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ISSUE 118 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 4/8/2005

The rise of Sin City

By John Douglass
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 8, 2005

Those are the best movies, because after walking out of them, often around two or three in the morning, I feel that all of my hyping and waiting has been completely justified. This was the case with Frank Miller’s “Sin City.” – who made a name for himself with his down-and-dirty revival of Batman in his series The Dark Knight Returns.

Many people think of comic books as light, mindless forms of entertainment for pre-pubescent boys, but with Dark Knight, Miller helped change that assumption. He painted Batman as a troubled anti-hero who liked the violence inherent in his job. It was Batman’s ability to break the law while administering justice that was the draw for him. This marked a completely original take on a traditional story. Miller made Batman dark, revolutionizing the way stories in comic were told and giving the industry a revitalizing shot of adrenaline. This sinister feeling, sort of an infusion of film noir ideals, is a constant theme in Miller’s work.

His Sin City novels are some of the most respected in the genre. He creates an alternate, ultra-violent world in Basin City, a place where the men are not afraid to kill, torture and even mutilate to achieve their ends, and the majority of the women are gorgeous prostitutes who administer their own vicious brand of justice. It is this world that inspired Robert Rodriguez, the filmmaker behind “Desperado” and “Spy Kids,” to attempt to adapt Miller’s novels to the big screen.

Currently, there is a trend in Hollywood that began with Brian Singer’s wildly popular re-imagining of the X-Men franchise in 2000. The creativity exhibited by Singer, as well as the enormous box office receipts the film garnered, started his industry bandwagon. The longevity of this trend in Hollywood was further cemented by Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman” in 2002.

The “popcorn style” of comic books often lends itself perfectly to the format of big-budget action movies, but such is not always the case; a few exceptions do exist. “Ghost World” (2000) is an adaptation of a graphic novel about two normal girls who, after high school, spend most of their time making fun of people and occasionally playing mean-spirited tricks on them. “American Splendor” (2003) is also an abnormal adaptation. Based on Harvey Pekar’s graphic novels of the same name, the film and the books are Pekar’s musings about his boring and mundane middle-aged life. These two movies, therefore, do exhibit steps taken in translation of alternative graphic novels to film, although they are noted anomalies. Though “Ghost World” and “American Splendor” enjoyed critical success, they were not money makers.

Rodriguez’s “Sin City“ is another step in this alternative direction, a perfect marriage of comic counter-culture and slick Hollywood production values. The first non-traditional thing about “Sin City” is the story. The film splices together three storylines, taken from three of Miller’s graphic novels and one of his short stories. The first follows bad-boy Marv, played to perfection by Mickey Rourke, a mentally troubled ex-con bent on exacting revenge upon the even badder guys that killed the woman he loved. The second story trails Dwight (Clive Owen), who finds himself in the middle of a war between the police force and the gun-toting prostitutes of Old Town, led by Gail (Rosario Dawson). The third story returns to the ever-present revenge theme with aged, retired cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis) pursuing the pervert (Nick Stahl), from whom he saved an 11-year-old girl. This story picks up years later when Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba), the girl, has grown up and is still being pursued by the same man, who by this time has been turned completely yellow due to some freak medical experiments and has it out for Hartigan.

The supporting cast is phenomenal, featuring Benicio Del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Elijah Wood, Alexis Bledel, Rutger Hauer and Micheal Clarke Duncan, all playing small but important roles.

“Sin City” could not be more different than any other adaptation ever to hit the silver screen. To call it an adaptation is really an injustice. It seems as if there were no screenplay or storyboards for the film, that Rodriguez simply used Miller’s comic books. Each scene is painstakingly arranged to exactly replicate Miller’s hand-drawn frames.

As a devoted fanboy, this is the best result that I could have ever imagined. Now that I have seen “Sin City“ though, I move on to waiting for the next big movie, the next midnight show. Until then, however, I will have multiple viewings of “Sin City” to tide me over.

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