Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The League Presents:
Suggestions for Further Reading
A Sin City Special

Friday will see the release of what is sure to be a divisive movie among fans of pop culture. Frank Miller's Sin City is finally coming to a theater near you.

I am not going to guarantee you will enjoy Sin City. The content of the stories is minimal, hard-boiled stuff. The look and feel are stylized enough to be alienating, and the characters are not going to be immediately sympathetic. Nobody is clean down in Basin City.

By now you've heard all about how Robert Rodriguez was so committed to retaining the integrity of Frank Miller's work that he decided to bring Miller on-board as a co-director, and thusly had to give up his membership in the Director's Guild as it is against Director's Guild rules to allow for two directors on a single movie. Maybe you've heard how Rodriguez financed a short, which ultimately became the movie's opening scene, out of his own pocket.

You've probably also seen publicity stills and whatnot of green screens and artificial backgrounds.

Lots of crazy stuff. And all to make sure that Miller's work didn't just make it to the screen in spirit... Rodriguez wanted to make sure the books made it to the screen word for word, panel for panel.

This sort of thing doesn't happen for anything adapted for the big screen, comic book, novel, play, whatever... No matter what, the folks at the studio who know better always insist upon adding their own spin, changing storylines, adding or subtracting characters... there's always something. Even Spider-Man, a comic adaptation which truly captures the silver-age essence of the Spider-Man comics, brings Mary Jane in dozens of issues before her first appearance. It changes the Goblin's origin and costume. And, heck... they gave Spidey organic web-shooters instead of his wacky little mechanical web-shooters.

Let's not even get into where the Batman films took a detour and became their own unrecognizable entity.

It would have to take a fanboy of uncompromising spirit to do what Rodriguez has done, and it would take somebody like Miller to get him to do it. It's the ultimate gamble, but also the ultimate leap of faith.

Miller gave us some of the best comics of the past twenty-odd years, comics which opened up our young minds to new and better ideas. But to get there, Miller wrote and drew comics which took existing ideas and figured out why the ideas were brilliant, burning off the fat, tearing away the weakness and reigniting the fires of old fantasies, not just into a comforting glow of nostalgia, but into a raging inferno of the possibilities of genre and character. As much as a craftsman as he might be with Batman, he could just as easily turn in something like 300.

It was guys like Miller who put the thoughts into the heads of starry-eyed kids like Rodriguez back when he was a kid. He told us all the stories hadn't been told yet, and that maybe there are new ways to tell the ones which we already know.

We all have heroes growing up, and for better or worse, for a lot of us geeks, Frank Miller was the man. Even if it was just his Batman work, or, for a lot of lucky folks, his Daredevil work, or the classic Wolverine limited series.

And, if I'd been smarter, I'd have picked up Ronin back when I saw it on the shelf at B. Dalton when I was thirteen.

These days it's fascinating to see comics movies shed the stigma of being this medium where the producers seem vaguely embarassed of their own projects. In the hands of the geeks, at least the movies have a shot at reflecting the maturity which has been blossoming in comics since the 70's. Between guys like Raimi, Rodriguez and Goyer, it's the first time the film creators are able to stand up proudly and talk about the guys who had a hand in shaping their world.

You're lucky, you lucky bastards who don't love comics. You haven't spent year after year watching the characters you know and love come to the big screen as pale, diluted versions of the books you loved, each one more apologetic than the one before it as producers chased dollars before even trying to understand why a property had survived for thirty or more years.

Even with all that, misteps will always occur. Two of Miller's triumphs have been turned into films in the past few years, and both failed to capture much more than the wardrobes of the characters Miller breathed life into. 2003's Daredevil was a shadow of Miller's original storyline, and 2004's Elektra seemed to do anything but recognize why anybody had ever loved the character.

But Miller didn't own Daredevil, or Elektra. Marvel Comics owned them, and they could damn well do as they pleased.

His script for Robocop 2 was diluted and diluted until Miller's fingerprints were only there if you knew where to look.

So if he was a bit skeptical of turning Sin City into a movie, a project which has no voice in it but Miller's own? Who can blame him?

Luckily for us, Rodriguez got what it was Miller was doing, and decided if he would adapt it, he was going to do it right. He was going to bring Sin City to the screen, and he was going to do it panel by panel, and he was bringing Frank along to keep him honest.

In addition to the readings I've linked to above, I'm also suggesting the entire Sin City run. In particular, I'd turn you onto the books which you'll see highlighted in the movie.

1) The Hard Goodbye. The first (and some say, best) Sin City story tells the tale of poor old crazy Marv.

2) The Big Fat Kill. "You gotta stand up for your friends. Sometimes that means dying. Sometimes it means killing a whole lotta people."

3) That Yellow Bastard. Hartigan is maybe the last honest cop in Basin City. And in Sin City, that doesn't come without a price.

4) Booze, Broads and Bullets. A collection of short stories.

So when you go to see Sin City, I hope you enjoy. This movie isn't going to be capes and tights. If you're going to need a non-comic inspired reference, it's Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet refracted through a broken whiskey bottle. It's going to be a crazy, hyper-violent thrill ride, and I hope you can sit back, relax, have fun and try not to take it all too seriously. Frank would be disappointed if you did.

It's some ways, this movie is nothing but the biggest thank-you one could ever think of giving Miller. We all just get to be in on it.

For the previous Suggestions, click here.

No comments: