A Walk Through the Back Alleys of Sin City 4/1

Wow, I'm extremely delinquent on this post. Last Saturday night we had one of the biggest turnouts in the Basement Theater for Robert Rodriguez's adapation of Frank Miller's Sin City graphic novels. Most of us had seen it in the theater, but this was the first time for some - and it rocked the house. We played it off the new DVD with the soundtrack featuring the reactions of the Austin, TX premiere audience, and preceded the main movie with a performance by Bruce Willis and the Accelerators.

I had not read Miller's original stories prior to seeing the movie; I was familiar with them from thumbing through a copy or two in bookstores (and now, thanks to the special edition DVD, I have a reprint of "The Hard Goodbye"). I did possess Miller's seminal Batman book, The Dark Knight Returns, which imagines the Caped Crusader pushing 50 and battling a new threat to Gotham.

Rodriguez's recent films have moved further away from location shooting and onto more and more green-screens, dropping in the sets later via CGI (like the criminally underrated Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow). Some of you may remember a PC game many years back called WING COMMANDER III: HEART OF THE TIGER - one of the first instances of this technology put in practice. The game was a spaceflight simulator that propelled its plot through cinematic cut scenes - among the first, if I remember correctly, to feature a roster of Hollywood talent including Mark Hamill, Malcolm McDowell, John Rhys Davies and Tom Wilson (of Back to the Future) - using the same technique that's on display here. I remember the thrill of playing that game was partly due to the fact that it felt like the world's first decent-sized budgeted interactive movie, and thinking prophetically that this would change the ways movies were made in the future. With today's desktop technology, a single person can create a film entirely by themselves with production values that rival those of Hollywood.

Using his Spy Kids series, along with The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D, as testbeds for the process, Rodriguez acheived a mastery of shooting virtual movies that he shot a short sequence of Sin City in order to persuade Miller (then burned out on Hollywood) to allow him to make a full feature. The test footage (seen in the finished film as "The Customer is Always Right" segement w/ Josh Hartnett) looks astonishingly like Miller's 2D chiaroscuro drawings brought to 3D life.

The film adapts three Sin City stories (I say adapt, but basically Rodriguez used the comics as the script) - "The Hard Goodbye", "The Big Fat Kill" and "That Yellow Bastard". Rodriguez was able to attract a bevy of big-name talent including Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Benicio Del Toro, Elijah Wood, Rutger Hauer, Powers Booth, etc, etc - the list goes on. Shooting against a green screen allowed the director to shoot the actors out in a matter of days instead of weeks required by a committment to a standard feature.

The look of the film is lifted from the style of 1940's black and white film noir, but splashed throughout with color accents. The dialogue (each of the main characters provides a running commentary over their segments) is terse, tough-guy speak. The violence is extreme but so completely over-the-top that we can't take it seriously.

Quentin Tarantino, a longtime friend of Rodriguez's since 1992 (they met on the film festival circuit touring with Reservoir Dogs and El Mariachi, respectively), receives a "Special Guest Director" credit for shooting a ghoulish sequence, involving Owen and the talking corpse of Del Toro, as a test of Rodriguez's high-def camera system.

The results they produced equalled the best theatrical experience of 2005, the most exciting, new, dynamic, thrilling picture of the year. Here is a film that looks like none of its contemporaries and serves as one of the best marriages between CGI and cinema ever created.

Rodriguez has prepared a special version which incorporates all footage shot from the books and separates them into invidiual stories (in the theatrical version, they're intercut Pulp Fiction-style), for the DVD release. The added material does not substantially alter the movie although I still prefer the pacing and rhythm of the theatrical cut.

Miller's bad experiences in Hollywood stem from his screenwriting duties on RoboCop 2 and 3, scripts that were substantially re-written by the studio system. Currently, and adaptation of his graphic novel The 300, inspired by the classic story of the 300 Spartan warriors who became prisoners of war, is also in production as a virtual film under the direction of Zack Snyder, who helmed 2004's remake of Dawn of the Dead.

Rodriguez and Tarantino are currently teaming up once again for the horror double feature Grindhouse, which hopes to recreate the exploitation double feature fare that haunted scummy Times Square theaters in the late '70's.

Coming soon - Below