Dimension Films // 2005 // 124 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski // April 21st, 2009
"Walk down the right back alley in Sin City and you can find anything."
* Note: Images are taken from the standard definition DVD release of Sin City and do not reflect the picture quality of this Blu-ray Edition.
Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's co-directed Sin City became an instant classic, of a sort, when it hit theaters in 2005. Based on Miller's gritty noir comics of the same name, the big-screen version got an eye-popping CGI treatment from Rodriguez, who impressed everyone with his tenacious loyalty to the source material even as he translated it to a flashy new medium. While fans are still waiting for the supposed sequel, they could whet their appetites with the movie's first Blu-ray treatment. But with a fully-loaded DVD version already available, is there enough that's new or better here to justify the upgrade?
Sin City is a collage of four stories set in the title area -- actually named Basin City -- from Miller's comic book series. The three meatier stories are bookended by a smaller vignette called "The Customer is Always Right" about a hitman, The Ladykiller (Josh Hartnett, Pearl Harbor), hired to provide a strange kind of mercy that only a city as harsh as this one could sell.
"The Hard Goodbye" begins with a puzzling murder of a beautiful woman that puts her most recent lover, the monstrous Marv (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler), on the case to find her killer. On parole and on psychiatric medication, Marv has to keep his head while throwing a lot of punches to track down a sinister serial killer (Elijah Wood, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) and the person pulling his strings.
The sadistic kills of "The Hard Goodbye" give way to more melee-style action in "The Big Fat Kill" where a tough guy having a bad day, Dwight (Clive Owen, Closer), squares off against a violent drunk (Benicio Del Toro, Traffic) and goes on a very gruesome wild goose chase. He's doing it all to protect women -- namely his girlfriend Shellie (Brittany Murphy, 8 Mile) and his ex-lover Gail (Rosario Dawson, Rent), who runs an army of ass-kicking sex workers.
Sin City closes with its moodiest and most serious story, "That Yellow Bastard." Here an uncompromisingly moral cop, Hartigan (Bruce Willis, The Fifth Element), has sacrificed his career and his freedom to protect a kidnapped child, Nancy, who grows up into a sweet and tough exotic dancer at age 19 (Jessica Alba, The Fantastic Four). It's at this point that the two reunite to fend off "that yellow bastard" (Nick Stahl, In the Bedroom) who kidnapped Nancy as a child and is after her again.
For the right kind of viewer, Sin City's got a lot to love. Miller boils it down to guys in trenchcoats, hot babes, and fast cars -- but I think we could safely add arresting visuals, plenty of action and gore, dark humor, and a surprisingly poetic script. The movie's praises have been sung pretty thoroughly in the past four years, so I'll keep that portion of the review short and focus more on what this specific Blu-ray release has to offer.
From the opening line, "She shivers in the wind like the last leaf on a dying tree," we can tell we're about to sink our teeth into a juicy noir script, and Miller's writing delivers throughout. He does more than just throw in some key terms like "dame," instead serving up a densely packed trio of interior monologues that have a real depth and even an epic quality to them. The spoken dialogue can be great, too. Just listen when Marv growls out: "This is blood for blood and by the gallons. This is the old days, the bad days, the all or nothing days. They're back." The line pumps us up for the action ahead, but it also rings out sadly as the strained hope of simple warrior out of place in a corrupt and complex world.
I'd imagine that every sighted person on the planet would be impressed by the striking look of the movie, with its hard-lit black and white aesthetic, its powerful framing, and its iconic comic-style backgrounds, where Rodriguez uses the most cutting-edge technology of the present to transport us back to a classic film noir past. He's got some beautifully detailed backgrounds on display in Sin City, but he's also not afraid to scale it back to the stark minimalism of Miller's comic in other sections. The same good judgment is shown with cinematography, where we get a healthy alternation between keeping the camera totally still to get the contemplative comic book style framing, and adding in tracks, pans, crane shots, etc. to emphasize movement and action -- which comics do with different tools. These kinds of creative decisions make Sin City a formidable fusion of the two mediums, drawing on the best of each seamlessly.
Even the acting in Sin City is better than you'd expect, considering the players had to trade immersive and gritty noir sets for a big green room where they had to pretend to be in a rain-soaked back alley. Aided by Rodriguez's smooth editing and audio, they keep things pretty believable. Mickey Rourke is a stand-out as Marv, maintaining his balance of grit and humor, displaying his sadism while keeping our sympathy. I guess the folks who raved about his "comeback" in The Wrestler somehow missed this fantastic performance. Del Toro also shines as the loathable Jackie Boy, keeping his gravely voice at a low drone that suggests both intoxication and an other-worldly creepiness. Some in small roles also do great work, including Hartnett and Alexis Bledel (The Gilmore Girls), who plays delightfully against her appealing girl-next-door type as the blue-eyed sex worker who taunts and teases Jackie Boy. There are a few players here who get a little too into the noir style, though, and come off too campy for my tastes (and, I'd argue, for the tone of the material). Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs) is one, with his small role as Hartigan's partner, and Murphy is another. As for Jessica Alba...I honestly can't see past the insane hotness of her cowgirl dance to tell you whether she acts well in this movie or not. If you're into insane hotness, you won't have any complaints.
All told, Sin City is unbelievably good -- one of my favorites in the past few years, and a fantastic neo-noir for genre fans. If you don't own it yet, this Blu-ray needs a spot in your collection. In case, however, you already have the single or double-disc DVD release, let's get down to the upgrading question now. My short answer for whether or not the upgrade is worth it would be: yes if you have the single-disc DVD, probably not if you have the double-disc edition.
For image and sound quality, of course the Blu-ray version can't be beat. The picture here is so sharp that Marv would need to pull out those razor-wire gloves to handle it! That sharpness looks gorgeous with the black and white, which maintains its high contrast very well. And the selective uses of color -- Goldie's lustrous hair, Becky's brilliant blue eyes, Dwight's shiny red convertible -- benefit from the disc's excellent saturation. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track sounds pretty great, with a couple of nicely booming explosions and the pleasant sound of empty shell casings clattering all around the audience. I particularly enjoyed the audio work on the three protagonists' interior monologues, which sound so rich and intimate that it's like they're playing right inside your head. Once in a while, the audio betrays the all-indoor shooting of this mostly-outdoor story in an irritating way. When Marv and Wendy zip around a winding hillside highway in a convertible as the camera swoops overhead, for example, the audio makes it sound like they're chatting over coffee in a neighboring room. These are very small problems that detract only a bit from the atmosphere. Those compliments aside, this movie already looked and sounded great on either of the standard DVDs that have been available for a few years. It seems to me that only the most attuned and tech-focused viewers would greatly appreciate that extra notch of image and sound quality that this Blu-ray provides. In particular, I've most appreciated Blu-ray's ability to display rich color since I've had my player -- and there's only intermittent color in Sin City, so that advantage only goes so far.
The special features department is where Sin City (Blu-ray) far exceeds the single-disc DVD because this Blu-ray release is packed with goodies! Significantly, though, it doesn't add much that wasn't already on the double-disc (and subtracts some, oddly). The single-disc DVD only had a short making-of featurette (which appears in a recut form here on the Blu-ray), but I'll indicate which of these features are lifted from the double-disc DVD in my breakdown of the following Blu-ray extras:
* Cine-Explore Version (Blu-ray exclusive)
This is the best (and almost the only) new special feature, and it really is well done. This version of movie allows you to play one of the three commentary tracks (or not) as you watch multiple screens shifting among the finished movie, the raw green screen footage without effects, and the original frames from the comics. These three elements are sometimes rotated, or sometimes are displayed simultaneously, and the editing back and forth from different views is really smooth and well thought-out. For the multi-tasking, hyper-stimulation-seeking viewer, this version is awesome; it really makes you feel like you get the all-access, insider pass to Sin City.
* Two Directors' Commentary Tracks (also on the double-disc DVD)
Miller and Rodriguez helm the first commentary track, with lots of lively musings on the project. Miller offers up some interesting backstory on some of his comic characters, quips about how much he likes the T&A shots, and drools over his favorite character, Miho. Oddly, there's also an excess of drooling over Bruce Willis from both directors; he's apparently one of our nation's greatest actors. Who knew? Rodriguez does the second track mostly solo, though he's joined at one point by Tarantino. This one is also pretty lively, with more focus on the technical aspects of making Sin City.
* Audience Reaction Track from an Austin Screening (also on the double-disc
This is an odd feature that basically just simulates the experience of watching the movie with an excited theater audience. It's kind of fun to listen to where people gasped or laughed.
* Recut Versions (also on double-disc DVD)
As on the double-disc DVD, this feature allows you to watch each of the four stories individually, and cuts back in some extra footage and some unrated material. We see Marv visiting his mom's apartment, for example, and Hartigan meeting with Lucille (Marv's parole officer) when he wants to get out of jail.
* Kill 'Em Good: Interactive Comic Book (Blu-ray exclusive)
Someone had the very annoying idea to replace the full print version of Miller's "The Hard Goodbye" that was included on the double-disc DVD with one of these interactive DVD games that you play with your remote. Maybe someday I'll see one of these that's well designed...but today was not that day.
* How it Went Down: Convincing Frank Miller to Make the Film (6 minutes)
(also on double-disc DVD)
Miller talks about how he was "seduced" by Rodriguez and convinced to turn his comic book baby into a movie -- partly through the offer of the co-director gig. Rodriguez and various stars from Sin City also chime in.
* Special Guest Director: Quentin Tarantino (7 minutes) (also on double-disc
Tarantino shows up to chat about getting convinced to try digital and the scene he directed (Dwight and Jackie Boy's "conversation" in the car).
* A Hard Top with a Decent Engine: The Cars of Sin City (8 minutes) (also on
People talk about the twenty-one principal cars and how they were located and obtained for the film (mostly the car dude who located and obtained them).
* Booze, Broads and Guns: The Props of Sin City (11 minutes) (also on
We get a peek at the painstaking process of identifying and finding or making the elaborate props Miller drew into his comics. Amusingly, we learn that Miho's samurai swords were Kill Bill Hattori Hanzo swords the crew had "borrowed" from Tarantino's garage. Tarantino assuredly comments that of course that's the kind of sword she uses -- "Miho wouldn't slice a sandwich without a Hatori Hanzo sword!"
* Making the Monsters: Special Effects Make-Up (9 minutes) (also on
Your standard actors-with-face-prosthetics bit. It is interesting, though, to learn that Del Toro requested minor nose and chin prosthetics to look more like his character from the comic.
* Trenchcoats and Fishnets: The Costumes of Sin City (8 minutes) (also on
This is a fun one, in which we get to hear the sweet, middle-aged Southern lady who designed the costumes talk about all these skimpy fetish outfits Miller seems to favor. As Dawson puts remarks about her "costume" of leather straps and mesh fabric, "It's a crazy, crazy outfit and Frank's an insane man for drawing it.Ó
* 15-minute Flic School (12 minutes) (also on double-disc DVD)
An efficient, fast-paced run-through from Rodriguez on a lot of the digital effect in the film. We get the strong sense that he's a director who embraces new technology and uses it to push his medium forward -- one of Sin City's greatest achievements. The most interesting part for me was realizing that so many of the scenes between major characters were done with just one of the actors and a stand-in, since the actors didn't all come to town to shoot their scenes at the same time. Even the fight scene between Marv and Kevin was done without Rourke and Wood being in the same room at the same time!
* The All Green Screen Version (12 minutes) (also on double-disc DVD)
A greatly accelerated version of the whole movie showing just the effects-free green screen studio footage. It's neat to see how many props or set decorations they needed to actually use and how many were created digitally, but I enjoyed the green screen footage more in the normal-speed Cine-Explore version mentioned above.
* The Long Take (18 minutes) (also on double-disc DVD)
We're treated to a long, unedited take of Tarantino directing Del Toro and Owen in their car scene. If you have the patience for it, you might enjoy seeing the humdrum reality of shooting a movie in this tiny slice of a production day.
* Sin City: Live in Concert (9 minutes) (also on double-disc DVD)
Concert footage of Bruce Willis' band playing a gig in Austin during production.
* 10-minute Cooking School (7 minutes) (also on double-disc DVD)
During a late night of editing, Rodriguez guides us through his recipe for Sin City Breakfast Tacos -- a crew favorite. Perhaps insecure about this segment's masculinity level, he ends with the sage wisdom: "not knowing how to cook is like not knowing how to f*ck."
* Theatrical and Teaser Trailers (also on double-disc DVD)
As you can see, the vast majority of these are sloppy seconds from the double-disc DVD version, with the Cine-Explore Version being the only worthwhile new feature. Plus, one of the double-disc features -- an interactive guide to the interlocking characters and places in Sin City, with commentary from Miller -- has for some reason not been included here. That's why I'd suggest all but the biggest fans can stick with that double-disc DVD, while those without a copy or with only the single-disc edition should pick this one up.
I have only one real complaint about Sin City, but it's a hefty one: this material, both the comic and the movie, is not too nice to the ladies. Just look at the telling wording of one of the featurettes: "Booze, Broads and Guns: The Props of Sin City." I suspect the mini-rant I'm about to go on matters little to many of Sin City's male chauvinist fans (perhaps including Miller himself) -- but for the girls among us and the more thoughtful boys, let me air a few brief grievances.
WARNING: A few spoilers ahead.
The women of Sin City are tough, without a doubt. But pretty much all of them end up needing protection from men who are about ten times tougher. Nancy is a bit more than a damsel in distress, but just a bit, and she's definitely in need of rescuing. Wendy is vengeful and spirited, but Marv punches her out with a swat to shield her innocent, feminine self from the violence he's about to do. And the sex workers of Old Town? Despite being an army of badasses, they apparently need Dwight to come take charge of their forces and save the day. Plus, Marv proves them oblivious and incompetent in his interrogation scene. Even the ultra-competant, deadly Miho ends up taking order from Dwight, never saying a word or expressing a thought or desire of her own.
When you see how much skin the ladies show in Sin City, you start to suspect that the women are tough in Sin City just because Frank Miller finds tough women hotter than not-tough women. I'm gay, so I do enjoy some of the T&A here myself, but I just wish it was paired with more respect and substance for these characters. None of our protagonists have very enlightened ideas about the opposite sex, which, even if it's in character, gets awfully grating after enough lines like these:
Marv: "She's a dyke, but God knows why. With that body of hers she
could have any man she wants."
Marv: "Dames. Sometimes all they gotta do is let it out, and a few buckets later you'd never know."
Dwight: "They're a pack of predators and they're out for blood tonight -- a woman's blood."
Dwight: "The streets will run red with blood -- women's blood."
The shot that really kills me here, though, is the one of all the Old Town ladies shooting down into an alley from the rooftops. Never have I seen a more pathetic attempt to make women look badass; from the way these characters shoot, you might get confused and think you're watching a low-budget porno. And it should have fallen on Rodriguez and Miller to fix this problem -- to hire actresses who could do these movements convincingly, to train these actresses to do so, or maybe just to give them costumes that would be a bit more practical and believable for a battle scene. This shot to me says it all about this directing teams priorities when it comes to their portrayal of women.
All the guys in Sin City are on an endless quest to demonstrate their burly masculine efficacy, and there's a certain amount of male insecurity that shines through here. If you doubt it, ask yourself if you've ever seen another movie with this much castration anxiety! I didn't bother to actually count the number of injuries to or threats against male genitalia in Sin City, but it's a high number!
Aside from the above criticism, Sin City is fantastic. It's a treat on every level -- writing, visuals, sound, and even acting. This Blu-ray is near-perfect, though an unnecessary upgrade for those who already own the near-perfect 2-disc DVD edition.
Thank goodness for Robert Rodriguez who had the drive and the talent to make this project happen, and thank goodness for his humility in the face of Miller's excellent source material, which makes it to the big screen unscathed and even truly enhanced. As Rodriguez puts it, "How did [co-directing] work with Frank? Well, we both had something in common: he loved his material and I loved his material."
Not guilty...probably the only time that verdict has ever been handed down in Sin City.
Review content copyright © 2009 Jennifer Malkowski; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Dimension Films
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Extended Version
* Cine-Explore Version
* Green Screen Version
* Interactive Comic Book
* Official Site
* Dark Horse's Frank Miller Site