In Match Cuts, we examine every available version of a film, and decide once and for all which is the one, definitive cut worth watching. This week, in honor of Robert Rodriguez‘s new “Spy Kids” movie, “All the Time in the World,” we’re looking at the director’s adaptation of the graphic novel series “Sin City.”
-Theatrical Cut (2005): 124 minutes
-Recut, Extended, Unrated Cut (2005): 147 minutes (sort of)
Maybe “The Stories” is more accurate here; “Sin City” began its life as a series of noir comic books by writer/artist Frank Miller set in the corrupt and venal town of Basin City. The adaptation, directed by Miller and Rodriguez, brings four of those stories to life. In “The Customer is Always Right,” a man with ulterior motives (Josh Hartnett) seduces a woman (Marley Shelton) at a party. In “The Hard Goodbye,” a hideous mook named Marv (Mickey Rourke) seeks to avenge the murder of a kindly prostitute (Jaime King). “The Big Fat Kill” follows Dwight (Clive Owen) as he tries to clean up a mess caused by a couple of not-so-kindly prostitutes and a sadistic police officer (Benicio del Toro). Finally, “That Yellow Bastard” features Bruce Willis as Hartigan, a good cop, framed for child molestation by a sick pervert (Nick Stahl) whose father is the corrupt senator (Powers Boothe) who runs Basin City.
REASON FOR MULTIPLE VERSIONS:
Technology more than anything else. There’s certainly no great narrative reason — Dimension didn’t force Rodriguez and Miller to lose one of their short stories for the sake of a more commercial runtime or anything like that — nor are there any major censorship concerns. In fact, even though the “Sin City” Special Edition’s “Recut, Extended, and Unrated” cut boasts that it is, yes, unrated, it doesn’t contain any significant additions of violence or sexuality. I’m quite sure it’s unrated only because Dimension didn’t submit it for a rating; if they had, it surely would have received exactly the same rating as the Theatrical Cut. Mostly this is just Rodriguez, a guy who loves big DVDs with comprehensive special features, giving the hardcore fans of the film an extra version that breaks up the film’s four stories and presents them like individual episodes in an anthology mini-series.
KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MULTIPLE VERSIONS (SPOILERS AHEAD):
The disappointing part of the Recut, Extended, and Unrated Cut (henceforth the REU Cut) is that there really aren’t any key differences. Although the DVD packaging boasts that the REU Cut features “over 20 minutes” of new footage, that claim is extremely misleading, even if technically true. Three of the four stories are in fact extended. But basically 13 of the 20 new minutes are redundant credits sequences added to the end of each individual episode. In other words, the Theatrical Cut has one end credits sequence. The REU Cut has four.
The seven new minutes of actual content do very little to change the experience of the movie. At best they are inconsequential and at worst they were wisely cut for pacing by Rodriguez and Miller in the first place. Returning them to the film does it no favors. There’s no reason we need to know that Marv has hidden his beloved pistol Gladys in his mother’s house, and while it’s sort of cute to see this big tough guy tiptoeing around so his mom won’t hear him, the film flows better without it.
The same goes for the following scene from the beginning of Hartigan’s tale. The Theatrical Cut dissolves from Hartigan seemingly dying from his wounds to the beginning of Marv’s story. Then after “The Hard Goodbye” and “The Big Fat Kill” we return to Hartigan waking up in the hospital to the sound of Powers Boothe’s voice, a nice surprise if you’re unfamiliar with the books, and a clever way to approximate for the audience the feeling of time being ripped away from the character. In the REU Cut, where “That Yellow Bastard” stands on its own, those two beats are connected by a montage of visitors to Hartigan while he’s in the hospital, including his wife.
The REU “Big Fat Kill” includes one interesting extension. The story begins in the apartment of a waitress named Shellie (Brittany Murphy), who is being pestered by an ex-boyfriend named Jackie (del Toro) and a couple of his buddies. Jackie goes to the bathroom, and the goons start harassing Shellie, who defends herself with a kitchen knife. In the Theatrical Cut, that’s where the scene ends, on a striking close-up of Murphy, blade drawn, threatening to cut the “little pecker off” anyone who tries to touch her. In the REU Cut, there’s an additional beat, as we cut to a reverse angle on the buddies, who are unimpressed by her threats. One even draws a gun on her to shut her up. The Theatrical Cut makes Shellie a stronger and more imposing character, while the REU version diminishes her power. In a movie that doesn’t exactly present the most flattering or progressive portrait of women to begin with, cutting that scene short and giving Shellie a chance to be something more than a poor, helpless “dame,” was probably the right decision.
The one REU Cut addition I really like is also totally inessential and very brief. It comes during “The Hard Goodbye,” when Marv enters Kadie’s Bar looking for clues in the death of the prostitute.
Again, this beat, where Marv beats up “Weevil” to draw the attention of underworld characters with knowledge of his lover’s death, is totally unnecessary. But Weevil (note the animal nickname), described by Marv as “something small and hairy,” looks an awful lot like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and the beat of Marv handily kicking the crap out of this guy who looks like one of the most famous (and famously tough) movie super-heroes feels a little like one cartoonist pissing on another’s territory in a way I find very charming.
IF YOU ONLY WATCH ONE VERSION OF “SIN CITY,” WATCH:
The Theatrical Cut. The ability to watch each “Sin City” story separately sounds like a nice luxury on paper — not to mention a logical one, since Miller wrote and released each book separately — but the chapters work better together. The second half of “The Customer is Always Right” doesn’t make any sense if you don’t watch it after “The Big Fat Kill,” and “That Yellow Bastard” works really well as the bookend to the other two longer stories.
Calling the verison of “Sin City” on the DVD the Recut, Extended, Unrated Cut is wildly misleading, even if it’s also factually accurate. The movie isn’t so much recut as disentangled, its extensions are needless and minor, and even if the extra scenes had featured a ton of nudity or gore — which they don’t — they wouldn’t have changed much, since the movie was already a super-hard R to begin with.
The Theatrical “Sin City” is still a marvel: it’s bleak and beautiful, violent and poetic, funny and sorrowful. When this movie came out in theaters it didn’t look or sound like anything else; six years later, it still doesn’t (I’m sorry, you say Miller made a similar looking movie about “The Spirit?” I’ve never heard of it. Nope, doesn’t exist as far as I know). “Sin City”‘s not perfect but its imperfections are the stuff of Miller’s personal and occasionally distasteful vision, not studio meddling. The REU Cut is a nice luxury I guess, but a pointless one. It’s so similar to the theatrical version that even calling it an entirely different cut of the film feels like a sin.