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
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