300: The Complete ExperienceRelease Date: July 21, 2009
Studio: Warner Brothers
Packaging/Materials: Single-disc "digibook"
Running Time: 1h56m
|MAIN FEATURE||SPECIAL FEATURES|
|Video||1080p high definition 16x9 2.40:1||Partially 1080i or 1080p high definition, partially 480i or 480p standard definition|
|Audio||Dolby TrueHD: English 5.1, French 5.1 (dubbed in Quebec); Dolby Digital: English 5.1, Spanish 5.1||Stereo|
|Subtitles||English SDH, French, Spanish (movie and select bonus material)|
Note: This review includes portions of my review of "300" on HD-DVD and Matt Hough's review of the previous Blu-Ray edition. The entirety of the reviews can be read here and here.
The Feature: 4.5/5A Persian emissary presents Leonidas (Gerard Butler), King of Sparta, with an ultimatum - submit to Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), King of Persia, or die at the hands of his massive army. In response, Leonidas kicks the messenger down a well. And so begins a legendary battle that sees a core troop of 300 Spartan warriors hold off an army rumored in the millions. Meanwhile Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) fights a subtle and insidious battle of politics back home to ensure the soldiers' service is not undone by the ambitions of lesser men. Though there's no mystery about the outcome of the conflict, the battle of the 300 Spartans shows that it's the glorious, bloody journey, not the destination that matters.
"300," adapted by director Zack Snyder from the Frank Miller graphic novel, retells the legendary Spartans v. Persian Battle of Thermopylae in unequivocally melodramatic terms - from the dialogue, to the plot, to the visuals. But the broad strokes rarely grow tiresome, the heavy handedness avoiding outright absurdity; the film as a whole maintaining a fine balance between style and substance. Perhaps it's because the two qualities are so perfectly paired. High contrast images and copious slow motion battle scenes mirror the Spartan's black-and-white morality and veneration of the fight, resulting in a synergistic film that exhilarates when another might merely entertain. The one element that sometimes overextends its reach is the narration, which at times describes the obvious or trumpets the Spartan code unnecessarily. Since the voiceover is an integral part of the story structure, it would seem the screenwriters painted themselves into a corner. But overall it's a small fault in a film that many will find a worthy addition to their movie collection.
Video Quality: 5/5The film is correctly framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec. The highly stylized, high contrast look of the film is perfectly rendered in high definition, the deep swaths of black and white never growing out of control or unstable. Of course the high contrast manipulation - called "The Crush" by the filmmakers - precludes the usual evaluation of shadow and highlight detail. But overall image detail is remarkable - perhaps more than usual because of the high contrast. Flying embers, kicked up sand and dirt, and the added-in-post grain all have an incredible clarity. At times the extent of the image manipulation gives the picture an artificiality resembling full CGI productions like "Beowulf," in particular the first scene with Dilios (David Wenham) by the fire. But this of course is merely an observation laced with a curiosity about where digital manipulation will take us in the next several years. If we continue to get eye poppingly beautiful works like "300" let's hope we also get the same caliber of high definition transfers.
Audio Quality: 5/5The Dolby TrueHD track has surround channels in an almost constant state of activity, whether providing soundtrack support, atmospheric sound effects or directional effects in battle scenes. Though LFE is present and healthy, don't expect profoundly heavy moments that rattle the foundation (think the Balrog scene in "Lord of the Rings") - to my recollection there aren't any. And while dialogue is generally clear and intelligible, I did at times have to turn on the subtitles to catch certain names or to get past the accents or emphatic deliveries.
Special Features: 5/5The majority of the items from the previous high definition releases have been carried over. The items that didn't make the cut (and that were exclusive to the HD-DVD release) are the "Vengeance and Valor" strategy game, the "Pick Your Favorite Scene" feature, and the web enabled downloads. Overfilling their void is a trio of enhanced content tracks oriented around three discrete, behind-the-scenes subjects. When I reviewed the HD-DVD release I gave the special features package highest marks. The addition of the content tracks, which are impressively implemented, certainly gives me no reason to reconsider the "5" rating for this edition.
Comprehensive Immersion: Consists of three distinct, enhanced content tracks, each with their own set of "focus point" branching featurettes, superimposed trivia, and picture-in-picture video segments. Path One, "Creating the Legend," focuses on Miller's creation of the graphic novel and Snyder's adaptation of it. Path Two, "Bringing the Legend to Life," details the filmmaking techniques. Path Three, "The History Behind the Myth," compares the historical events with the embellishments of the film. Judging by the map of the tracks, Path Three has the least amount of content and Path Two the most. Taken as a whole, however, the three paths represent an impressive array of material.
One of the chief problems in past implementations of these kinds of tracks is the inability to access the material independent of the feature. The past year has shown an improvement in this regard, though I can't say I've seen it done so well as in this edition of "300." The track selection interface serves as both a map of the content on each path as well as selection menu that gives a graphical representation and brief description of each piece. Also, at any time during the course of the film the user can switch between tracks or go back to the selection interface to choose another item. The interface also keeps the feature running in a smaller window so the viewing is never interrupted by one's navigation through the enhanced content. It really is the most intuitive and content-accessible interface I have seen on a release thus far. Bravo!
Commentary by Director Zack Snyder, Writer Kurt Johnstad and Director of Photography Larry Fong: It’s mostly Synder’s show, and his enthusiasm for the project and his knowledge of the myriad technical details in making the picture are an interesting listen especially if one is curious about what was real on the set and what was created in a computer. His two fellow commentators don’t add much to the track, unfortunately. (Content review by Matt Hough)
Bluescreen Picture-In-Picture Version: One of the best of the special features, viewers are able to watch the feature and unmanipulated version at the same time. With Snyder providing audio commentary, one can see the full extent of "The Crush," which pieces were set and which were added in post and really how much blue and green screen was used to make the film. My only criticism is the constant "300" bug in the top right corner, which seems like a potential display burn-in problem for those with CRT sets.
300: Fact or Fiction (24:34): Snyder, Miller and historians share some of the actual history of the battle and the Spartan culture and society.
Who Were the Spartans? (4:32): A brief look at the Spartan warrior society and its values.
Preparing for Battle (6:42): How the graphic novel came to be adapted for film, with selections from the original animated storyboards and film test footage used to persuade the studio to bankroll the production.
Frank Miller Tapes (14:42): Miller talks about how he came to create "300." Friends and colleagues also chime in on what makes Miller so great.
Making of 300 (5:50): Standard promotional featurette, in 4:3.
Making of 300 in Images (3:39): Production stills set to music and presented in rapid succession, in 4:3.
Webisodes (38:21): Twelve featurettes covering everything from production design to the actors' physical training, in 4:3.
Deleted Scenes (3:23): Three scenes, introduced by Snyder. The first two deal with Ephialtes' attempted suicide; the third is of a giant-little-person-archer pairing that was deemed too over-the-top. Good decisions all around.
Digital Copy: Download a digital file for playback on a computer or portable device. Compatible with Mac and Windows.
Collectible Book: Attached-to-the-packaging 40-page book includes an overview of the three paths, cast and crew biographies and photographs from the film and production.
BD-Live: At the time of review there were no items related to the feature title available.
RecapThe Feature: 4.5/5
Video Quality: 5/5
Audio Quality: 5/5
Special Features: 5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4.5/5
A pulpy but exhilarating film gets first class treatment, with excellent audio and video transfers and an even better set of special features compared to previous releases. "300: The Complete Experience" is a recommended addition to one's HD library.
Edited by Cameron Yee - 7/18/2009 at 09:57 am GMT