- The Washington Times - Friday, December 23, 2005

The comic book permeates all levels of popular culture. This sporadic feature reviews some recent examples from the world of digital video discs (compatible with DVD-ROM-enabled computers and home entertainment centers) and also includes a recommended sequential-art reading list to extend the multimedia adventures.

Frank Miller’s ‘Sin City’: Recut-Extended-Unrated

(Buena Vista Home Entertainment, rated R, $39.99)

Earlier this year, director Robert Rodriguez delivered the most authentic-looking and -sounding comic-book movie ever produced when he delved into Frank Miller’s legendary crime-noir-inspired sequential-art series, Sin City.

The dramatic cinematic ode astounded fans and audiences. It was authentic down to the re-creation of Mr. Miller’s stark, stylized black-and-white illustrative style in a live-action format, dialogue taken directly from the books, and Mr. Miller’s presence on the set. (He even received a director’s credit.)

A fantastic two-disc DVD set enables fans to navigate through the film and extra features thanks to menus that mix comic panels and Mr. Rodriguez’s imagery to introduce Basin City’s famed Detective Hartigan, brutish loser Marv and photographer Dwight.

The first disc provides the full theatrical release shot in digital video, which transformed the Sin City illustrated tales

The Hard Goodbye, That Yellow Bastard, The Customer Is Always Right and The Big Fat Kill — into an R-rated, excessively violent and profanity-loaded onscreen experience starring Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro.

The disc’s bonuses include a look at the special-effects magic used to bring the film to life, an explanation of the painstaking lengths Mr. Rodriguez went to in convincing Mr. Miller to turn his “baby” into a film, an introduction to all of the characters by Mr. Miller and the chance to watch the film with a real audience through an audio track culled from a film screening in Austin, Texas.

A pair of informative, optional commentary tracks round out the disc and reveal Mr. Rodriguez’s excitement about the project: He hogs conversations with Mr. Miller on one track and with Quentin Tarantino (who directed a sequence and pops in on the viewing like a giddy next-door neighbor about 60 minutes into the film) and Mr. Willis, who plays Hartigan, on the other.

The second disc continues the Sin City immersion with extended versions of each of the film’s stories, now broken up into stand-alone pieces. Viewers also get a sped-up version of the entire film, sans the effects, to show how the actors applied imagination to scenes when they were mostly surrounded by a green screen.

—Read all about it: The set includes digest-sized, full reprint of The Hard Goodbye story, originally published in Dark Horse Comics in 1991. I suggest that readers follow along with the 200-page book as they watch the film to see exactly how devoted Mr. Rodriguez was to the original source material.

‘Fantastic Four’

(Fox Home Entertainment, rated PG, $29.99)

Let’s not compare the “Sin City” film to the 20th Century Fox movie adaptation of Marvel Comic’s oldest superhero team because it would be the difference between a finely prepared porterhouse steak and a Big Mac.

The “Fantastic Four” film does remain true to the spirit of the comic book. However, the shallow story defining the emergence of the superhero team and archvillain Doctor Doom falls flat: Director Tim Story is bogged down by too many character origins and not enough action in 106 minutes.

Of the actors, only Michael Chiklis as the Thing stands out by offering a well-rounded performance exhibiting the pathos, humor and challenges associated with a human turning into a rock monster.

The DVD extras remain as thin as the story. An optional commentary track only brings cast members Jessica Alba (Invisible Woman), Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards) and Mr. Chiklis together, and a home-movie video diary, shot by Miss Alba and her personal assistant, shows how much promotion the cast did around the world to turn the film into a summer blockbuster.

I did enjoy the music-video additions, which feature an awesome performance by Velvet Revolver of the song “Come In, Come In.” The hard-rock action mixes comic-book panels with plenty of posturing by the group.

Read all about it: Marvel Comics keeps the Fantastic Four alive every month in multiple comic-book series. One of the latest compilations, Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four, Volume 1, Family of Heroes Digest ($6.99), features the first four issues of the recent all-ages series highlighted by Carlo Pagulayan’s excellent art.

‘Star Wars Clone Wars’: Volume Two

(Fox Home Entertainment, $29.99)

Anyone wondering how great the “Star Wars” films could have been if George Lucas had stayed away from directing and writing the dialogue need only enjoy Cartoon Network’s animated micro-series exposing the battle between the Trade Federation and Republic in a galaxy far, far away.

Genndy Tartakovsky, the creator of Samurai Jack, spearheaded the three seasons of the project, which filled in the story gaps between the last two feature films.

A DVD release combines the last two seasons (acting as a prequel to “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”) into an action-packed 64-minute cartoon that includes a pair of encounters with General Grievous and explores Anakin Skywalker’s trials as a Jedi Knight.

Extras to the disc contain a featurette on the weaving of plots from the Star Wars films with the animated series, an optional commentary track led by Mr. Tartakovsky and a two-level, playable demo for Xbox owners of the LucasArts video game Star Wars: Battlefront II.

Read all about it:1/4 Dark Horse Comics’ series of young-reader-friendly Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures books continues sporadically to hit store shelves. The latest, Volume 4 ($6.95), features four stories in a 96-page, full-color, 51/4-by-7-inch format.

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