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Warner Home Video presents
"This is where we hold them! This is where we fight! This is where they die!"
DVD ReviewGrowing up in the 1980s, my idea of impressive effects involved intricate models, creative makeup and clever stop-motion animation. Even the most original fantasy pictures used rudimentary tactics that are now dwarfed by computer animation. Todayís movie world features huge budgets for computer-generated imagery (CGI) and entire films shot in front of a green screen. I have mixed feelings about this trend, which can make live-action features feel like cartoons. The Phantom Menace might have included revolutionary effects, but they also took me right out of the action. It takes a true artist with a definitive vision to overcome these obstacles and produce a memorable film. Thanks to CGI technology, directors have been able to create unique worlds to house the graphic novels of Frank Miller. Robert Rodriguezís 2005 Sin City adaptation is not for all tastes, but it does offer a unique, dark atmosphere. With 300, Director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) raises the bar and crafts a stunning world to present Millerís brutally grand epic.
This bloody tale occurs in 480 B.C. and presents the famous Battle of Thermopylae, which involved 300 Spartans defending their homeland against hordes of invading Persians. Their leader is the supremely confident King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), who enjoys making speeches about battle and delivering vicious death to his enemies. This is not the type of guy you mess with at the local watering hole. Spartan babies are immediately discarded if they donít look battle-ready, and it gets even tougher for the young men. Leonidas had to survive the elements and a giant wolf before becoming a man. His fellow soldiers are equally battle-ready and provide a nearly unbeatable fighting machine. Even the huge Persian numbers donít guarantee a Spartan defeat. Taking a Spartan warriorís viewpoint, Snyder offers a glowing depiction of the confident group. As they decimate the rushing enemies, itís hard not to root for their success. Our allegiance with him is odd because theyíre brutal fighters who almost welcome death. Like a modern boxing champion, the Spartans enjoy the challenge of facing an apparently overwhelming enemy.
The early scenes involve the expected family moments at home before the major conflict. Leonidasí wife is Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey)óa muscular knockout who has equal status with her husband. When a Persian messenger asks for the Spartanís surrender, Gorgo willingly confronts him with strong words. After sharing an energetic romantic interlude, the couple remains separated for the rest of the film. However, Gorgo faces her own difficulties on the political front from the conniving Theron (Dominic West). Her role is larger here than in Millerís original novel, which slightly expands the overall scope. Lena Heady will appear this fall as Sarah Connor in the new Terminator series, and her star is rising quickly. However, her role is the only significant female role in the picture. The other women include the nearly nude Oracle, some Persian concubines, and a few dancers. There are definitely plenty of muscles and flesh on display here, which should please the target audience. While the Spartans are fairly clean, the Persians utilize all manner of piercings and unique outfits. The most prominent figure is their leader Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), a gigantic figure with multiple piercings and an eerie deep voice. While he towers over Leonidas, his power is mostly skin-deep and fails to intimidate the self-assured Spartan.
This is a gorgeous film with numerous memorable shots displaying remarkable effects. The entire world was created on a computer, and it quickly grows believable. The cinematography and visual effects deserve Oscar consideration. The downside is the lackluster script, which includes far too many speeches about honor in battle. The early sequences are effective, but the lengthy, simple statements grow old by the second hour. Another issue is the numerous battle sequences, which can grow mind-numbing during the middle act. Their quality remains high, but itís tough to stay motivated with each successive sequence. Gerard Butler has a winning screen presence, but his fellow Spartans donít generate the same interest. Like an adventure video game, the enemies grow more difficult, but our engagement actually decreases. An exception is the gripping final conflict, which involves memorable images and affecting heroism. Snyderís direction remains strong, and a closer connection with the characters might have led to a classic finale.
300 charmed many viewers with its bloody, energetic battles and stunning visual effects. I canít disagree about the stylistic achievements, but would have liked to see a few more complex characters. Butler and Heady give impressive performances, and Santoro has a unique presence, but the rest is largely mediocre. As the Spartans battled a large rhino, vicious giant, and other strange creatures, itís hard to deny the creativity. Comic-book fans have rarely witnessed such a unique vision on the big screen. One other notable aspect is the warmongering tendencies of the Spartan heroes. Gorgo even talks about the sacrifices that are necessary for freedom. Is this film an allegory for the Iraq quagmire? If so, do the Spartans represent the United States, or is it the opposite? Itís hard not to consider real life while watching this picture, but I wouldnít strain to explore the underlying message. Snyder has crafted a flawed, but intriguing picture that should inspire even more ambitious forays into the CGI world. Iím still not sure if thatís a positive development, but have to admit the possibilities are exciting.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: It's been a while since I've been blown away by a DVD transfer. 300 utilizes an extremely sharp 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen picture that highlights the majestic battle sequences. This type of comic-book film requires a top-notch presentation, and this transfer does not disappoint. There are numerous remarkable images throughout the film, and this pristine release warrants a strong recommendation.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: I was also very impressed by the booming soundtrack, which brings the force of the vicious battles into your living room. My wife didn't particularly enjoy the sounds of the mass carnage appearing at home, but it does provide an impressive experience. This 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer includes clear dialogue and powerful effects, which leads to a top-notch, immersive experience. There's also a 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track for people with simpler home theaters.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring Trick 'r Treat, The Brave One, 300: March to Glory Video Game, 300 Soundtrack, Blade Runner: 25th Anniversary Edition, NHL DVDs
3 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Zack Snyder, Writer Kurt Johnstad, and Director of Photography Larry Fong
Packaging: 2 disc slip case
The 300: Fact or Fiction (24:32)
While viewing this film, it's impossible not to wonder which elements actually occurred during the real battle. This impressive feature offers an intelligent discussion about the battle and how the filmed version relates to real life. Author/Historian Bettany Hughes provides some great details about the Spartans and covers most of the key scenes. Miller also discusses the creative liberties that he took to produce an exciting graphic novel.
Who Were the Spartans: The Warriors of 300 (4:24)
This brief featurette gives some basic history of the Spartans through interviews with the cast, crew and historians. We learn how they fought as a unit and about the considerable slavery that allowed the ruling class to train constantly as warriors. The Spartans' equality among its citizens was unique for the time period.
Frank Miller Tapes (14:33)
This glowing piece offers quick information about Frank Miller's background but focuses more closely on 300. We do hear from comics experts and major players in the industry about his unique abilities. Miller's influence was early crime novels, and he is widely admired by a variety of figures. This feature is all over the map and could have used better structure to offer a more detailed look at Miller's career.
Making of 300 (5:50)
It's silly to call something a "making of" doc and have it only last for five minutes. This extremely brief segment includes lots of film clips and briefly covers the story and its look. It's just a filler piece and doesn't contain anything noteworthy.
Making 300 in Images (3:39)
This unique montage of images acts like a photo slide show but is sped up considerably. It is an energetic presentation, but moves a bit too quickly to offer much beyond an interesting music video.
Deleted Scenes with Introduction by Zack Snyder (3:21)
This excised footage includes three short scenes that would have added little to the finished product. Two involve the hunchback Ephialtes, who feels awful after being rejected by Leonidas. The other involves a battle scene with giants and midgets that was considered excessive. The bright spot of this extra is Zack Snyder, who offers a good introduction to each scene. It's too bad that isn't more cut footage included.
The 12 short webisodes each last for about three minutes and offer a quick look at a specific production aspect. The highlights include features on production design, stunt work, adapting the graphic novel, and creating the Leonidas/Xerxes confrontation. That scene involved some serious use of forced perspective to make Rodrigo Santoro appear to tower over Gerard Butler, even though they were the same size. Other segments focus on the lead actors, wardrobe, training the actors, and the Spartan culture.
Extras Grade: B+
Final Comments300 is definitely geared towards a specific target audience, and I expect they will love this super-charged picture. For everyone else, I recommend you watch the trailer, which clearly shows the atmosphere and content. It's not a film for many tastes, but does include a stunning visual style. This two-disc special edition contains an impressive group of extras that make it a worthwhile addition to your DVD collection.
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