If you want to know what I think of “Sin City,” read my review of the original DVD release. Suffice it to say, it’s a completely faithful recreation of Frank Miller’s graphic novels, right down to individual shots that mirror specific comic book panels. That release, however, had little going it for it except for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it featurette that barely scratched the surface of the film’s production story.
There was word at the time, though, that a more elaborate release was on the way. It has arrived. Damn, it has arrived. Dimension Home Video pulled out all the stops with this one, including not only the theatrical cut of the film but also a new extended version that reinstates excised footage and pulls out the four stories so that you can watch them individually, the way they were originally presented as graphic novels.
While none of the restored scenes are vital to understanding the film, they still add some color and depth to the material, such as the scene where Marv sneaks into his mother’s apartment. However, you can’t watch the theatrical version with the deleted footage reinserted. Personally, I like the way that version weaves between the stories in a “Short Cuts” kind of way, but your mileage may vary.
Dimension also tossed in a mini version of the “The Hard Good-Bye” graphic novel, which is a great bonus for anyone who doesn’t own it already. Watch that story on disc two and follow along with the hard copy to see how closely the movie mirrors the comic book. I guarantee you’ll be surprised, if you’re not already familiar with the source material.
Disc one, where you’ll find the theatrical version, also includes three commentary tracks: one with Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller; one with Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, who popped by as a guest director for one scene, and one that features a recording of the audience reaction when the film was first shown in Austin. Unsurprisingly, you may safely skip the third one, which Rodriguez says on the DVD was intended “to recreate a ‘live theatrical audience’ environment for the home viewer.” That it does, but you could get the same effect by watching the film with some of your friends, hooting and hollering as you do. At least they left the movie’s soundtrack intact during it, so you’re not stuck hearing only the audience.
The Rodriguez/Miller track features the two of them jawing about the making of the film, how it came together, and all that jazz. Given Miller’s previously sour attitude toward Hollywood, I’m glad Rodriguez was able to show him that the problem isn’t Hollywood itself: it’s the clueless people within Hollywood who make rotten decisions. Rodriguez is certainly a maverick, and it’s obvious here that Miller respects him for that, especially given the director’s desire to give Miller a co-directing credit, something the Director’s Guild balked at. Like George Lucas, another maverick from another era (and one who seems to have sadly become what he was fighting against during the 70s), Rodriguez simply quit the Guild on principle. (If you’re curious, Lucas quit the Guild because they tried to force him to put opening credits on “Star Wars.”)
Over on the other track, we’re treated to a good chunk of Rodriguez chatting by himself before Tarantino shows up when the scene he directed comes on the screen. (A surprise guest also makes an appearance on this commentary, but I won’t spoil it.) As you may have heard, Tarantino was pretty resistant to shooting against green screens and using computers to fill in the rest, until Rodriguez invited him to come by and direct a scene. Tarantino, as usual, gets into the technical details of his work, with Rodriguez adopting an “I told you so” tone that you know had a smile on both of their faces. This kind of stuff is mana for film geeks.
Disc one also features a pair of theatrical trailers, six featurettes and “Sin-Chroni-City,” an interactive exploration of the city that allows you to learn more about the characters and places in the film, along with how they fit into the overall timeline. Given that Miller is the expert on all things “Sin City,” he provides some commentary for each one. It’s a bit awkward to use, but it’s probably worthwhile for viewers who aren’t very familiar with that world.
The six featurettes cover: Rodriguez’ extensive efforts to convince Miller that he was the one to make the film; why Tarantino agreed to get involved; how the crew found the vintage cars used in the movie; the creation of the props, which were grounded in reality but modified in various ways to stay true to Miller’s vision; how the make-up effects, which had to achieve a very specific look for such a unique film, were created; and where the costumes came from. They’re all solid pieces that will often have you nodding your head and saying “Ah, so that’s how they did that.” I found all of them engaging.
Over on disc two, we lead off with Rodriguez’ “15-Minute Flick School.” As you may know, he approaches the DVDs of his films as something akin to “film school in a box,” and here he imparts how he put together what was essentially an indie production. I think a lot of aspiring filmmakers figure they’ll be able to do whatever they want if they can achieve his level of success, but Rodriguez knocks those attitudes down several pegs as he shows that making movies is always a struggle, no matter what you’ve done in the past. The trick is to figure out how to make it happen, no matter what. That’s what separates those who achieve their goals from those who are still working as video store clerks.
Next, we have a 13-minute version of the film that shows how it looked while shot in front of green screens, with the footage sped up something like 800 times. It’s a neat look at how much the actors had to work with, and you can always pause it and step through frame by frame if you want to see a segment in more detail.
“The Long Take: Tarantino’s Segment” is an 18-minute clip that shows the guest director working through his scene with the actors involved. It’s useful if you’re a Tarantino fan, or if you want to see how a good director gets solid performances out of his actors.
Two brief bits conclude this set: “’Sin City’ Live at Antone’s,” which shows footage from Bruce Willis’ band during a benefit concert held after the “That Yellow Bastard” segment of the film wrapped; and “10-Minute Cooking School,” during which Rodriguez shows us how he makes his breakfast tacos. I haven’t heard if anyone has actually made those, and if they turned out okay. Just think of Rodriguez as the Martha Stewart of the film world, I guess.
Hopefully you held off on the first DVD release in anticipation of this one. If you did, pat yourself on the back and pick this one up as soon as you can.