"300: Two-Disc Special Edition" DVD Review
July 20, 2007 by Zach Demeter
What can be said about 300 that hasnít already? The film opened to largely positive reviews, all praising it with exclamations that the film was a visual delight and that it was groundbreaking as the first The Matrix. Of course I just pulled this from a single quote from the back of the DVD cover, but it follows the general consensus about what those who saw the film thought of it. On top of the positive reviews, the film moved on to gross seven times its original budget and thatís before the DVD sales are even taken into account.
300 is based off of the graphic novel by Frank Miller of the same name. The film follows King Leonidas and the 300 Spartan warriors who fought to the death against Xerxes and his Persian army. The film doesnít hesitate to break from the action to show the camaraderie and brotherhood that exists between the Spartan warriors and the film also frequently falls back to the city of Sparta where Queen Gorgo attempts to convince the council to send more Spartanís to Hellís Gates to reinforce the army of 300 there currently.
After the success of Sin City itís no wonder that more of Millerís library is being adapted into films and 300, helmed by Dawn of the Dead director Zack Snyder. In the film, Snyder translates Millerís comic book to film and brings the panels to life and quite a few times during the film you can tell where exact panels were used on-screen, often in the zoom out and in action that occurred during the battles. The film is a remarkable feat, both visually and in storytelling; the battles remain engrossing and is a real treat for the eyes. Having seen the film originally in a digital theater, the lower resolution of the DVD loses some of the luster and awe you felt when watching the film in theaters, but the battles are no less spectacular.
Despite how grand some of the dialogue can sound at times (ďThen we will fight in the shadeĒ line comes to mind), itís key to realize that that may have very well been how the Spartans talked. As youíll find out during the special features on the two-disc edition of 300, the film was largely historically accurate when it came to the ways of the Spartans and how their dialogue would have flowed. While the rock soundtrack may lend you to believe that the film is a more futuristic take on ancient Greece (a phrase thatís kind of confusing, but one I wouldnít hesitate to apply to this film), youíll be surprised by how much is based on actual history.
With the film shot entirely on blue screen, itís easy to see how some may have been turned away by how the filmed looked in the trailers. To me, however, itís just another way of telling a story and making it look as close to the original subject matter as one could without completely turning it into an animated feature. Itís a remarkable the amounts of work and detail that went into making the film and while itís bizarre to watch the special features on the disc and see the large sets with some rocks and blue everywhere else, you have to commend the actors for being able to work in such an environment. True, the onset of CGI makes this type of work more common, but with most of these actors never having worked in a film of this size before, itís easy to see how they could get lost in such a way of performing.
One aspect of the film I enjoyed more upon the second viewing was the plight of Queen Gorgo. The film could have easily left the city of Sparta out of the movie and focused solely on the battles, as thatís what you really paid to see, but Snyder didnít balk at the thought of following up with what was going back on in Sparta. Gorgoís part wasnít nearly as large in the original 300 graphic novel and the expansion on her character her shows just how powerful and respected the women of Sparta were.
In the end, between the Frank Miller-esque blood splatters that fly around during the battles and the zooming in, out and slow-motion that goes in the film, the film is very much a comic book adaptation rather than a historical piece. Fueled by an amount of testosterone that could only come from 300 men playing leather loin cloth wearing warriors, 300 is a visual delight that has an enormous amount of replay value. Highly Recommended.
300 comes in a full array of digital disc releases. Single disc (fullscreen and widescreen releases), two disc (widescreen only), HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as a mix of store exclusives that will range from a replica mini-Spartan helmet to mini posters or some other extra that Target or Circuit City decides to commission. For this review Iíll be covering the two-disc widescreen special edition DVD, which comes fully loaded with special features in a two-disc amaray case with a cardboard slip case (glossy and embossed).
/No insert is given to this DVD release (not a huge surprise, I guess) and the disc art features Leonidas on disc one and Gorgo on disc two. Menus are largely static, with disc one featuring motion and music, while disc two doesnít feature any motion or music at all. The ďstop discĒ image is a repeat of the main menu on both discs.
Video and audio quality on this release is excellent. While there is a heavy amount of grain in the film, I noticed this in the original theatrical version and is clearly something added on purpose to give the film a more gritty feel. The excessive reds are not compressed and overall the film arrives on DVD with a suitable transfer, although Iím sure the HD-DVD and Blu Ray versions are simply spectacular to view. The audio arrives in three mixes of 5.1 (English, French and Spanish) and sound terrific. Thereís proper use of the rear channels as well as a huge amount of bass to accompany the war scenes. Itís another superb mix from Warner Home Video, who exceedingly surprises me in how awesome the audio mixes are on their DVDs (Superman Returns was first to astound me and 300 continues the tradition).
There are plenty of trailers for other films spread across the two discs, with Trick Ďr Treat getting front and center on disc one (and even a sticker on the outer plastic wrap on the DVD cover). Odd that theyíre advertising this film on 300 as, aside from the fact theyíre both Warner, I donít see a real link between them. The rest of the trailers are for future WHV theatrical and DVD releases.
The first special feature on the disc is the commentary by Zack Snyder, writer Kurt Johnstad and cinematographer Larry Fong, which breaks the recent lack of commentaries on WHVís releases (the lack of one on Batman Begins and Superman Returns still irks me). Snyder is lively on this track and it was an entertaining listen through and through (aside from some of the dead air), even though a few things were repeated from the special features (which is to be expected).
On disc two we have a healthy amount of extras, coming in at a little over an hour of new material plus the webisodes that were shown online during the filmís production. First up is a ďFact or FictionĒ featurette which goes into detail about the fiction and non-fiction elements of the film. Miller is all throughout this featurette and is first to point out the elements that he embellished or made up, while historians back up the historical elements that the film got right (which is quite a lot). Obviously some things in the film are embellished (Ephialtes obviously isnít that deformed, nor where there Rhinoís during the battle), but for the most part itís historically accurate. Whether you wanted a history lesson while watching blood and gore, you got one anyway, which I think just adds more depth to the film.
Moving on we have a Frank Miller featurette which is a bit of a history on Miller himself, but mostly focuses on his creation of 300. Loaded with interviews from DC talent and executives, this featurette near fifteen minutes in length and features plenty of shots of the 300 film and graphic novel. This is a great special feature and while the majority of it is Miller back-patting, Iíve no doubt the man deserves it. After being turned off by the ways of Hollywood for so long, itís great to see Miller really embracing these adaptations of his works.
After the Miller featurette we have the ďWho Were the Spartans?Ē which covers the actors performances as the individual Spartans. This one is fairly short and seems to be mostly footage shot during the production of the film with a few words from the actors added later on. Short, but sweet and to the point and worth watching , as it gives us one of the few glimpses at the actors in the movie. Up next is the the webisodes from online that weíre all familiar with by now.
The final features? Deleted scenes! Donít get too excited about the deleted scenes, however. There are only three, theyíre short, and two feature Ephialtes. The Ephialtes scenes were rightfully cut as they did nothing but drag the scenes on out and the other deleted scene shows another creature during one of the battles which was cut for time. As I said, theyíre short and not much here, although Snyder does provide an introduction to all three and explains the story behind each one.
Overall the two-disc edition of 300 is a definite pick up. Skip the single disc and head straight for this editionóit has a healthy amount of extras and combined with the directors commentary makes for a great DVD. Highly Recommended.
300 arrives on DVD (single and two-disc editions), HD-DVD and Blu Ray on July 31st.