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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Sin City aka Frank Miller's Sin City (2-disc) [Blu-ray]

 

(Frank Miller & Robert Rodriguez, 2005)

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio: Dimension Films & Troublemaker Studios

Blu-ray: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: ALL (verified by the Momitsu)

Theatrical Runtime: 2:04:03, Extended Runtime: 2:21:45

Theatrical Disc Size: 42,446,851,048 bytes, Extended Disc Size: 40,754,964,870 bytes

Theatrical Feature Size: 29,428,832,256 bytes, Extended: 31,092,486,144 bytes

Average Bitrate: 31.63 Mbps, Extended: 29.25 Mbps

Chapters: 28

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: April 21st, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Bitrates:

Theatrical

 

 

Extended

 

 

Audio:

Theatrical:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 4281 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4281 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio English 448 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 448 kbps
DUBs: Dolby Digital Audio Portuguese 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surround
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surround

Extended:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 4255 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4255 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio Portuguese 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English, Chinese (traditional + simplified), Portuguese, Spanish, none

 

Extras

• Disc 1: Cine-Explore: PIP: green screen footage & original art

• Theatrical cut w/ commentary by Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller

• Theatrical cut w/ commentary by Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino

• 5.1 Audio Track featuring the Austin audience reaction

• Disc 2: Recut-Extended-Unrated Version of the Feature

• Disc 2: "Kill 'em Good" Interactive Comic Book in HD

• 15-minute Flic School (15 min.)

• All Green Screen Version (12 min.)

• The Long Take (14 min.)

• Sin City: Live in Concert at Antones (9min.)

• 10-minute Cooking School (10 min.)

• How It Went Down: Convincing Frank Miller (6 min.) *new

• Special Guest Director: Quentin Tarantino (7 min.)

• A Hard Top with a Decent Engine (8 min.)

• Trench Coats and Fishnets (8 min.)

• Making the Monsters (9 min.)

• Booze, Broads & Guns (11 min.)

• Teaser & Theatrical Trailer

 

 

Comment:

 

A few strands of melodrama have been pulled from Frank Miller's graphic novels and plaited together-just about-into a coherent comic-strip film. Miller himself co-directs, in collaboration with Robert Rodriguez (plus a little help from Quentin Tarantino), and there is certainly no letup, or pulled punches, in the heightening of style. The movie is in monochrome, splashed with occasional color, and the sheer force of overkill-the ear-crunching sound level, the disturbingly joyful violence-turns a sequence of horrific events into a stream of unfeeling comedy. The plots offer vengeance upon vengeance: cops against child-killers, cops against priests, hookers against cops, thugs against everybody. The cast is a blast, including Bruce Willis, Michael Madsen, Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro, a bewitching Carla Gugino, and a renascent Mickey Rourke. Most of them enter with sweat and gusto into the spirit of the thing-fortunately so, for without such eagerness the movie would feel merely cruel. What it has to tell us of life, let alone suffering, beyond the savage enchantment of the movies could be written on the head of a bullet.-A.L. (4/11/05)

- Excerpt from Anthony Lane at the NEW Yorker located HERE

 

 

 

[Intro]

 

The Movie : 9

When I bought the Recut version of the movie on DVD I decided to wait a year before watching it so as to minimize my concerns that making four short stories out of a single movie might be problematic.  So I may as well indicate my strong preference for the theatrical version since the Recut amounts to four separated stories from a seamless original and not the other way around, despite their origins to the contrary.  The segment titled "The Customer is Always Right" with Josh Hartnett is too short and disjointed to have any meaning, yet works perfectly as a frame for the theatrical cut. Another difficulty with the Recut is that we recognize incidental actors here and there who just happen to be in the scene but play no dramatic role in it.  In "That Yellow Bastard" when we see Mickey Rourke's character sitting at the bar as Willis' character walks in, we feel an instant recognition of his importance, but in fact he's just sitting there, a derelict from another episode.  If you did not recognize the actor and only saw this cut of the movie and not the theatrical, before or after, it would work, but that's not a practical reality.  On the other hand, the one misstep Rodriguez makes in his theatrical version is to include a voiceover for Clive Owen in the middle of Marv's episode "The Hard Goodbye".  It's the only place he interrupts the narrative in this way and it distracts in flow more than it offers in content.

 

While I really don't consider the Recut edition to be a viable movie, I do think it is interesting enough to watch once, if for no other reason than to see how brilliantly Rodriguez and Frank Miller adapted and melded the original stories which, we should remember, were separately published to start with.  And given that the actors are working against a green screen without much context to help them along, I think the Academy missed an opportunity by not nominating Robert Rodriguez for Best Director.  I mean: Jessica Alba, for all her sex appeal, has never given a more believable performance.  Whose fault is that, I ask you?

 

Image: 9/10  NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale.  The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

 

The first thing we should keep in mind about the image for this movie is the shape of the intended grayscale.  In this case we have a pretty good idea what that is: Rodriguez wanted to remain as faithful as possible to the graphic design of Frank Miller's original comic, while observing the requirements of a theatrical presentation.  The comic is just black and white – no gray.  You can well imagine that wouldn't go down very well for a feature film.  It's an imaginative idea, but why pay A-list actors if they are only going to be seen in silhouette?   In some of the extra features we can see how the original full color HD image is transmuted into a high contrast black & white image, in which we can expect to find little detail in the shadows – even less than a typical noir film.

 

To cut to the chase here, this Blu-ray offers one hell of an image.  Textures seduce and surfaces glisten.  Shading is sinister.  There is often something palpable about the tone of surfaces, be they faces, leather and vinyl jackets, car paint, even digitally drawn backgrounds.  The image appears to be slightly oversharpened, but this, as with the edge lighting, seems entirely in character with the intent.

 

The bit rate of the less expensive, single-layered Canadian is typically half that of the other two and has a slight greenish cast, but still looks highly resolved compared to the DVD. The Canadian movie is brighter throughout, often permitting more dimensionality as a result.  We can see deeper into the shadows, which may or may not be desirable, given the dramatic content. The advantage to the higher bit rate of the Japanese and Disney editions is hard to discern because of the difference in brightness, but I still thought I perceived a subtle advantage in terms of resolution and density.  We would expect a digitally derived image to score big on Blu-ray, and so it does.  No other artifacts, enhancements or blemishes – only a subtle fine grain.  The contrast is very high as is intended, so I repeat: don't expect a long grayscale. 

 

ON PREVIOUS EDITION: Come April 21 Sin City will be now available on different Blu-ray production from three countries: Canada, Japan and the U.S. The Japanese is similar to the new U.S. Disney in respect to image, but not audio. Both the Japanese and Canadian are one disc and contain only the theatrical version of the movie. Only the new U.S. Disney contains both versions of the movie, as did the Recut-Extended-Unrated DVD set. The bit rate of the less expensive, single-layered Canadian is typically half that of the other two and has a slight greenish cast, but still looks highly resolved compared to the DVD. The Canadian movie is brighter throughout, often permitting more dimensionality as a result. We can see deeper into the shadows, which may or may not be desirable, given the content. The advantage to the higher bit rate of the Japanese and Disney editions is hard to tell because of the difference in brightness, but I still thought I perceived a subtle advantage in terms of resolution and density. The Japanese uses a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix. Both the Canadian and Disney are DTS HD-MA 5.1, which I feel is to be preferred in this case.

 

Canadian Blu-ray TOP - Japanese Blu-ray BOTTOM 

 

 

CLICK EACH U.S. BLU-RAY CAPTURE BELOW TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 8/8

The Japanese is similar to the new U.S. Disney in respect to image, but not audio.  The Japanese uses a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix.  Both the Canadian and Disney are DTS HD-MA 5.1, which I feel is to be preferred in this case. 

 

I suspect that the audio mix here is faithful to the theatrical intentions.  It lacks the kind of focus that we get from other comic-derived sources such as Wanted or Spiderman.  Rather Sin City opts for a more immersive experience.  Voices are given as much attention as effects, perhaps more so.  Each actor's voiceover has his own unique aural character.  Mickey Rourke as Marv sounds like he's really in our head, whereas Clive Owen (Dwight) and Bruce Willis (Hartigan) are placed more forward, though differently miked.  Josh Hartnett (the hit man) is almost whispered.  Gunshots, car, window and wall crashes are clear enough, just more generalized in location.  Rodriguez' music score is perfectly suited to the noirish atmosphere.  The bass throbs, sometimes deeply in our nether regions.

 

Operations : 6

The menu indicates you can move seamlessly to the other extra features from Cine-Explore.  Not quite.  First of all the only other extra features on this disc are audio tracks, so why these are inaccessible from Cine-Explore is something of a puzzlement.  On the other hand, the Cine-Explore feature is a complete meal in itself and really designed to be watched in its entirety and separately.  You can indeed exit for either of the two remaining audio tracks, but you can't get back in where you left off and you can't listen to either of the other audio tracks while Cine-Explore is engaged.  Indeed, you can only access Cine-Explore from the beginning of the movie (from which you can scan or chapter skip as desired.) 

 

I do not object that there are no chapters within each story on the Recut.  There is, this time around, a Play All function and, though the credits play through at the end of each one, we can always skip ahead with the remote if we're so inclined.

 

Extras : 9

As near as I can tell, all the bonus features from the 2-disc DVD box are imported onto this Blu-ray, with the exception of the  video game "Kill 'em Good" (which has been replaced with a fancy-shmantzy game that I could never quite get the hang of.  It looked like it had potential, but either I or my remote failed miserably.  Of course, the 200-page reprint of Book One of Sin City: "The Hard Goodbye" is also not included either, nor should we have expected it. 

 

 

 

But what takes pride of place and Best of Show for any Blu-ray I've seen so far is this disc's new Cine-Explore feature.  This covers all the relevant material in such depth and is so well executed that there is precious little reason to investigate further.  I exaggerate, but not by much.  The Picture-in-Picture material supported by the main audio commentary with Rodriguez and Miller, moves from Miller's original art work to green screen footage to behind the scenes footage and other bits in a constantly evolving self-guiding presentation.  Unlike Universal's U-Control, this feature proceeds entirely on auto-pilot.  You don't have to do anything but sit and enjoy.  In fact, you can't – except advance or fall back by scanning or chapter skip.  Not only is this feature interesting in terms of content it is also satisfying in its graphic design.  It is this dynamic design that keeps us involved as we anticipate how the frame will be used next.  There are times when the entire frame is made use of, sometime with a single image.  At other times several PIP images are mounted.  Every now and then the feature film takes the center stage, but most of the time, it remains in the background, while enough of it is excerpted or green-screened or whatever so that we always know where we are in the movie.  Brilliant!

 

The remaining featurettes, mostly ported over from the 2-disc DVD set, several of which duplicate each other and the commentary, are all manifest in standard definition (letterboxed as well, if memory serves).  While in generally good to very good image quality, I was irked to learn that the ones grouped together as the "Rodriguez Special Features" were all shot in HD, so their appearance in 480 struck me as a bit insulting (and is the only reason this category does not get a "10.")  I missed a larger, more highly resolved image on a couple items especially: the 9-minute Live in Concert segment that features Bruce Willis and the Accelerators at the cast party at Antones.  Sooner or later some producer will get the bright idea to offer music clips that were shot in HD in both an HD image and uncompressed audio.  The 12-minute all-green screen sped-up cut of the movie would have been much easier on the eyes if shown in HD.   The Rodriguez Features are all hosted by the director whose informal manner I found most engaging.  He struck me as a man without the sort of ego we imagine comes with the territory.  He is gracious, inclusive and informative.  His 15-minute Flic School is perhaps the densest and yet most informative piece on digital production I've ever seen on disc.

 

Recommendation: 10

Whether you agree with my assessment of the Recut version or not, Disney's 2-disc Blu-ray is a triumph – one of the best HD releases this year.  The image is luscious crystal and the Cine-Explore feature shows how this sort of thing can be done.  Thumbs and toes way up.

Leonard Norwitz
April 15th, 2009


 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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