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Sin City

I saw Sin City and it was awful.

Before I go further, I want you to understand that I like the graphic novels. Sure: the dialogue is awful, the women are objects, and the main characters in each subsequential volume are only a slight variation of the character that preceded it. However, in Miller's series, it works more often than not, and you can put this down to a combination of the medium of the graphic novel, and Miller's own considerable ability with art. Not, it's important to note, as a writer. Miller's ability as a writer is an average thing at best, and when removed from the presence of his art, is a much lesser thing. So I want you to know that when I say that I hated this film like I haven't hated a film all year, I want you to understand that I went in expecting that I'd have an okay time, that the look of the film and the use of Miller's art as the foundation of it would carry me through to the end, and that I would say, when asked, that it was okay.

But no.

Sin City is shit.

The problem with the film is that it owes too much to Miller's graphic novels, and ignores the fact that a film and a graphic novel are not, in any way, an identical medium. A small scene to identify this fault--though the entire film is an example--is where Manute, the giant black body guard, kidnaps Gail, a prostitute. In The Big Fat Kill, Gail is naked. In Sin City, she is not. However, Manute still says the same dialogue, which is that she should get dressed. Despite the fact that she is. Despite the fact that later in the film, Gail appears wearing the same clothes. But because Miller's comic had that scene and that dialogue, Rodriguez's film must also have it, regardless of the fact that it might no longer be necessary.

This problems weaves itself like a bad stain through the entire film and it is most notable with the dialogue. There are scenes where Michael Masden and Brittany Murphy look like they're eating glass as they say their lines. Now, dialogue was never a strong point in Miller's work, but it was passable. The reason for this is that there is, despite what some might say, a difference between what is credible as written dialogue and what is credible as spoken dialogue. This is different thing to having written dialogue in the Tarantino fashion, where characters speak in a more fashioned and hip way. In that case, the dialogue can be translated from page to voice and vice versa and it's fine. However, dialogue such as Miller's is written dialogue in that it is only serviceable on the written page because there is no inflection and no facial expressions from the actor to mix into the words.

My example of this is, again, related to The Big Fat Kill portion of the film. Early on, Dwight leaps from his window and jumps into his car, leaving his girlfriend in the window. She then says, "Damn it, Dwight. Damn it. You fool. You damn fool." Now, firstly, it's stupid. I know. Miller is sadly from the school of repetition and repeats words and phrases for what he considers emphasis, but which rarely works that way. However, the scene in the graphic novel where this takes place is one big full page where Shellie, Dwight's girlfriend, leans out the window and speaks. One page. Everything is contained in one page of thick blacks and whites, an open window and a girl in a man's shirt with her breasts showing. But it's one page. It takes the mind a couple of seconds to process and then you move on. In the movie, however, Murphy, playing Shellie, leans out the window, a scene full of greys, and wears the man's shirt and the bra, and says,

Damn it, Dwight.

Damn it.

You fool

You damn fool.

and the time frame for this scene extends with the line space between each sentence. That forces you to linger. Sound enters it. You hear Murphy chew over the lines, try to force some emotion into them, her tongue protesting, telling her that not even a five dollar whore would say this, her eyes, grey shadows, still unable to convince anyone that this is what someone says. In the audience, you linger, you squirm, you think to yourself, "Change the fucking dialogue!"

The other problem with the film is the voice overs. Miller doesn't use a voice over in the comic. Instead, he uses a first person narration style. As the Sin City graphic novels have continued, you could argue that what Miller has done is written a series of novellas and produced art to compliment them. There are times when the first person narration drops away, and the panels play out in a regular sequential fashion, but whenever the voice over returns, the words winding their way down the side of the page, it is to fill you in on events in the story that are not made out in the images. The film, however, often doubles up on the information. Did we need to know that the silencer makes a whisper on a gunshot? We just heard the silencer. We don't need to be told what we just heard. We heard it and by telling the audience what we just heard, the impression from that sudden whisper, is stolen.

The film is filled with moments like this.

Normally, I wouldn't make such an issue out of the adaption. I understand that a film is a film and whatever the source material is it has no influence here. However, Sin City has much such an effort to be faithful to the source material, to present what is essentially a filmic representation of work that already exists, that it is inevitable that the comparisons would be made, and the narration choices of the two mediums compared. The result, of course, is that the techniques used in a graphic novel do not translate into film, because both have different limitations and advantages, which only an idiot would ignore when creating one or the other. Which explains exactly what has happened with Sin City: idiots created it.



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Jul. 22nd, 2005 01:50 am (UTC)
Having already crapped on about it plenty in my own journal, I'll simply say Amen, sister!

and note that your review points out exactly why those people who say that we should appreciate the film *because* it adapts the graphic novel so accurately are utterly wrong:)

Jul. 22nd, 2005 02:13 am (UTC)
i skipped your review cause i knew i was going to see it, but i went back. there was something missing in it's heart--but i couldn't decide if this was because i knew what was going to happen.

my friends all liked it, however. all the bad dialogue was part of it, they said.
Jul. 22nd, 2005 11:21 am (UTC)
My sister hated it. She couldn't identify exactly why, and I don't think she's ever read the original stuff. She just really hated it. I don't think I'm even going to rent it or get it from the library.
Jul. 23rd, 2005 03:35 am (UTC)
well, if you've an interest in it, check it out. a lot of people have liked it, and i think not knowing the source material helps. i think it's a case of playing too close to the bone so that if you know it, you just see all the translation problems.
Jul. 22nd, 2005 02:51 pm (UTC)
I liked it. Yes, it was flawed, and those two example you pointed out did stand out when I watched it. But overall, for me, the film worked. It created a totally unreal world, with unbelievable characters, but for me they more than did the job.

I haven't ever read any of Miller's comic, so I can't comment on that aspect.
Jul. 23rd, 2005 03:36 am (UTC)
the only real character depiction i had problem with was willis. he didn't look, in any shape, like a guy in his sixties. but anyhow, if you enjoyed it, cool.

hi, btw.
Jul. 23rd, 2005 05:00 pm (UTC)

Yeah, Willis didn't look old enough. I think it is one of those films, that imo, has a lot of problems, but somehow still works. Although, obviously not for everyone. :)
Jul. 27th, 2005 01:18 pm (UTC)
Hm, everyone I saw it with, plus friends who I didn't see it with, thought it was great. I thought it was stylish, funny, way too violent, and worked extremely well as a film.
I read a lot of comics, but haven't read Sin City because I'm not a big fan of Miller's black-black-black drawing style. I'm interested that you criticise it as not working as a film, or at least of the techniques not translating into film, because so many of us thought it worked really well as a film...

I too enjoyed the bad, bad, noir-cliché-ridden dialogue and the voice-overs, because they were bad. They were stylishly bad. It was a triumph of style over substance, but I thought it was a triumph all the same.
Jul. 27th, 2005 02:31 pm (UTC)
my main problem with the film is that it doesn't take into account sound and motion, which the comic doesn't have. i suspect had the film not been promoted in a way that suggested that it was 'the comic on the screen' i'd be less against it. but all i saw were the faults.

you are right that it was style over substance. i agree with that.
Oct. 17th, 2005 04:12 am (UTC)
the line from Sin City is a reference to the movie The Apartment, when Miss Kubelik says it to the main character after he gets punched.

But I agree with the other problems in the film. Still, I enjoyed it personally.

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