Blu-ray Review: Sin City (2005) -- Recut, Extended, Unrated 2-Disc Edition

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A.K.A. Frank Miller's Sin City

To hear Frank Miller explain it, the creation of Sin City was one he undertook for the most selfish reasons in deciding to build a comic book around all of the things he enjoyed drawing the most such as fast cars, hot babes, and more. And of course, to match the images with the tone, it would all be carried out in the style of film noir complete with a Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Mickey Spillane feel of hard-boiled insanity lurking around every dark corner.

Although, truth be told—we’re all united by taste and art is the greatest bridge upon which to build a relationship-- so with the unrelenting passion of super fan and digital filmmaking genius Robert Rodriguez who damn near stalked Miller down (contacting his editor, agent, and lawyer Godfather style), Miller realized he’d found a like-minded artist who was turned on by and tuned into the exact same things.

Flash-forward more than a decade and—eager to prove his worth and mettle for the material—Rodriguez invited Miller out to his very own Troublemaker Studios in Texas for one day to run a “test.” Humoring Rodriguez by obliging to visit-- all the while wondering what on Earth a filmmaker could accomplish in a single day—Rodriguez managed to round up A-list talent like Josh Hartnett with the plea of “I don’t have the rights; help me convince Miller” to shoot what is now the opening sequence of the film as the old-fashioned, handsome Hartnett startles a beautiful blonde on a rooftop, mistakes her into trusting him for a smoke and embrace before she’s left dead for reasons unknown.

Needless to say, Miller was dazzled and honored by just how incredibly faithful Rodriguez was to his material as the two collaborated as co-directors on one of the most surprisingly visceral, visually spectacular cinematic works of 2005—complete with one mini-macabre comedy sequence filmed by guest director Quentin Tarantino-- whom Rodriguez hoped to seduce with technology as a gateway drug to encourage QT to move from film stock to all-digital filmmaking. It didn't work but boy, did Tarantino have fun as he's all over the Blu-ray and commentary tracks.

Joking that despite the enormity of the three men’s egos they were still able to get along, Miller stated that he wouldn’t have relinquished the rights to Sin City if he hadn’t had the opportunity to help direct. Throwing out the idea of a screenwriting credit and even alienating the Director’s Guild of America by Rodriguez’s incredible vision and determination to bring Miller in on the same level, he decided he didn’t want to simply make a movie of the comic but instead use the medium of cinema and turn that into the comic since at their core, he argues that they’re very similar mediums that both use still images.

The best evidence of this theorem you can see below in the aforementioned rooftop scene beginning with Miller’s drawing, the use of the green screen during production, only to digitally transform the background in the post-process to the startling and riveting finished product.

Relishing in every opportunity to be as deliciously twisted or lurid as possible—watching the film again today on Blu-ray, a few years after seeing it for a paper I wrote on modern day neo-noirs in film school—it dawned on me that for those who were disappointed by the Grindhouse film undertaken by Rodriguez and Tarantino with their respective contributions-- Planet Terror and Death Proof respectively--Sin City is the answer.

Moreover, you can see how well all the time spent watching "grindhouse" movies in the ‘70s was put to use in this alternatively exploitative and disturbing yet compelling and mesmerizing contradiction of a trashy masterpiece.

Although the second disc of this astounding Blu-ray transfer gives the filmmakers the opportunity to present the complete unrated, recut and extended version of the film which adds on a little more than twenty minutes and gives you the opportunity to watch the individual stories unfold one at a time with four specific breakdowns—aside from the Hartnett cameo that opens and closes the work-- essentially the film can be broken down into three distinct stories all directly pulled from Miller’s series of graphic novels.

A cross between vintage film noir with a bit of the old west spirit thrown into the mix (and not simply just in the scene with exotic dancer Jessica Alba whipping up the crowd with her lasso)-- the film’s characters who populate the eponymous Sin City aren’t presented to us in the traditional white hat/black hat or good guy/bad guy Hollywood standard, instead showing us the evil and the good side by side and on both sides of the law as in the case of the film’s standout storyline.

This finds Bruce Willis’ dedicated cop John Hartigan ignoring his doctor’s orders and warnings about angina in order to save eleven year old Nancy Callahan from the clutches of a sadistic pedophile, who is incidentally the son of a powerful politician. When his partner turns on Hartigan and leaves him for dead-- pinning all crimes involved on Hartigan-- he gets locked up for eight years trading his freedom to save the beautiful little girl he’d rescued who sends him weekly letters under the pen-name of “Cordelia” until one day they suddenly stop.

Fearful that she’s either grown too old to write pen pal letters to the cop that had saved her life or that something has happened to Nancy—and not knowing which thought is worse to Hartigan who states that her written words were the only thing that kept him from killing himself—he confesses to the crimes he didn’t commit and ventures back into the dimly lit, dicey streets to hopefully rescue Nancy once again.

Of course, by this point in the nonlinear narrative that jumps around with characters and storylines that overlap and blend together unexpectedly, we’ve realized that Nancy is none other than the beautiful Jessica Alba who has fallen in love with her childhood hero. But, unfortunately endings are never traditionally happy in the world of noir and especially not in the realm of Miller’s Sin City as the same themes of love, loss, and revenge are woven throughout the other tales.

Featuring a nearly unrecognizable Mickey Rourke as the battered Marv who falls in love with the angelic “perfect woman” Goldie-- a one night stand to whom he awakens to find dead,-- he tears throughout the city in order to avenge the woman he considers his true love, enlisting the help of others including his tough but tender lesbian parole officer Carla Gugino who maternally reminds him to take his anti-psychotic medication without which he has a tendency to hallucinate.

Worried that he’s been led down the wrong path by his own mind playing tricks on him, Rourke’s Marv gets far more than he bargained for when he starts down a horrifying maze of bloodshed, insanity, cannibalism, conspiracy, and mad science that are far beyond his worst nightmares.

In the fascinating but a bit overly long and meandering middle storyline that boasts a ridiculous number of gifted actors including Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Rosario Dawson, Alexis Bledel and others—the tone changes from darkly comic to terrifying as the talkative, flirtatious barmaid, Shellie (Brittany Murphy) tries to stop her married, old abusive boyfriend (Del Toro) from busting down her door where she’s presently with her new one (Owen).

And despite the fact that Del Toro has brought along a group of heavy-hitters with weapons, we all know that the man who should’ve been James Bond can easily take ‘em down as Owen chases them off into the night, venturing into Old Town which is coincidentally run by the women of the night who look after their own and exact their own brand of justice.

When things get out of hand and Del Toro’s character is killed before they discover his profession as a police officer, Owen and his ex—the dominatrix styled Rosario Dawson—begin preparing for an all-out war. Not willing to let the mafia or the cops take Old Town from the women, Dawson and her motley crew of nubile, scantily clad but deadly divas strap on guns, ropes, and ammo in a standoff that lasts far too long when a double-cross enters the equation and too much time is spent explaining what we’re seeing in a way that would’ve benefited from tighter editing.

While the men are mostly out for the kill whether it’s in the name of love, revenge, or insanity (and sure enough the second disc boasts an interactive "killing" game) and the women are either damsels in distress or vixens—essentially, the work is a depiction of violence at its most primal and carnal. Additionally, it's one that never shies away from its exploitative tendency (repeatedly on display throughout the oeuvre of Robert Rodriguez from the most over-the-top sex scene in Desperado and beyond) but despite this, the film keeps you watching for the sheer audacious aesthetic appreciation of the groundbreaking techniques employed in its creation.

Primarily filmed in black and white with flashes of color whether it’s in a woman’s blue eyes, red lips, a dress, blonde hair, blood, or the personification of evil in the form of the monstrous “Yellow Bastard"-- Sin City is that rare film you find yourself wanting to turn away from but realize you’re unable to do so since you’re riveted by this wholly creative, free-wheeling, yet painstakingly precise world concocted by Miller and Rodriguez.

While Disney’s Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Miramax have managed to nail down the Blu-ray format to an exact science with recent releases, they’ve truly outdone themselves in what has to be the second most impressive Blu-ray of the year, closely following their amazing restoration and multi-disc presentation of Pinocchio.

The level of clarity in the sound and picture makes Sin City honestly a film that looks much richer on Blu-ray than it did in the theatre as it was originally filmed with high-definition Sony cameras, so its move right into 1080 pixels helps reaffirm that for Sin City’s origins as a digital picture, “there’s no place like home” on Blu-ray.

While in these economic times, I’m usually pretty cautious in recommending readers upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray unless there’s a marked difference in quality or features viewers truly want-- I have zero hesitation this time around in advising you to move directly to Blu without passing go.

Having fun with the format itself and equipping the film with D-Box motion control along with three different audio tracks (including commentary and one Austin Audience Reaction track), you’re also given the opportunity on the first disc alone of utilizing the “Cine-Explore” feature that incorporates behind the scenes extras into the viewing experience itself.

Giving viewers the freedom to watch the individual stories separately on the second Blu-ray in their longer, uncut forms—Rodriguez continues with his grand tradition of loading discs with some truly first rate bonus features such as his short “15-Minute Film School,” along with a surprising inclusion of a “10-Minute Cooking School.”

While some of the extras are fun but not quite necessary like the cooking lesson and Willis rocking with his band—the making-of-featurettes are all quite interesting breaking down the film from the costumes, special effects, props, to interviews and play-by-play recollections with Miller, Rodriguez and Tarantino such as in the one I cited at the start of this review, “How It Went Down: Convincing Frank Miller To Make The Film.”

Although unfortunately as filmgoers master the art of digital technology and that irresistible green screen that makes anything and everything possible and unfortunately sometimes making films feel a bit cooler, artificial, and uninvolving like the beautiful but vacuous recent Miller release The Spirit-- in Sin City it feels absolutely essential in transferring the comic to the screen.

Therefore, it makes one even more excited for the 2010 announced sequel as surely Rodriguez’s wizardry and penchant for digital invention will have the opportunity to climb even greater heights five years after the first film was made.