The original Sin City, released in 2005 with an all-star cast featuring the likes of Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Jessica Alba, Brittany Murphy, Mickey Rourke and Benicio Del Toro, was largely positively received and a box office success. On a relatively small $40 million budget, the film managed to take in nearly $160 million when its theatrical run was all said and done. With talk of a sequel having loomed for years, it's finally coming this weekend in the form of Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, and looks to be just as unique, if not more ambitious than the original.
The Original's Unique Formula
When the original Sin City was released, director Robert Rodriguez would attempt to distance himself from characterizing his new film as an "adaptation." The director felt that didn't highlight the effort put forth in creating it. Instead, the word he preferred was "translation." In fact, if you try and spot a screenwriting credit in either the opening titles or closing crawl, you won't actually find a specific screenwriting credit in the film. You'll simply find "Written by Frank Miller."
The director even says in an interview with About.com,
"When it started working, he saw how the translation was working, and yeah, I think it’s the same – the visual storytelling mediums. That’s what makes the movie so unique is it doesn’t feel like a movie. And I didn’t want to make a movie out of Sin City. I wanted to make movies into the comic. I wanted to turn cinema into the comic. Not take it and suddenly turn it into a regular movie. It just wouldn’t have been right.”
At that point, the original Sin City comics had been released in a series of seven paperback collections. The first film translates four of the stories found in the series: "That Yellow Bastard," "The Hard Goodbye," "The Big Fat Kill" and "The Customer Is Always Right." The Special Edition home release is likely the best way to watch it, since it actually features all of the stories as self-contained short films instead of the rather haphazard jumping of the theatrical cut.
Is Sin City 2 a Prequel or a Sequel?
What will make A Dame to Kill For unique as a film, especially as a comic book film, is that it will feature other Sin City stories that take place both before and after the stories told in the original film. You may have noticed that Clive Owen's character, Dwight, is now played by Josh Brolin in the new film. That's because the actual "Dame to Kill For" story takes place before "The Big Fat Kill," the story that featured Clive Owen's Dwight in the first film. If you read "Big Fat Kill" or watch the film, you'll notice Brittany Murphy's character Shellie makes mention of Dwight's "new face."
It'll be interesting to see whether audiences will react positively or negatively to the timeline compared to the first film. Audiences, of course, are not strangers to the concept of sequels and prequels, but the idea of one film zigzagging between very different times (dead characters like Bruce Willis' Hartigan and Mickey Rourke's Marv will be able to appear because of this) will be digestible for people when the film bows in just a couple of days.
Should You Read the Comics Before Seeing the Film?
When I worked as a comic book retailer and was asked if a new fan should read the comics that inspired a film like The Dark Knight or The Avengers, my response would most often be a definite "yes." As adaptations and composite stories featuring characters with so much publication history, you'd almost always get a rewarding experience when first reading some of the material that the film was to be based upon. It's a thrill going from reading The Ultimates and seeing the adapted elements in The Avengers, or from reading The Killing Joke and trying to identify what elements of that story may have informed Heath Ledger's take on the Joker.
With Sin City, and now the new film, my answer would be different. I'd say that you don't really have to read the comics that these films are based on because the intent behind the these films is different from most comics-based films. As "translations" in the mind of the directors, they try and replicate the actual experience of consuming these stories, in essence doing grand-scale mimicry of the source material itself.
The intent with the Sin City films seems to be one that's even more strict to the established comics than Zack Snyder's Watchmen film was back in 2009. One of the common complaints made against that film was its to-the-death devotion to the original comics series, resulting in lukewarm critical reception.
Sin City, by comparison, did not have the same overall hampering of its reception due to its perhaps more stringent adherence to the comics of Frank Miller. Top critics including the late Roger Ebert and James Berardinelli gave it four and three-and-a-half stars respectively, with Ebert calling it "brilliant" and Berardinelli calling it one of the top 10 films of 2005.
Hopefully, A Dame to Kill For will live up to the largely positive reception of the first. It actually features two original stories written by Miller for the movie, so it looks like its promising to be a full-on Sin City experience. In truth, it can get difficult to see the Sin City anthology of stories as connective human tales, since they can get very mean spirited and hyperviolent. But, if you're into over-the-top visual style with a side of narrative substance, then you could do worse this weekend than walking down the new back alley in Sin City. According to Marv, it's there that "you could find anything."
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, and freelance contributor to GeekNation.com, The Huffington Post, and Batman-On-Film.com. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film every Wednesday right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.
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