Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Sin City

On Saturday I finally saw Sin City, a film I've been looking forward to ever since last March when the project was announced, and even more so since reading the books during the summer, and this was definitely a film that lived up to the expectations. And as much as it is a great film on its own, it's also a film that represents a dynamic use of cinema, one that will change the medium in the future in ways we cannot even imagine.

Having read all the books, it was positively surreal watching what I'd seen on the page play out on screen. The film basically is the comics transported to another medium. The dialogue is all repeated verbatim and the shots basically replicate the exact images of the comics. Unlike most people, I thought the Marv story was the weakest of the three. When I read the books, the first one I read was The Yellow Bastard, so Marv wasn't my introduction to Sin City, and as a result, I think that story might pale in comparison to some of the later stories. However, when you read/see it first, it has the feeling of discovery, and it's the other stories that seem like retreads. That's not to say it wasn't good. Kevin certainly is a nasty villain, and there's something cathartic about watching him get eaten by his own wolves. Elijah Wood owns in the role, really freaky. He's the highlight of that segment. Plus, I've got to give props to Rutger Hauer, who's great as Cardinal Roarke, this is his best work since Blade Runner. In this sequence, I loved the black shadow cast onto walls, which replicates Miller's style of drawing.

'The Big Fat Kill,' the story with Dwight and the prostitutes was actually my favorite in the film. I think it was the most visually interesting, particularly at the end with the red sky behind the prostitutes and Dwight, as well as the gorgeous image of Becky completely dark, with only her jewelry illuminated. Those silhouette images were probably my favorite shots in the film, notably the one with Dwight sinking under the tar, only to be pulled out by Miho. I feel like those best capture the visual style of the comic, which was entirely reliant on the sharp contrast between black and white images, to the point that it looks like paper cutouts at times. If Kevin was the awesome silent killer in the previous story, Miho takes that here. She's really menacing. In this sequence, I was surprised at how well stuff from the comics, like Jackie-Boy's head speaking worked, and in that sequence we even see Dwight speaking his voiceover out loud and it works. That's part of being integrated into the world of this story.

'The Yellow Bastard' was my favorite of the books, and it doesn't work quite as well on the second go through, because so much of it is predicated on the twists. Also, by breaking up the first scene and the prison stuff, we don't get the sense of imprisonment from the book. Reading the book, I was really angry at the Senator, and got the sense of being imprisoned for a long time. In the film, we skip over Hartigan's trials in prison, which makes his actions when he's out less motivated. Another thing I think that didn't work as well was the reveal of Nancy. Reading the book, I was shocked to find out Nancy became a stripper, but here it's dealt as an off hand reveal, one that is actually spoiled by her appearance in Marv. That said, the hanging sequence was really well done, and the whole farm bit worked great too. The ending of this segment is really brutal, and features another great use of silhouette.

If I had to find fault with the film it would be that this is such a direct translation of the books, we don't really get anything additional. Miller's use of comics as a medium was innovative, and completely unique. The film basically replicates this innovation, but doesn't take advantage of film itself. Music is really underplayed, and the camera barely moves. You can tell that each shot is basically replicating the book. I think the best example of this might be in the Nancy scenes. Despite not having any actual movement, I get a stronger sense of motion from the book version of her dance than the film's. In the book, you can feel that she is captivating these guys, and is really special, in the film, it looks like she got drunk and is standing on the bar. That's where Rodriguez should have innovated with film in the same way that Miller innovated with comics.

But, if he had done this sort of thing, people could just have easily say he's straying from the spirit of the comics. Even if he isn't using the camera in a particularly interesting way, what this film does for digital production is even more revolutionary. Sky Captain, even though it looked good, always looked artificial. Here, I would swear most of the film was shot on sets, and most of the time, I wasn't even considering the digital aspect of it. That's the best compliment for an effect. It works seamlessly, and this allows the film to go over the top visually in a way that hasn't been seen before. This is basically Rodriguez showing us the future of film.

I don't think every film should be shot in this way, I would suspect that part of the reason the camera isn't moving around as much is because it's tough to do that with a digital backlot. A film like Irreversible would not work on green screen, but if you're creating a different world, it clearly works. Both this and Irreverisble show how you can use digital to service the story, and I think we're heading for a world where every frame of a film is digitally altered in some way.

Rodriguez is basically living the life I'd want. He writes, directs, edits, shoots and scores his films. I think a crucial part of making the film is being involved in all aspects of production, not just writing a script and handing it over to a bunch of technicians. I would love to have the control that he does, and the freedom to make whatever he wants. Is he making great films? Other than Sin City, I wouldn't say he's made anything too noteworthy. Spy Kids is basically a waste of time, and the upcoming 'Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3D' will probably appeal to no one over ten. That said, if it's what he wants to make, more power to him.

So, it's a great film, a film that is completely unique and for that reason alone it's worth seeing. What this film does make me question is whether I would like to see something like this done for The Invisibles or Watchmen, comics that are really important to me. Sin City, with its minimalist artwork is ideal for this kind of film translation, but could it work for Watchmen? I think it could, but on some level, I would rather see it interpreted to suit the medium. Yes, Moore's work is very cinematic, but he uses comics specifically.

Most great works make specific use of the advantages of the medium. Sin City in some respects feels like a comic book adaptation of a film, in that even if it is good, it always seems odd to not read the work as it was originally intended. I mean, let's say there was a comics version of Magnolia, I'd be all over that, but even if it was great on its own, would there be a reason for it to exist? Even though I love film, I find it odd that it's always assumed that something from other media should become a movie. Shouldn't we be creating films that specifically tailored to what that medium can do, rather than trying to bring in stories from other media?

So that even while I love Sin City, it exists already, and Rodriguez could have made his own noir, inspired by the work, rather than exactly replicating it. I really do love the movie, and I'm looking forward to the Watchmen and V For Vendetta movies, but on some level it seems hopeless. It's the same thing with the American version of the TV show, The Office. The original was so brilliant, essentially flawless, so how could a remake be anything but worse?

I'll admit that a lot of the stories I do are inspired by watching other movies, but even if you start out doing an exact copy of something, as you go along, things'll change and you'll end up with a more original story than you start out with. Basically what I'm saying is when you experience a great work, why not try to create something equally great, but different instead of just redoing what has already been done.

That's why if I were to become a successful filmmaker, I would only do original screenplays, written by me, with a couple of exceptions. If I had the chance, I would make an Invisibles movie, and what I would try to do is keep the same story and characters, but really focus on making it cinematic, through the use of music and camera movement.

But mainly, I would want to tell original stories, things that are new and different, building on what has come before, and also going beyond it.

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