Saturday, November 10, 2007

It's a Sin

Funny that after voicing my dismay at film adaptations straying too far, or simply dumbing down elements of the original source material, I finally caught up with Sin City. Which, if anything, was the polar opposite.

One of the dumbest things anyone can ever do is make the grand pronouncement that comic books make great movies because the panels are like storyboards, you see?! Obviously there is an element of truth there, but there has to be more than just that. Not in the case of Sin City.

Back before I gave up reading comics and sold off the collection, I’d read pretty much all of Frank Miller’s work, from his first issue as penciller on Daredevil, back when I was at school, right up to Sin City and beyond so I was more than familiar with the material: a rocket-fuelled, hard-boiled noir that takes the essence of Chandler, Hammett and especially Spillane and reduces it beyond the bone to the absolute marrow.

That’s all very well for a quick read, which the comics were because to be honest there wasn’t much to linger over. But as a film? Not really.

Even if I wasn’t aware of the material, Sin City didn’t do it for me. First it’s almost all interior monologue, reminding me of the Coen Brothers’ dour, sullen The Man Who Wasn’t There, their nod to James M. Cain, after joyfully tipping their hats to Hammett and Chandler with Miller’s Crossing and The Big Lebowski, respectively.

Ultimately the material was too faithful, and far too reverential. Rather than an adaptation of the comic books, it was more of a direct translation. Which meant that it just didn’t work off the page and on the screen. In The Customer Is Always Right – a three-page story purloined from The Babe Wore Red and Other Stories – “The silencer makes a whisper of the gunshot” may be poetic on the page, but utterly redundant voiced on screen. It ultimately had me screaming “For the love of God, will somebody please just speak to somebody else!”

After that it was just so fucking flat and one note: black and white, literally, without any light or shade. The characters were just different variations of the same archetypes: hard-bitten and hard-boiled tarnished knights relentlessly plowing their way from A to B on more brawn than brain. With no change in tempo it was like they were dutifully going through the motions, handing out their own brands of justice with the same casual sadism that permeates the whole film.

The DVD was the two-disc ‘Recut & Extended’ edition which meant that I also had the quartet of stories separated as well if I ever wanted to watch them again. The one thing that was interesting was the “All Green Version” – a speeded-up, ten-minute version of Sin City showing how much of the film was shot on the green-screen stage with minimal props.

As a purely technical exercise, Sin City works, but that doesn’t stop it being an empty experience. If I want a comic-book movie, I’ll stick to the joyful exuberance of Rocketeer.


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