300: Two-Disc Special Edition
Directed By: Zack Snyder
Starring: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Andrew Tiernan, Rodrigo Santoro
|Studio: Warner Brothers
Film Length: 117 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, English SDH
Release Date: July 24, 2007
The FilmDirector Zack Snyder's "300" is an adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name that recounts the battle of Thermopylae from 480 BC. Gerard Butler plays Spartan King Leonidas. When an emissary from the Persian Empire arrives demanding that Sparta submit to the authority of Persian Emperor Xerxes (Santoro) and provide the traditional offering of Earth and water, Leonidas responds by throwing him down a well along with his entourage. Bribed "Fifth Column" Persians who hold sway in Greek religious and political institutions forbid Leonidas from leading his army into battle until after the Carneian holiday. Frustrated, he decides to take a contingent of 300 hand-picked "bodyguards" north to meet the invading Persians. His plan is to re-build a wall blockading a road which will force the invading land forces into a narrow pass at Thermopylae. After reinforcing the wall, the Spartans, assisted by less skilled contingents from other Greek city-states, mount a three-day defense against several waves of an overwhelming Persian force while on the home front, Spartan Queen Gorgo (Headey) wades through Greek political waters, polluted by the duplicitous Theron (West), in an effort to gain support for the other city-states to join the defense.
As was the case with Robert Rodriguez's take on "Sin City", rather than simply adapt the plot of Frank Miller's graphic novel, Snyder and his creative team have also chosen to adapt the style, inclusive of many of his frame compositions, the palette employed by Miller's colorist, Lynn Varley, and the hard-boiled tone of Miller's text. Computer graphics and digital grading are used extensively to recreate Miller's highly stylized vision of Ancient Greece as well as the enormous scale of the battles. Even when the filmmakers add elements not originally from the graphic novel, they are rendered in a way that is faithful to Miller's approach and sensibilities. To be fair, they are more successful at capturing Miller's visual style with new images than his authorial voice with new dialog or narration. Even the sense of moving from comic panel to comic panel with one strong pose after another is recreated in some of the battle scenes by alternating between slow motion and regular speed within a single tracking shot.
The result is a visually striking stylized action film about the nature of heroism with a phantasmagoric style that blurs the line between history and mythology. The story is simple in approach and grand in scale, playing something like an opera where virtuoso violence replaces singing. Through the device of using the character of Dilios (Wenham) as a narrator, the script establishes that the story as depicted is one passed on through an oral tradition with the intent of glorifying the 300 Spartans and inspiring other free Greeks. This gives the filmmakers a license to heighten reality to near-mythological proportions which they exploit beyond all reason. The invading Persian forces are exaggerated in scale both in terms of number and, in some cases, individual size. Xerxes himself is portrayed as being almost eight feet tall with a booming modulated voice. The various waves of attackers appear as organized collections of Halloween boogeymen. The pathetic hunchback Ephialtes is portrayed as impossibly grotesque. Swords that have been hacking and slashing all day remain sharp enough to cleanly decapitate with surgical precision. A wolf in the prologue has eyes that literally glow. The moon in one shot takes up over half the sky. Every single Spartan soldier is not only physically fit, but is ultra-lean with chiseled abs (300 six-packs – sounds like a heck of a party). I could go on….
While I enjoyed the excessive stylization, I can also appreciate that some people will find it fatiguing. Viewers with little tolerance for on-screen violence will likely check out after the first forty minutes when the fighting begins. Audience members who are looking for sophistication of plot and dialog will likely be disappointed, as this film's approach to its mythic themes is, predictably, rather spartan.
The cast plays things a bit more theatrical and broad than most modern movie acting, but that is really the only way this kind of material can work. Physically and vocally, Gerard Butler lends a suitably commanding presence to Leonidas, a neat trick as the viewer has to be convinced that his soldiers would follow him into oblivion while he is constantly shouting his dialog. Unlike, say, "Braveheart", Leonidas is given no lengthy "Henry V at Agincourt" inspirational speeches and his close-ups are kept to a reasonable length and frequency. To their credit Lena Headey and Dominic West do a creditable job as Queen Gorgo and traitorous politician Theron. They make their subplot, which plays out miles away from the dominant action of the film's latter two-thirds, intriguing enough to keep the attention of viewers who are otherwise being bombarded with monsters and mayhem.
The VideoThe 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 transfer faithfully reproduces the highly stylized palette based on Lynn Varley's colors from the source graphic novel. Unfortunately, the transfer is plagued by a haze of digital grain that has been a regular issue with Warner standard definition DVD transfers of recent theatrical releases for quite some time. The larger your display, the more evident this digital noise becomes.
The AudioThe English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is immersive and bombastic in keeping with the similar approach to the visuals. Dynamics do the track justice from whispers to screams (quite literally, now that I think about it, since most of the dialog is either whispered or screamed).
The ExtrasSpinning up the first disc, the viewer is greeted with skippable promotional trailers for upcoming theatrical films "Trick 'R Treat" and "The Brave One", video game "300: March to Glory", DTV animated movie "Superman: Doomsday", and online video game service "Gametap". All are presented in 4:3 video and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, with the movie trailers letterboxed to the appropriate aspect ratios.
The only film-related extra on the first disc is an audio commentary by director/co-writer Zack Snyder, co-writer Kurt Johnstad, and DP/Cinematographer Larry Fong. Snyder dominates the track, which is very "nuts and bolts" in nature, focusing largely on how various shots were achieved. It gets to be a pretty dry listen since huge portions of the commentary are given over to indicating what parts of shots were real vs. computer graphics, what shots were straight from the graphic novel, how a handful of sets and props were adapted for repeated use, and declarations that different aspects of the film were "cool".
The majority of the extras are located on the second disc. When this disc is first spun-up, the viewer is greeted with a promotional trailer extolling the benefits of HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs, a promotional clip for the forthcoming "Blade Runner: 25th Anniversary Edition" DVD set with extensive clips from the "Dangerous Days" documentary, and a promotional trailer for NHL DVDs.
All of the film related-extras are presented with English Dolby Digital 2.0 audio with optional French or English SDH subtitles.
First up is The 300: Fact or Fiction. As the title suggests, most of this featurette focuses on how the portrayals of The Battle of Thermopylae as well as Spartan and Greek culture in the film and source graphic novel compare with the historical record. Participants include historians Dr. Victor Davis Hanson and Bettany Hughes, Zack Snyder, Frank Miller, and Gerard Butler. This is one of the more interesting extras on the set. It is presented in 16:9 enhanced video and runs 24 minutes and 31 seconds
Next up is Who Were the Spartans? which expands on the preceding featurette by further elaborating on how the Spartans were portrayed in the film. Participants are the same as the previous featurette with the addition of Rodrigo Santoro and David Wenham. It is presented in 4:3 video letterboxed to approximately 16:9 and runs four minutes and 26 seconds.
The Frank Miller Tapes focuses on comic artist and writer Frank Miller. He discusses his early influences and mentors, his sensibilities, and how they informed his work on the "300" graphic novel. Interview participants include Miller, Snyder, comic creator Neal Adams, President of DC Comics Paul Levitz, and DC Comics Group Editor Bob Schreck. The most amusing exchange is the very last one where Miller asks Snyder on-camera the question at the forefront of all comic book fans' minds: "How the hell are you going to do 'Watchmen'?" This featurette is presented in 16:9 enhanced video and runs 14 minutes and 33 seconds.
The Making of 300 is a brief overview of what the film is about and how it was made that appears to be a standard electronic press kit-style promotional featurette. On-camera interview participants include Snyder, Miller, Butler, Lena Headey, Johnstad, visual effects supervisor Chris Watts, and physical trainer Mark Twight. It runs five minutes and 50 seconds and is presented in 4:3 video.
Making 300 in Images is a hyper-speed montage of behind the scenes footage and photos that gives a number of glimpses into what things looked like before the extensive computer graphics were added. You will likely need to step frame or slow down the video with your DVD remote in order to appreciate the interesting footage included. This featurette runs three minutes and 39 seconds and is presented in 4:3 video letterboxed to 16:9.
Deleted Scenes with Introduction from Director Zack Snyder is exactly what its title suggests. Snyder introduces three scenes and explains why they were cut from the film. All three scenes appear to have substantially completed effects and digital grading work. The first two detail a plot beat where hunchback Ephialtes throws himself off of a cliff after being refused a place in battle by Leonidas and is later revealed to be still alive. These scenes were cut for time. The third scene involves a battle sequence where the Spartan Captain faces a Persian giant with a midget archer on his shoulders. This scene was cut because it was determined to be too fantastic, even by the standards of the rest of the film. The scenes and introductions are presented in letterboxed 4:3 video and run a total of three minutes and 21 seconds. There are no chapter stops or menu options allowing the scenes to be viewed separately.
Finally, a collection of twelve "webisode" featurettes are included addressing various aspects of the film's production. They are presented in 4:3 video usually letterboxed to a 16:9 ratio and run a total of of 38 minutes and 21 seconds if the "Play All" option is selected. Collectively, they present a decent behind the scenes overview of the film and offer a number of perspectives not included in the other featurettes on the disc (as well as a little bit of redundancy). Individual webisodes and interview participants are as follows:
- Production Design - Production Designer Jim Dissel
- Wardrobe - Costume Designer Michael Wilkinson
- Stunt Work - Fight Coordinator Damon Caro, Assistant Stunt Coordinator/Assistant Fight Choreographer Chad Stahblski, Snyder, and Butler
- Lena Headey - Headey and Butler
- Adapting the Graphic Novel - Snyder, Miller, and Johnstad
- Gerard Butler - Butler
- Rodrigo Santoro - Santoro
- Training the Actors - Physical Trainer Mark Twight
- Culture of the Spartan City-State - Actors Wenham, Regan, Miller, Butler, and West
- A Glimpse from the Set: Making of 300 - Snyder
- Scene Studies from 300 - Visual Effects Supervisor Chris Watts, Zack Snyder (scenes studied include Xerxes/Leonidas confrontation and "Wall of Death")
- Fantastic Characters of 300 - Creature Shop Supervisor Mark Rappaport, Special Effects Make-up Supervisor Shaun Smith
PackagingThe discs come in a standard Amaray-style case with a hinged tray allowing it to accommodate both discs. The Plastic case is in turn surrounded by a cardboard slipcase that reproduces the same artwork, but with an embossed front cover. The first disc is a dual-layered RSDL DVD-9 and the second disc is a single-layered DVD-5. There are no inserts.
SummaryWhile certainly not for everyone, if you have a taste for stylized graphic action violence and operatic Joseph Campbell-style mythic themes, then you will likely enjoy "300". The video transfer is a bit disappointing due to a haze of digital noise that seems to infect the image. More positively, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is impressively dimensional and dynamic. The Two-disc Special Edition DVD is presented with an above average, though not quite comprehensive, collection of extras including a Director/Screenwriter/Cinematographer commentary, brief but fully post-produced deleted scenes, and a collection of featurettes which are largely compiled from the same set of interviews and behind the scenes footage rearranged for different purposes.