DIGITAL MAVERICK Robert Rodriguez subtitles this Dec. 13 release "Recut-Extended-Unrated," which amounts to about 23 minutes of new material and God knows how many gigabytes on his hard drive. (You also get the 124-minute theatrical version with multiple commentaries.) Adapting three stories by comic-book artist Frank Miller, whom he made his co-director, Rodriguez shot the all-digital production on an Austin, Texas, soundstage with green backdrops. "It's like movie Photoshop," Rodriguez says, allowing him to layer the actors, backgrounds, and effects while later working alone in his mad-genius computer lab "when nobody else is on the clock." Rodriguez directs, edits, handles the camera, and scores the film.
He's no less the polymath on the two-disc set's many extras: There's a film-school segment, a cooking lesson, and a fascinating 10-minute condensed version of the movie, sans effects—meaning just the performers in front of green screens. The voluble Rodriguez is joined by Miller on one commentary, and on another by star Bruce Willis and Quentin Tarantino (who directed the long car conversation scene between Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro), in what amount to very short cameos. (Ever the old-school cinephile, QT name-checks Dario Argento, Jean-Pierre Melville, and Volker Schlöndorff and protests of CGI, "That's cheating!" Then he adds, "I would do digital again.")
But Rodriguez is already a master of this new digital domain, even if it permits him to be too productive—as with those damn Spy Kids movies. Showing how he achieved such crisp tonal separations in black and white, he explains how each element of a given shot can be lit differently: "I could finally put lights anywhere I wanted on the set." Which means all the complicated technical stuff is done after the actors leave, making for an accelerated pace Willis compares to Playhouse 90. Del Toro only worked four days, Brittany Murphy one, and the big fight between Elijah Wood and Mickey Rourke was built entirely out of doubles, stand-ins, and effects. The two never actually met. "You could never get all these actors together," says Rodriguez. And yet they'll reunite, sort of, as Sin City 2 is currently under way.
Also out Dec. 13 are The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Roll Bounce, Pretty Persuasion, and the Ewan McGregor TV travelogue Long Way Round. A box set of old titles featuring the stop-motion magic of Ray Harryhausen includes 20 Million Miles From Earth. The Simpsons' seventh season also comes to DVD, as does the nature doc Genesis.