Riding The Dark Train To The Town Without Pity

Posted by Dan Wednesday, May 11, 2005
A Review of the film Sin City
Directed By: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino

It's a gut wrenching heartbreak for a comic book fan. Hollywood has finally decided to make a movie of your favorite comic book series, and you're always of two minds. On one hand, it'll be neat to see those characters you've spent years of your life with put to flesh and blood and projected up on the big screen. Considering what they can do with CGI nowadays, you just know the special effects are gonna kick butt, too. On the other hand, there's so many years worth of back story, so many guest stars, so much time that you need to "really develop the characters," not to mention all the continuity issues, and who the heck are they gonna get to play The Wasp if Jessica Alba isn't available? Therefore, you're invariably disappointed -- it's never quite the same. They always bungle something, whether it's a minor thing, like giving Peter Parker organic web shooters, or something phenomenally stupid like giving Superman a big plastic 'S' that he can rip off his chest to capture the Kryptonian bad-guys.

Over the years, there has been a small handful of good comic book to film adaptations. Richard Donner's Superman, Tim Burton's Batman, Sam Raimi's Spiderman and Bryan Singer's X-Men. These are films that succeed in capturing the flavor of the source material, if not the actuality of it. Until now, the closest thing we've had to a direct comic book to movie translation was The Crow, and even Alex Proyas had to take some liberties with the story.

Robert Rodriguez knew exactly what he was doing when he came to Frank Miller with the idea for a movie based on his comics. Sin City is a series of loosely connected crime noir short stories influenced by every thing from Raymond Chandler to Andrew Vacchs. The comics are drawn in black and white master shots with occasional splashes of color, and framed with snapshot, hard-boiled dialogue that would put Elmore Leonard to shame. In short, they're a movie set to paper.

Sin City was Frank Miller's masterwork, and for years, he resisted the siren call of Hollywood. What finally hooked him was Rodriguez's pitch, "I don't want to adapt Sin City, I want to translate it." Thus was born something unique to the world of movies based on comic book source material, an exact, panel-by-panel translation.

And it works! Works well in fact. Rodriguez and Miller assembled an all-star cast, and judging by the gusto with which the actors have been hyping this movie on the talk show circuit, they obviously have a passion for the work. Bruce Willis, Clive Owen and Mickey Rourke are phenomenal as the anti-heroes that drive the three primary interconnecting plotlines. Even Rutger Hauer, who gave up acting and started phoning in his lines shortly after The Hitcher, gives us the best Marlon-Brando-in-Apocalypse-Now impression ever.

The visuals are stunning. Crisp digital black and white is cut by the occasional shock of color, making every frame of this movie a feast for the eyes. Using the same technology that made Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, a revelation in special effects mastery, Rodriquez has raised the bar by forcing the CGI to serve the story as subtle background.

Sin City is a movie that could never have been made inside the Hollywood studio system. It is pure in its vision, created by artists who love the material. As such, it's not hamstrung by the usual cast of talentless idiots that directors and writers are usually forced to deal with. Rodriguez understood the importance of having Frank Miller in a position of authority on this film. So much so, in fact, that he resigned from the Director's Guild of America when they protested the fact that a non-member was being credited as a co-director. With that move, Rodriguez now joins an elite club of non-guild directors that includes both George Lucas and his friend, Quentin Tarantino. If this movie is any indication of what Rodriguez can do when free of the Hollywood straightjacket, he has the potential to occupy a place of honor in the pantheon of great American motion picture directors. Orson Welles, John Huston, Alfred Hitchcock, meet the new guy, Robert Rodriguez. He did this film called Sin City. Go see it; I think you'll like it a lot.


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Im an essayist, critic, online blogger, short story writer and to borrow a descriptor from Peter David, "Writer of stuff." I love all things pop culture related: Music, Movies, Comics, Books, Politics... if you can label it I probably have an opinion about it, and I love to argue. All informed opinions are welcome here.
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