appears to specialize in the ladies. We watch him seduce and execute one contract, followed by a movie related hit that ended the original film. “Turn the right corner in Sin City and you can find anything”.
The Hard Goodbye:
“Worth dying for. Worth killing for. Worth going to Hell for.”
Mickey Rourke is the iconic Marv who is framed for killing Goldie (King), a hooker with a heart of gold who showed him some rare kindness. Marv becomes a one man wrecking crew to find out who killed her and wanted him set up for the crime. He promises that when he finds his prey it won’t be quick and quiet, but loud and nasty. With guns blazing and bodies falling, Marv works his way toward Kevin (Wood) who is killing hookers, eating their bodies, and mounting their heads like hunting trophies. Kevin is protected by another Rourke, this one a clergyman. Marv is looking for trouble, but trouble better run and hide because Marv is working his way up the food chain with Gladys, his trusty gun, and Wendy, Goldie’s sister. When Marv finally gets to his man, he believes in using the right tools for the right job and takes care of business. “You can scream now, if you want to.”
The Big Fat Kill:
“It’s A Jungle Out There”
Jackie Boy (Del Toro) wants back with his lady, but she has a new man in her life, Dwight (Owen). It’s mean meets nasty as these two go at it for the lady. The confrontation leads to a car chase and into the heart of Old Town, where the hookers are the law. Jackie Boy makes one too many mistakes and meets his end. Miho (Aoki) goes all Kill Bill on the gang, and before you know it there’s just pieces of the posse. But Jackie Boy’s a cop, and when word gets out that the babes have taken him out, the truce is over and it’s back to the badges, the drugs, the pimps, and the beatings. But if Dwight can get the body of Jackie Boy and his posse to the tar pits, no one will know what happened. But there’s a snitch in Old Town, and the deed won’t be an easy one with a gang of mercenaries on the trail. Dwight’s so scared that he starts having a conversation with Jackie Boy’s corpse on the way. It’s the last stand at Old Town, and it sure helps when your friends show up “with lots of guns”.
No question that Sin City, in whatever form you decide to watch it, makes an impressive entry into high definition. The fantastic film noir style and deadpan but outrageous characters makes for one of the most eclectic collection of images in film history. There’s so much style that it would be fairly easy for it all to get lost in a so familiar style over substance result. Forget about that. The sharp and tight writing that comes directly from the acclaimed graphic novel is being translated by Frank Miller himself, so nothing is lost in translation to the silver screen. The characters are all so distinctive and remarkably cast. And what a cast they’ve assembled here. How often do you get this many A list actors on one project? That impressive list includes: Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Elijah Wood, Nick Stahl, Benicio Del Toro, Rosario Dawson, Rutger Hauer, Clive Owen, and Michael Madsen. Forget about 300 or even The Watchmen. This is the best graphic novel movie ever made.
Sin City is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Sin City has a style that screams black levels and contrast. That might be why I was never really satisfied by the DVD release. The format’s built in bit rate limitations make it nearly impossible to truly display this kind of an image without compression artifact and less than convincing shadow detail. Enter Blu-ray and a full 1080 p image brought about through a perfect AVC/MPEG-4 codec. Now we’re talking. Black levels are wonderfully inky and clean looking very much like the pages they were originally lifted from. Contrast is also an excellent tool in reproducing stark single colors of each story. Red is particularly amazing here, whether it be Goldie’s satin sheets or lingerie or the red dress of the hit man’s first victim. The yellow of Yellow Bastard doesn’t quite look so clean. There are moments of light flashes that reveal green or blue eyes that are merely moments of spectacular color against the gritty monochromatic palate of the majority of the film. Contrast also plays a huge part in the fluorescent effects of the white flash blood or Marv’s band aids. If this image can be any better, I can’t wait to see it. Until then I will simply enjoy this movie, perhaps really for the first time on home video.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track does the job as well. Ambient sounds and effects are put to good use. The atmosphere of the film never falters. Rain surrounds us. Gunshots fly around and even through us. The score drives the whole presentation perfectly. The subs come alive with the pounding beats of the energetic tones. Dialog is never lost in this symphony of sound. The bit rate remains a solid 4.5 mbps of uncompressed and powerful sound.
On the first disc there are 2 Audio Commentaries. The first is with Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. This is the more reserved of the two. Miller has a lot to say, but it’s mostly very scene specific. The second is the better, and it features Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. This is where the high octane talk can be found.
Disc one features the original theatrical cut of the movie and the commentary tracks. It also features a Cine-Explore PIP option.
The second disc features the recut version of the film along with the following extras:
Kill ‘Em Good – Interactive Comic Book: You can explore this animated comic book that uses audio from the movie. The panels are directly from the original graphic novel. You do get to use those cool color buttons on your remote as you page through.
How It Went Down – Convincing Frank Miller To Make The Film: (5:41) (SD) Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller talk about Miller’s reluctance to have Sin City made into a film. Rodriguez talks about the test footage he used to convince Miller to not only allow the film but participate as co-director.
Special Guest Director – Quentin Tarantino: (7:13) (SD) Tarantino directed the sequence where Dwight is talking to the dead Jackie Boy. It looks like they all had a blast, and this is a short behind the scenes look at Tarantino’s one day on the set.
A Hard Top With A Decent Engine: (7:34) (SD) This feature takes a look at the cool cars that are featured in the movie.
Booze, Broads, And Guns: (10:57) (SD) Steve Joyner was the prop master on the movie. Take a closer look at some of the props and set dressings used in the film.
Making The Monsters: (SD) Special effects master Greg Nicotero takes us through some of the f/x for the character designs.
Trenchcoats and Fishnets – The Costumes Of Sin City: (7:34) (SD) Materials and lighting were vital in designing the costumes for the movie’s specific visual look. It was also important to reproduce the stuff Miller originally conceived. Here’s how it was done.
Teaser and Trailer
This is one of those movies that never looked right on DVD. (Can you imagine how it might have looked in VHS?) This is the first movie that, for me at least, was made for the Blu-ray format. It doesn’t matter how many earlier versions you have. You simply haven’t seen Sin City at home unless you have the Blu-ray version. It’s a plus to have both versions without a double dip release making you buy the movie twice. Dimension gets extra points there. “This is blood for blood and by the gallon. These are the old days, the bad days, the all-or-nothing days. They’re back! There’s no choice left.”