SIN-sational Sin City
Frank Miller likes cheese. That is, he likes cheesy things. When I had the opportunity to read two of his Sin City graphic novels around '98, I was first amazed by the bold, stark and simply stunning imagery he created with his brilliant use of negative and positive space, and secondly, I was amazed at how cheesy some of the subject matter was. I mean, geez, the multitudes of campy clichés in this neo-noir, über-adult comic book series were crammed in like a big, black & white tin box of packed sardines. All the girls were young, beautiful, and built the same way: waves of big, 80's hair, pouty-lipped, big-eyed (heavy on the mascara), curvaceous, legs for days, with unrealistic circular boobies that somehow were always cold. (What, no heaters in Sin City?) There was not ONE woman older than 25. All the guys were thugs, scarred and brutal. All the writing was over-the-top, campy, ultra-dramatic and very very noir. But that is the main point. SIN CITY is a graphic novel series that evokes the film noir of yesterday, but has the grotesque and immediate sensational violence of today. Miller takes from the past and stretches it as far as it can possibly go for today's audiences. It is very melodramatic while at the same time very violent.
Which makes for a perfect popcorn filmgoing experience for me. If you go into the theater knowing that this is going to be full of cheese and camp, then you'll enjoy it. But if you're expecting a serious film noir with sharp, witty banter, then you'll have some reservations, I'm afraid. I do have to say that there are a few good sequences worth noting and some groundbreaking visual effects that'll make you happy to know that the visionaries behind this film were not kidding around.
The frames Miller created in the comics were, as I stated earlier, simply brilliant. When I had the chance to read and study them, I learned to think outside the box when it came to working with negative and positive spaces (for those unfamiliar with these terms, positive space is basically an object that you see in a "frame," the negative space is the space around this object), as Miller twisted the whole general way of thinking about black and white in this format. Shadows become white up against black walls; blood becomes white against dark, strained skin; characters are framed in half-silhouettes, with only one eye seen. Millions of tiny glass shards explode across two-page spreads, rain becomes a deluge of white lines all but nearly eradicating the main character in the frame, just left of center page. I was loving every page of this visual symphony of white and black, taking it all in, trying to analyze what Miller was doing, all the while trying to sort through what was going on with his meandering storylines.
For SIN CITY -- the film, I give director Robert Rodriguez major credit for at least attempting this endeavor, but mostly for acknowledging the importance of the visuals of the story and for respecting the genre. So many directors and screenwriters take the original storylines of comic books and graphic novels and basically toss out the whole notion of what the creators originally intended. What, the artists work for months, sometimes years on these projects, with extreme detail paid to just how the story is paced and told via frame by frame, panel by panel, and these Hollywood cats come in and trash it all by "re-envisioning" it? I still feel that X-MEN helmer, Bryan Singer -- although creating two very good movies based on comic book heroes -- does not fully "get" the way that comics are told as the panels are a very important aspect to storytelling as a whole. Directors have their "vision," and don't want to be swayed by outsiders telling them what to do. They want to do their thang as they feel that that's why they've been hired. Well... to a certain degree, sure. But they wouldn't even be working on this project if it weren't for the original story in the first place.
So thank goodness for Mr. Rodriguez, as in the case with SIN CITY, he respected the original source, and even got the writer/artist, Frank Miller, to be co-director on the film. What guts. I understand that Hollywood had a fit with that, as Miller wasn't a DGA member, but Rodriguez stood firmly behind this action, and therefore resigned from being a member of the guild. Again, I applaud this man. Respecting the source. Below are a couple of frames from the comic, matched with the corresponding scene in the film. Movie Rotation, a film-lovers' blog, complied an incredible collection of these comparisons, and you can view them HERE. From these comparisons, you can tell just how important it was for Rodriguez to fully realize what Miller had originally intended on paper:
Devoid of color, save for a few items that may or may not seem important to the story (as was the case in the original comic series), all the characters are certainly not. A great calvacade of misfits and miscreants, thugs and jugs cavort together in this monochromatic wasteland of a town. And they grabbed a great cast for the film, too, in my opinion. It was nice to see Rutger Hauer again, even though the sequence he was in was rather short. Bruce Willis plays the cop with a heart and does it with grit and stamina. Clive Owen was a welcome find. (You must see THE CROUPIER -- he's brilliant in it.) Great colorful cast.
The entire movie was shot with actors in front of greenscreens (except for the bar), with CGI filling in the holes, making the mise-en-scéne and overall atmosphere of SIN CITY a strange, alienated environment. The place just didn't seem real, which was okay with me as it further enhanced the discombobulated dark mood that the comic portrayed. With my trained eye, I could definitely tell when CGI took over for some shots. All the vehicles in the movie were computer generated and animated, except for the shots where the characters actually got into a car. But as a car would spin out, there would be a sudden jolt that looked too odd for a real car, as if the car had lost all of its weight and now had incredible horsepower, sending it careening off into the night, cartoon-like. If it was any other movie where realism was key, I would've balked at these scenes -- for this movie, it felt just right. To read an interview about the CG effects in SIN CITY, go HERE. Some very interesting stuff being talked about, with video clips to view.
My favorite sequence was the "A Hard Goodbye" storyline, with the grotesquely shaped, face-only-a-mother-would-love Marv and his insanely driven quest to find the one responsible for the murder of Goldie, the only woman who would give him the time of day. And then some. Intensely played by Mickey Rourke, I found myself getting really wrapped up into this sad sack of a character. Rourke was brilliant in this role. Quite possibly the best performance in the film. Is that not the oddest thing I could say here? That Mickey Rourke was actually good? Yes, believe it. He was that good. Sure, you'll have to get beyond the 20 pounds of make-up and prosthetics on his face, but after a few minutes you really get into it. It's all in the eyes.
To be honest, I could not help but see how Frank Miller was giving a definite nod to old noir pulp and detective stories. If you're familiar with the writings of Mickey Spillane and Jim Thompson, then you'll get a good idea of what to expect in SIN CITY. (And by the way, Spillane is still alive and kicking at the ripe young age of 83! Give him a pound.)
In conclusion, Miller, Rodrigez & Co. did a fine job of creating this alternate world of violent comic noir. A good popcorn movie that, at times, found itself high on the cheese quotient. But a little cheese never hurts anyone, I always say. If you're a fan of the graphic novel series, then you'll definitely enjoy the film. If you're unfamiliar with the source material, just enjoy this strange brutal world the filmmakers have created for you. It'll definitely be a trip you've never experienced before.