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Face-Off: Sin City vs. 300

Nice to see you again, fans of the cinema! This is the Face-Off, where two movies enter and both movies leave, but one leaves in a slightly better light. Yes, here we take two competitors and compare their key elements and see who comes out the champion. It's a fierce competition that results in blood, tears, and online arguments, but the more brutal the battle, the sweeter the victory.

Last week saw the release of the newest film from director Robert Rodriguez, ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL, an adaptation of the manga series "Gunnm" from Yukito Kishiro. The visually stupendous sci-fi flick is the director's most ambitious film in years and calls to mind other visually arresting comic/graphic novel adaptations of the past. In the plethora of comic book movies, these are some of the ones that stand out, and they both have their legion of fans that should make this an entertaining battle indeed. It's SIN CITY vs. 300!

The first hails from Rodriguez himself (co-directing with graphic novel author Frank Miller) and came at a time when comic book movies didn't have the best reputation, and there was plenty of room for innovation. Innovate they did, and using state-of-the-art technology they crafted SIN CITY, a jaw-dropping, impressively violent, ultra-sexy flick that blew minds. A few years later 300 came out, another adaptation of a Miller work, but this time with eventual DC Cinematic Universe architect Zack Snyder at the helm. Snyder's knack for visual stupendousness was exactly what this historical/fantasy action flick needed to be an eye-popping bloodfest, filled with memorable movie quotes to boot. 

Both movies have their perks outside of visual excellence, and it will be those qualities that will determine the winner of this graphic novel showdown. THIS - IS - FACE-OFF!

The Ensemble

Bruce Willis as John Hartigan
Jessica Alba as Nancy
Clive Owen as Dwight
Benicio del Toro as Jack
Roasario Dawson as Gail
Mickey Rourke as Marv
Carla Gugino as Lucille
Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute
Alexis Biedel as Becky
Brittany Murphy as Shellie
Nick Stahl as Roark Junior/Yellow Bastard
Powers Boothe as Senator Roark
Devon Aoki as Miho
Jaime King as Goldie/Wendy
Rutger Hauer as Cardinal Patrick Henry Roark
Josh Hartnett as The Salesman
Marley Shelton as The Customer

Gerard Butler as Leonidas
Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo
David Wenham as Dilios
Dominic West as Theron
Michael Fassbender as Stelios
Vincent Regan as Captain Artemis
Rodrigo Santoro as King Xerxes
Andrew Tiernan as Ephialtes
Tom Wisdom as Astinos
Andrew Pleavin as Daxos

Direction

What was done on SIN CITY has not been done before or since on a major comic book/graphic novel film, in that both an A-list director, Robert Rodriguez, and a novel's author, Frank Miller, collaborated on a huge movie together, getting dual credit for their efforts. With Rodriguez, you got the experience - the tech-savvy, stylistic flair that brought the movie to life, and with Miller, you got the man who created the original material and worked closely with the actors to get them in the proper mindset of the characters. Together they make the perfect team for this project, balancing all the right ingredients to make this ambitious translation (more so than an adaptation, in Rodriguez's words) of the source material that looks and feels as if it was ripped right from the pages and put directly onto the screen. While Rodriguez may have been able to pull it off without Miller having the same level of credit as he did -- still able to deliver the same pulpy, noir thrills and achieve the same level of visual impact -- having Miller there ensured the film stayed as authentic to the roots as possible, which is what makes the movie have the impact it does. In terms of taking a graphic novel and bringing it to the screen, no director(s) have been able to do as good and masterful a job at making the movie look and feel like it's own beast while at the same time delivering on exactly what the fans of the material would want from a movie. It's a genius execution in both fan service, filmmaking and respect to the source material, and not really something that has been achieved on the same level in the genre since.

Whatever precedent Rodriguez and Miller set on SIN CITY, Zack Snyder was influenced by on 300. While he swapped out the use of digital cameras for using good ol' film, Snyder still brought the same level of passion for the material to the stage, bringing it to life with an astounding visual scope that made it seem entirely in its own class. Also with the aim of putting the page to screen in a nigh shot-for-shot manner, Snyder took the violence, chaos, blood, sex, directness and fantastical elements of the graphic novel and injected rip-roaring energy to it that solidified him as a filmmaker with a superb eye for action and visuals. If Snyder loses this bout it's not for the lack of innovation and skill, but because Snyder simply didn't have as much to balance as the two in the other column. The simplicity of the story made room for the effects and action to take the main stage, but the balancing act of spectacle, story and characters that SIN CITY pulled off is more impressive a feat for its directors. 

Script

Anyone who remembers SIN CITY fondly may remember that during the opening credits there's no indication of a "Screenplay by" credit for the movie, rather a "Based on" credit to Miller and his novels. The reason why is this movie is, for the most part, a straight translation of the graphic novels with much of Miller's story and dialogue staying directly intact. There are no major liberties taken that change the stories too much, and the dialogue is just as gripping as it was in the novels. So for the sake of this particular arena, it all comes down to that translation of the story. In this case, Miller and Rodriguez did an excellent job taking the stories from the "Sin City" canon -- mainly The Hard Goodbye, The Yellow Bastard and The Big Fat Kill (and The Customer is Always Right in the beginning)-- and fleshing them out for the screen. Some stuff might be missing from the novels for time, but still, the stories feature fully formed characters with plenty of stakes and motivations to make the stories compelling in their own way. It's like watching a cinematic universe play out on screen before Marvel got there years later. The stories also flow seamlessly together when moving out of one and into another, and in the case of The Hard Goodbye, picking it up later after two major stories in between. It moves and plays out like PULP FICTION if it were a hyper-stylized comic book movie -- which is also another testament to Rodriguez and Miller behind the camera.

The story the makes the basis of 300 is ripped right from history with the ancient Battle of Thermopalye, in which 300 Spartans (and hundreds to thousands of other soldiers from around the region) took on the might of the Persian Empire during the reign of Xerxes I. Sure, the actual history has way more layers to it than the story here, with Miller's graphic novel and script adaptation from Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Michael B. Gordon focusing solely on the Spartans and their fighting of the overly comic book-ified Persian army. That means on a story front, there's not much here, and the characters themselves have little depth beyond a warriors spirit and code of honor, or in the case of the Persians, blind maliciousness. In terms of the visual style and straight story of the graphic novel, everything is there, but even the novel is more an exercise in fantastical history than complex storytelling, which means 300 was more meant to be a supreme action flick than a riveting, character-driven historical epic.

Best Bits & Lines

Bits:

Whisper of the Gunshot

Old Man Dies, Little Girl Lives

The Goddess 

Marv vs. Cops

Nancy’s First Dance

Marv Goes Hunting

Kevin

Marv vs Kevin Round 2

Marv kills Roark

Dwight and Jack

Deadly Little Miho

Talking Dead

The Pits

Hookers Attack

Hartigan Pays the Price

The Yellow Bastard

Nancy Grown Up

Hartigan Bashes the Bastard

Fair Trade

 

Lines:

Marv: Walk down the right back alley in Sin City and you can find anything.

-----

Hartigan: An old man dies. A young woman lives. A fair trade. I love you, Nancy.

-----

Marv: The night's as hot as hell. It's a lousy room in a lousy part of a lousy town - I'm staring at a goddess. She's telling me she wants me. I'm not going to waste one more minute wondering how I've gotten this lucky. She smells like angels ought to smell, the perfect woman... the Goddess. Goldie. She says her name is Goldie.

-----

Hartigan: I take away his weapon...both of them.

-----

Hartigan: Hell of a way to end a partnership.

-----

Marv: That there is one damn fine coat you're wearin'.

-----

Marv: I'll stare the bastard in the face as he screams to God, and I'll laugh harder when he whimpers like a baby. And when his eyes go dead, the hell I send him to will seem like heaven after what I've done to him.

-----

Dwight: I'm Shellie's new boyfriend and I'm out of my mind. If you so much as talk to her or even think her name, I'll cut you in ways that'll make you useless to a woman.

-----

Dwight: The Fire, baby. It'll burn us both. It'll kill us both. There's no place in this world for our kind of fire. My warrior woman. My Valkyrie. You'll always be mine. Always... and never.

-----

Wendy: Kill em' for me Marv. Kill 'em good.

-----

Dwight: First, we gotta rescue Gail. Then comes the kill. The big, fat kill.

-----

Marv: I check the list. Rubber tubing, gas, saw, gloves, cuffs, razor wire, hatchet, Gladys, and my mitts.

-----

Bits:

Wolf in the Winter Cold

The Kick!

The Oracle

Spartan Sex

Looks Like Rain

Michael Fassbender Chops Off a Dudes Arm

Ephialtes

The First Battle

Slo-Mo Leonidas 

Fighting in the Shade

Over the Cliff

Xerxes

The Immortals

Montage of Battles

Pleasure Palace

The Final Standoff

10,000 Spartans

 

Lines:

Leonidas: Maddess...? THIS - IS - SPARTA!

-----

Leonidas: Spartans! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty... For tonight, we dine in hell!

-----

Persian: A thousand nations of the Persian empire will descend upon you. Our arrows will blot out the sun!
Stelios: Then we will fight in the shade.

-----

Persian General: SPARTANS! Lay down your weapons!
Leonidas: PERSIANS! COME AND GET THEM!

-----

Leonidas: Give them NOTHING! But take from them EVERYTHING!

-----

Stelios: It's an honor to die at your side.
Leonidas: It's an honor to have lived at yours.

-----

Leonidas: SPARTANS! What is YOUR profession?
Spartans: HA-OOH! HA-OOH! HA-OOH!
Leonidas: You see, old friend? I brought more soldiers than you did. 

-----

Dilios: Immortals... we put their name to the test.

-----

Leonidas: The world will know that free men stood against a tyrant, that few stood against many, and before this battle was over, even a god-king can bleed.

-----

Queen Gorgo: Come back with your shield, or on it.

-----

Leonidas: This is where we hold them! This is where we fight! This is where they die!

-----

Dilios: "Goodbye my love." He doesn't say it. There's no room for softness... not in Sparta. No place for weakness. Only the hard and strong may call themselves Spartans. Only the hard, only the strong.

-----

Queen Gorgo: This will not be over quickly. You will not enjoy this. I am not your Queen!

-----

Queen Gorgo: Do not be coy or stupid, Persian. You can afford neither in Sparta!
Messenger: What makes this woman think she can speak among men?
Queen Gorgo: Because only Spartan women give birth to real men!

-----

Leonidas: Dilios, I trust that "scratch" hasn't made you useless.
Dilios: Hardly, my lord, it's just an eye. The gods saw fit to grace me with a spare.

-----

Xerxes: You will find that I am kind.

-----

Xerxes: Come Leonidas, let us reason together. It would be a regrettable waste. It would be nothing short of madness for you, brave king, and your valiant troops to perish. All because of a simple misunderstanding. There is much our cultures could share.
Leonidas: Haven't you noticed? We've been sharing our culture with you all morning.

 

Production Design & Visuals

SIN CITY was made in 2004 and released in early 2005, and at the time it was only of only a handful of movies made almost virtually all against a green screen. This type of filmmaking was incredibly new at the time, made even more groundbreaking that Rodriguez also shot the movie on digital, also a budding technique at the time. This - including the black and white conversion and use of colorization in key details - made the movie look exactly like how the characters and scenes did in the comics, creating a visual style unseen on the big screen at the time. The blacks are deep and emphasize the whites for a dynamic effect that makes the B&W have a more visceral effect, while the minimal use of color pops against the surrounding non-color. Even after all these years, these effects look fantastic, even when the fast moments and wide shots tend to emphasize the infancy of the technology. The tracking shot of the hookers firing down on the thugs below in The Big Fat Kill segment - the blood red sky in the background - is a good example of what I'm talking about, what with my more season eye for visual effects noticing the very obvious green screen in the back. Still, this movie earns marks for still looking so damn cool and striking all these years later, with any faults few and far between.

300 benefitted from the groundwork SIN CITY established, with Snyder shooting almost entirely against a blue screen, albeit on film instead of digital. The result is a movie that, like SIN CITY, looks completely in its own league - like an oil painting come to life. While SIN CITY can look aged in its larger scope, 300 looks jaw-dropping in its bigger, more epic moments. Say what you will about some of his movies, but Snyder knows how to shoot an action sequence and give it gravitas and weight, like the scene during the rainstorm, ships colliding against each other and the Spartans blocking the rain with their shields. Even smaller moments, like when the Spartans and the Immortals reform their battle lines (in slo-mo) after an intense clash, the camera panning up before they go back it. What we remember of the movie is the quick action scenes, Gerard Butler and Michael Fassbender moving in slo-mo then into ramped up speeds as they slice and dice enemies. But there are some breathtaking shots in this movie that highlight the fantasy elements. Mix that all in with some elaborate costumes - and flattering liberties taken for the Spartan uniforms - and 300 is a movie that can visually astound even more than a decade later.

Musical Mastery

How do you make a seedy, noir score seem fresh and fit into an ultra-stylized, graphic novel world? Why, you combine a variety of styles ranging from suave, sultry, jazz sounds to fast-paced, hard-hitting guitar tracks and combine them with the ominous tones you'd find in any mystery movie. Rodriguez, who also does a lot of the music on his movies, collaborated with John Debney and Graeme Revell for the movie's score, creating a kaleidoscopic sound that's edgy, sexy and wild. SIN CITY is a wide world filled will all sorts of fiendish characters and steamy romance, and a great score needed to highlight every inch of the world Rodriguez and Miller brought to life.

300's score from Tyler Bates is a mixed bag, one featuring some stirring, epic sounds filled with vocal chants and cries to add some extra gravitas to the orchestrations. The best pieces are intense and sweeping, highlighting the adrenaline-pumping action. But then there are some of the other pieces, ones that seem a bit derivative of other scores from cinematic epics of similar setting, like TROY. In fact, Bates' work got into a bit of trouble when it was determined several of the pieces were based on Oscar-winner Elliot Goldenthal's work, namely from the movie TITUS. If you go onto the album's Spotify page, you'll see about six of the 25 tracks have Goldenthal now credited on them. Nothing wrong with taking some inspiration from other sources, but when the score is unimpressive it also comes off as generic, making this a score with as many unremarkable moments as there are bright spots.

Bloody, Pulpy Action

SIN CITY in no way shies away from the violence. While colorization techniques highlight the more striking features on some characters, there's plenty of gushing, red blood to be seen. It all stands out much better against the black and white, too, and I remember this being the must-see movie for me and my friends in our teens, simply because of the stylized gore. And stylized is a bit of an understatement. While there are some grounded, noir tones the action is completely over the top and perfect for the comic book world. Seemingly normal people are doing incredible feats of strength and agility, leaping off buildings and taking all sort of hits and explosions. This movie does not hold back on the action at all, and it still hits as hard today as ever before, thanks primarily to the aforementioned strength of the visuals.

If there's any reason to rewatch 300, other than to experience the sheer testosterone oozing from every frame and piece of dialogue, it's to watch the incredibly bonkers action from start to finish. Featuring that now trademark action style Snyder would go on to use in movies like WATCHMEN, there's everything from the adrenaline pumping, fast-paced swordplay that's kinetic and gory, to slowed down moments that let you take in the sheer weight of the action, like when Leonidas is hurling the spear at Xerxes, his men pierced by arrows around him. Snyder knows exactly how to handle wide, epic shots and close, intimate combat, and in terms of action, this remains his most impressive work.

Adaptation of Source Material

SIN CITY combined several of Miller's graphic novels into one movie, but instead of trying to mesh it all into one narrative the movie does each justice by splitting them up and turning it into a sort of anthology movie. This is a genius move, and next to the visuals is the defining element of the movie. It would've been so easy to hone in on one story and scrap together some sort of clunky story that incorporates other books, but this big-screen treatment was all about honoring the books in the purest of ways. Many of the best panels from each of the stories is brought thrillingly to life, while none of the characters feel washed or forgotten in the mix. Between the spectacular visuals and the great character work, this is a loving translation of the books fans love, proving how well the two mediums complement each other.

Now, I'm not going to say adapting any source material is easy. You have to figure out what works and include that, and then find what's unnecessary or can be changed and tinker with what you need to. Miller's graphic novel isn't exactly "Watchmen," and is a rather short read with each page filled with striking designs and clever dialogue. Bringing that to life on the big screen was all about the visual elements, and Snyder knew exactly how to give Miller's drawing scope on the screen. As for other elements, the script expanded on certain roles, mainly Queen Gorgo, which was an excellent touch. In her, there's a strong woman to fight a different battle than the one the men were fighting, creating a worthy juxtaposition that adds to the novel instead of taking away. The story is simple and lacking in the kind of characterization that makes SIN CITY such a stronger tale(s), but the movie did the novel justice in all the ways it needed to and added where it made the story a little stronger.

Legacy

SIN CITY is remembered fondly by both fans of comics and cinephiles in general, with admirers on all sides acknowledging it as a groundbreaking entry in the genre that really only 300 has dared to match on a visual level. For this, it's held in high esteem even over a decade later, both a showcase for incredible visuals and terrific performances. There's so much to look back on and to hold a place for in pop culture, like Mickey Rourke's incredible work as Marv and Jessica Alba's scene-stealing work with that lasso of hers. In the Golden Age of comic book movies we're in today, it's more important than ever that SIN CITY stands out from the pack, showing what you can do with the medium when you put artistic representation ahead of commercial gain.

SIN CITY certainly may get more love from film buffs and the critical community, but there's no doubt that in the realm of pop culture and society as a whole 300 has a stronger place in people's minds -- and for all sorts of reasons. You have the endless bounty of macho movie quotes; that star-making performance from Gerard Butler; the ridiculousness of the lack of armor for the sake of showcasing sweaty abs; the arresting action and; just the fact that in 2007, when this movie came out, it was one of the most-talked-about movies of the year - and one that seemingly everyone saw. This movie made the kind of money some comic book movies make today, and a worldwide gross nearing $500 million before the global market blew up the way it has in recent years. This movie was a phenomenon that many still love and quote today, if only as a crazy, vicious action movie that's over-the-top in every single way.

Awards, Praise & Money

Awards:

Golden Schmoes:

Winner:

  • Best Director of the Year
    • Robert Rodriguez
    • Frank Miller
  • Trippiest Movie of the Year
  • Best Supporting Actor of the Year
    • Mickey Rourke
  • Coolest Character of the Year
    • 'Marv'
  • Favorite Movie Poster of the Year
  • Best DVD/Blu-Ray of the Year
    • 'Sin City: Extended Edition'
  • Best T&A of the Year
    • Jessica Alba

Nominee:

  • Favorite Movie of the Year
  • Best Special Effects of the Year
  • Best Music in a Movie
  • Best Trailer of the Year
  • Best T&A of the Year
    • Carla Gugino
  • Best Line of the Year
    • "Walk down the right back alley in Sin City and you can find anything."

**34 Wins & 51 Nominations per IMDb**

 

Praise:

Rotten Tomatoes: 77% (78% Audience Score)

Metacritic: 74 (8.8 Audience)

IMDb: 8.0

 

Money:

$74 million ($158 million globally)

Awards:

Golden Schmoes:

Winner:

  • Favorite Movie of the Year
  • Best Trailer of the Year

Nominee:

  • Best Director of the Year
    • Zack Snyder
  • Most Overrated Movie of the Year
  • Trippiest Movie of the Year
  • Best Special Effects of the Year
  • Breakthrough Performance of the Year
    • Gerard Butler
  • Coolest Character of the Year
    • 'King Leonidas'
  • Favorite Movie Poster of the Year
  • Best DVD/Blu-Ray of the Year
    • '2-Disc'
  • Best T&A of the Year
    • Lena Headey
  • Best Line of the Year
    • "Madness? THIS...IS...SPARTA!!!"
  • Best Line of the Year
    • "Spartans! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty, for tonight we dine in hell!"

**17 Wins & 45 Nominations per IMDb**

 

Praise:

Rotten Tomatoes: 60% (90% Audience Score)

Metacritic: 52 (7.2 Audience)

IMDb: 7.7

 

Money:

$210 million ($456 million globally)

SIN CITY

300 is a rip-roaring action movie that takes the source material and lovingly goes bat-shit crazy with it. Is it the most in-depth, enriching experience? Absolutely not. But is it a sweeping, visually stupendous action flick that provides endless entertainment and makes you want to kick things down holes? A million times yes! It's a graphic novel come to life in all the bloodiest, most badass ways, and after some time away I was amazed about much fun I had revisiting it. However, next to SIN CITY, a movie as equally impressive in the visual department and as passionately brought to the screen, it comes up short. For his movie, Rodriguez and Miller assembled a tremendous cast to bring this modern noir to the big screen -- and if 300 is a graphic novel come to life in the bloodiest ways -- SIN CITY steps above it with compelling stories and grabbing characters. There are many reasons why this groundbreaking movie remains timeless, and while THE DARK KNIGHT and THE AVENGERS may be among the first comic book movies to make the "Best Of" lists, we should never forget this R-rated masterwork as one of the best in the genre. 

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