I remember watching Sin City on DVD for the first time in 2007, and being really quite overwhelmed by it. Not always in the best way, it has to be said: not having been familiar with Frank Miller’s graphic novel/comic series that Robert Rodriquez and Miller himself have adapted, I was at times completely confused by it all and just had to go with the flow.
For this Blu-ray outing I decided to try the option of watching the four intertwining stories separated out into their constituent parts; whether it was this choice or perhaps the fact that it was a second viewing and I was therefore more familiar with the world and the characters, and what the film was seeking to do, the experience was a lot less confusing and far more satisfying than before.
Separating the four stories out enables the viewer to see how each part has its own very definite personality. There is the revenge thriller of Mickey Rourke’s strand where he is a monstrous, unstoppable Terminator-style figure who only stops when he’s dead (and there’s a visual throwback to the T-800 at that moment which suggests the Terminator feel was no coincidence.) Rourke’s character of Marv is perfectly matched against the enigmatic serial killer Kevin (Elijah Wood) who is as silent and fleet-footed as Marv is crashing and thudding.
The Clive Owen strand is wildly different, and provides almost all of the humour of Sin City. Everyone’s playing for laughs and most of the scenarios are of the richest, blackest comedy, and viewed on its own it works quite wonderfully as a difference take on the Sin City universe – whereas for my money, the wildly different tone just makes the sequences jarring when mixed into the single theatrical cut, which makes the scenes feel jarring and odd compared to the seriousness of the rest of the movie.
The real heart of the film is provided by the Bruce Willis segment, which is a real classic film noir tale and doomed love story beautifully played by Willis with Jessica Alba and a grotesque Nick Stahl in bright yellow makeup. The only strand that doesn’t work as a stand-alone segment is Josh Hartnett’s hit man tale – but it’s only about 5 minutes long so that’s no surprise. Moreover, the first half of it is so very clearly a scene-setting teaser/title sequence for the film while the second half is a coda to the Clive Owen segment that it makes no sense to see it out of order.
Otherwise, the separation of the strands works brilliantly and even the little cameos of characters from one strand in another are clearer and work better for the clarity. It even makes more sense of some of the odd unresolved plot strands, such as the lack of a final come-uppence for the real Mr Big behind it all – he just peters out and gets lost in the theatrical cut.
If ever there was a film to see in hi-res, this is surely one of them. Shot completely on a green stage and with the world computer generated around them (a ground-breaking technique at the time which has now caught on with the likes of 300) its a pin-sharp stylised image almost wholly in black and while with occasional splashes of yellow or blood red carefully introduced at key moments). The generous extras show just how far the film has gone to faithfully recreate the graphic originals.
It’s never going to be a film for everyone, obviously. Like me, you may prefer to try out the stand-alone strands to help get to grips with it at first. But overall, this is an impressive, gripping and enjoyable film that I can see myself revisiting and re-watching many times down the line – in both separate and intertwined formats.