Comic Books on the Big Screen, Part 2
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Imagine the world of Dick Tracy (1990), a film so modeled after its comic strip origins that it used only six colors for every set (not including black and white)—right down to the top cop protagonist decked in a canary yellow trench coat and fedora (looking more like Curious George’s keeper than a hardboiled detective). With only two exceptions, the characters, costumes, and feel of the film were drawn almost completely from the 1930s strip. Tracy’s signature hooked nose marred too much of Warren Beatty’s pretty looks to actually be used, and Al Pacino, with self-effacing referential humor, was given liberty with his Big Boy Caprice make-up. Everything else was maintained in reverence for the source material—primarily due to creator Chester Gould’s demands on the studio when the project was first pitched in the ‘80s. Despite the fact that the characters’ early flirtation with the big screen came in the form of hooky B-grade serials in the late ‘30s, a cheesy TV show in the ‘50s, a pseudo-racist cartoon in the ‘60s, and a segment of Saturday morning Archie cartoons in the ‘70s, by the ‘80s, Gould put enough pressure on the project that it was shelved until after his death.

Now imagine a world where the color and camp of Tracy is completely inverted, but the devotion of purity to the pulp page source is in tact from the start of the project—rather than five decades too late. There you have Sin City. Hollywood had burned Frank Miller, the comic book scribe who rocked the DC world with controversy by re-creating the Batman mythos from Year One—keeping original elements but adding his patented style. A signature ultra-violent, grim splatter noir style earned him praise and condemnation alike with enough hype that producers offered him a shot at Robocop 2 (1990). As legend has it, Miller went so heavy on script and sub-plot stories that the studio panicked, labeled it unfilmable, and used only its bare-bone structure as final draft.

While these production shenanigans didn’t keep him from a cameo as Frank the chemist, involvement in Robocop 3 (1993) and a spin-off comic series on Avatar Press called Frank Miller’s Robocop, it did have him pulling the rights of all his original material from the market (especially Sin City).

Enter Robert Rodriguez, long-time Miller fanboy, outlaw filmmaker, renegade auteur, and rebel without a crew. An anomaly in the Hollywood machine, Rodriguez has managed to maintain his unique indie vision (El Mariachi) with increasingly higher budgets (Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico) while still doling out popcorn eye-candy snack films (Spy Kids 1 – 3D). This made him the perfect figure to woo Frank back to the silver screen with a no-strings-attached segment that came in the form of a gift. The short story scene he used didn’t just greenlight the project—but it also became the opening footage for the film and a means to tantalize an all-star cast.

Sin City isn’t just another milestone in the career of an already accomplished cinematic revolutionary—it’s actually a historical landmark in film history. It will be the first fully-digital live action movie, combining HD digital footage with green-screen back lot techniques—a vision that must have digital fanatic George Lucas (who first turned Rodriguez onto HD techniques post-Spy Kids) drooling all over himself. Even high-profile pal Quentin Tarantino, an adamant advocate of film-over-digital, dipped into the action, repaying his one-dollar debt to Rodriguez (for scoring Kill Bill Vol. 2) just so he could get hands-on experience in the HD technology and serve as an interesting historical footnote in film lore.

Already being hyped as the next Pulp Fiction (don’t buy the hype—buy the original Sin City graphic novel), the film’s all-star line-up has generated enough buzz that 27 seconds of raw green-screen footage became an instant Internet hit immediately after airing. If you’re a fan of new school noir, you’ll want to check out the Rodriguez/Miller project. It looks promisingly authentic and loyal to the book.

Ed. Note: Look for Sin City in theaters on April 1.

And be sure to check out part one of Josh's column.

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