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WARNER

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Zack Snyder
Cast:
Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Michael Fassbender, Tom Wisdom, Andrew Pleavin, Andrew Tiernan, Rodrigo Santoro
Writing Credits:
Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, Michael Gordon, Frank Miller (graphic novel), Lynn Varley (graphic novel)

Tagline:
Prepare for glory!

Synopsis:
The epic graphic novel by Frank Miller (Sin City) assaults the screen with the blood, thunder and awe of its ferocious visual style faithfully recreated in an intense blend of live-action and CGI animation. Retelling the ancient Battle of Thermopylae, it depicts the titanic clash in which King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and 300 Spartans fought to the death against Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his massive Persian army. Experience history at swordpoint. And moviemaking with a cutting edge.

Box Office:
Budget
$60 million.
Opening Weekend
$70.885 million on -unknown- screens.
Domestic Gross
$210.515 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.40:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish

Runtime: 116 min.
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 7/21/2009

Bonus:
• “The Complete 300: Comprehensive Immersion” Interactive Feature
• Audio Commentary with Director Zack Snyder, Writer Kurt Johnstad and Director of Photography Larry Fong
• Bluescreen Picture-In-Picture
• “The 300 – Fact or Fiction?” Featurette
• “Who Were the Spartans? The Warriors of 300” Featurette
• “Preparing for Battle: The Original Test Footage” Featurette
• “Frank Miller Tapes”
• “Making of 300” Featurette
• “Making 300 In Images” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes with Introduction By Director Zack Snyder
• 12 Webisodes
• Digital Copy


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


300: The Complete Experience (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 27, 2009)

Back in 2005, the big-screen adaptation of Frank Miller’s Sin City became a moderate hit. Actually, I think it qualifies most as a cult fave and not something that reached a true mass audience. The movie’s $74 million take certainly is decent, but it doesn’t seem special in this day and age.

On the other hand, 2007 brought a Miller adaptation with much broader mass appeal. 300 became the year’s first really big hit. With its $210 million gross, it turned into a surprise smash.

Based loosely on historical events, we go back to the BC years for 300. Persian King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) demands that Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) kneel before him – and by connection commit Sparta to Persian rule. Leonidas refuses to do so. Though the Persian forces outnumber his by roughly one million to 300, Leonidas leads his men to battle. Much mayhem ensues.

Those who seek more plot in 300 shouldn’t hold out any hope. Oh, the movie throws out a little intrigue back home between Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) and traitorous Theron (Dominic West), but those elements go virtually nowhere. The focus remains on Leonidas and his dudes as they hack and slash through the Persians.

If you’ve ever watched someone else as they play a videogame, you’ll know what to expect from 300. This isn’t a movie as much as it is a collection of action sequences. The narrative ties the events together in only the most loose of all possible ways. This is less a story and more a series of videogame “levels”.

I think it gets tiresome to refer to certain movies as triumphs of style over substance, but that cliché truly applies to 300. Director Zack Snyder clearly could not care less about such trivialities as story and characters. He cares about the way the film looks and that’s it. Everything else becomes irrelevant to Snyder, as even Leonidas receives nothing more than rudimentary character depth. Snyder nods vaguely in that direction but we still know – or care – little about the protagonist.

This means 300 looks like a compilation reel of Lord of the Rings fight scenes. Not much happens other than the battles, as we ricochet from one to another with little substance to fill the gaps. Snyder just makes this a “greatest hits” compilation of the Spartan’s baddest brawls and hopes that we love all the mayhem.

Apparently a lot of people do dig the non-stop action, but I don’t. Indeed, I think the incessant emphasis on fight scenes robs 300 of any drama, urgency or excitement. It’s like a meal that consists of 20 candy bars. They’re good in small doses but don’t satisfy when taken to such extremes.

Because of this, 300 becomes… dull. With one fight after another, the film seems tedious and repetitive. Maybe the first battle or two comes across as moderately interesting, but the movie quickly enters “enough already!” territory.

Snyder’s techniques make things worse. The fetishistic violence annoys more than it sickens, but irritate it does. Snyder films all of the gore in a rather loving way that also robs the material of any impact. Oh, and he chooses to use slow-motion all the time. I reckon that if the whole movie ran at normal speed, it’d probably last about 12 minutes. Maybe Snyder thinks we need the slow-motion to expand his feeble, slight narrative into feature length, and he might be right. There’s certainly not enough substance to fill out almost two hours of screen time.

300 comes with some of the worst, most cliché dialogue I’ve ever heard. We can usually complete statements before the characters get there since we’ve heard so many of them already. Basically, take the “rallying the troops” speech from Braveheart and repeat it over and over; that’ll give you some clue of the insipid lines heard here.

The film forces the performers to overact this material to a laughable extreme. In 300, the actors declaim the lines with the overwrought force you’d expect to find in a bad high school rendition of Shakespeare. This factor makes it even more impossible to view the film as anything other than a campy piece of schlock.

I respect Frank Miller and I actually liked Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. I wanted – and expected – to enjoy 300. However, the film ended up as an enormous disappointment. It’s nothing more than a two-hour videogame demo released as a feature flick.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio A/ Bonus A

300 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Across the board, the transfer satisfied.

Sharpness always looked good. From start to finish, I thought it appeared crisp and concise, with virtually no instances of softness to distract. The image lacked jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement appeared to be absent. In terms of source flaws, the movie often looked grainy, but this occurred due to stylistic choices; the grain appeared during theatrical screenings as well and was supposed to be there. Otherwise the flick lacked any defects.

Another stylistic choice affected the colors of 300. Essentially, the movie came devoid of most hues, as it often favored either a mild golden tint or a chilly blue tone. Occasionally I saw slightly warmer colors like some rich reds, but those were rare. Within the film’s design, the hues looked solid. Blacks were deep and dense, while shadows seemed clear and smooth. Despite the distraction of the intentional grain, this was a solid visual presentation.

In addition, 300 boasted an excellent Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. Like the movie itself, this was a constant assault on the senses, and it added serious punch to the piece. The soundfield used all five speakers to terrific advantage, especially during the battles. All the elements of war swarmed around us and created a fine sense of the setting. Even quieter scenes – which filled about three minutes of this aggressive film – still offered good ambient information. This was a powerful soundfield that placed its pieces well and combined them to work well.

Audio quality also was positive. Despite a lot of looped lines, speech remained natural and concise, with no edginess or other problems. Music was dynamic and full, while effects seemed strong. Those elements produced good punch and lacked distortion. They seemed accurate and tight, and the movie featured excellent low-end response. This was a demonstration worthy soundtrack.

How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray compare to those of the original DVD release? I thought the DVD looked and sounded quite good, but the Blu-ray provided a step up in terms of the presentation. The soundtrack had a bit more kick to it, and the visuals demonstrated a nice elevation in terms of clarity and vivacity. I still think the DVD is more than satisfying, but the Blu-ray is spectacular.

In terms of extras, this “Complete Experience” Blu-ray offers the same extras from the 2007 Special Edition plus some new elements. I’ll indicate exclusives with blue print.

The main new attraction comes from The Complete 300: A Comprehensive Immersion. An introduction from director Zack Snyder starts the experience. He chats for two minutes, 12 seconds as he details the different “paths” available as part of the “Immersion”.

What are those “paths”? We find “Creating a Legend”, “Bringing the Legend to Life” and “The History Behind the Myth”. Taking them in that order, “Creating” looks at the graphic novel and its creation. In “Bringing”, we focus on the efforts required to make the film. Finally, “History” lives up to its title, as it looks at the facts behind the movie’s fiction.

Across these features, we see shots from the set, pre-viz elements, text trivia and interviews. They provide notes from author/artist Frank Miller, writer/director Zack Snyder, producers Gianni Nunnari, Bernie Goldmann, Deborah Snyder and Mark Canton, editor Bill Hoy, historians Bettany Hughes and Victor Davis Hanson, creature effects Mark Rappaport, DC Comics group editor Bob Schreck, production designer Jim Bissel, VFX supervisor Chris Watts, composer Tyler Bates, screenwriter Kurt Johnstad, director of photography Larry Fong, creature and special makeup effects supervisor Shaun Smith, assistant stunt coordinator/fight choreographer Chad Stahelski, stunt coordinator Damon Caro, comic book creator Neal Adams, DC Comics president/publisher Paul Levitz, and actors Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, Vincent Regan, David Wenham, and Rodrigo Santoro.

“Immersion” offers a few ways to experience its information. If you’d like, you can simply select one of the three paths and let it run. The good part of that is that you’ll see everything without disruption, and it requires no input as you watch. Unfortunately, it means you’d need to sit through the movie three times to go through all three. Not only is that a lot of time, but also none of the three paths provide continuous data, so you’d experience a lot of dead space along the way.

You also can directly access all of the clips from a menu. This would seem to be the most efficient way to go through all the tidbits were it not for one problem: loading times. Every time you click a feature or return to the menu, it takes a few seconds to get there. All those seconds add up and make this a frustrating way to get through the clips. (Note that access times will vary from player to player; on my Panasonic, they were too slow to make this a viable route for me.)

The method I thought worked best came from the disc’s ability to switch paths on the fly. In the top left corner of the screen, you’ll see colored boxes that correspond to each of the three paths. When information pops up in any of the three routes, the appropriate box will bob up and down. Click the correct colored button on your remote and you’ll jump to that path.

The good part of this method? You can essentially get through all the material in one movie screening, and it doesn’t require the annoying load times of the menu version. However, you will have to backtrack to see everything, as occasionally you’ll find two or even three streams running at the same time. Also, by the time you select the dancing box, you’ll probably miss a few seconds of content. (To minimize this, go to “Bringing” when either of the others ends; “Bringing” contains the most information, so its elements pop up the most often.)

All three ways you can use to experience “Immersion” have their flaws, but “on the fly” one worked best for me – or at least it annoyed me the least. Really, would it kill Blu-ray producers to find a simple “play all” option for streaming features like this? I don’t think so, and that would make it much less frustrating to go through the material.

Anyway, if you put yourself through all that, you’ll find a lot of good information about the movie and the source material. I probably like “History” the best, and only partly because Bettany Hughes is gorgeous. The rest of the disc includes plenty of movie-making information, so additional historical content becomes particularly valuable.

“Bringing” also works well, but “Creating” seems a little disappointing. I thought it’d dig into the graphic novel in a complex way, but instead it feels more like an extension of the movie-making info. It has its moments but doesn’t really deliver what it promises.

Also found strewn throughout the “Immersion”, we get 40 Focus Points. These short featurettes feature Zack Snyder, Goldmann, Miller, Nunnari, Wenham, Regan, Butler, Rappaport, Watts, Headey, Fong, Bissel, Smith, Bates, Hoy, Hughes, Hanson, Canton, Santoro, Johnstad, Stahelski, Caro, visual effects art director Grant Freckelton, producers Jeffrey Silver and Wesley Coller, special effects Mario Dumont, and trainer Mark Twight. All together, they fill a total of 34 minutes, 56 seconds.

The “Focus Points” offer the same kinds of video blurbs found elsewhere in “Immersion”. They continue to inform, but the interface remains somewhat problematic. Why not offer a “View All” option for these – or at least list them in their own area, as the producers of the Watchmen Blu-ray did? The “Points” have good material but can be a chore to watch.

Now that we’ve finished with “Immersion”, we head to an audio commentary with director Zack Snyder, writer Kurt Johnstad and director of photography Larry Fong. All three sit together for this piece, though Snyder heavily dominates the proceedings.

95 percent of the chat sticks with three subjects: visual effects, sets – or the lack thereof – and comparisons with the original graphic novel. Occasionally we hear about things like the actors, stunts, and action, but those subjects pop up infrequently. Instead, we get incessant remarks about the digital sets and other banal issues. Even the notes about the adaptation tend to consist of little more than “this shot’s from the graphic novel”. Lots of dead air appears in this dull, frustrating commentary.

Another component not found on the DVD, Bluescreen Picture-in-Picture provides two new elements. As the title indicates, we see the whole movie as shot on the bluescreen set. This appears as an inset box in the bottom left of the screen and we can compare this with the final film.

That would be interesting enough on its own, as it’s cool to see how the movie looked before all the CG backgrounds and effects were added. As a bonus, the “PIP” also includes a new commentary from Zack Snyder. He discusses a lot of technical areas in this chat. That makes it not terribly different from the “main commentary”, but at least the emphasis on the technical side of things makes sense. He provides good notes about what we see and compares the raw footage to the finished film. It’s a dry commentary but it fulfills its goals.

The 24-minute and 32-second The 300 – Fact or Fiction? mixes movie clips, behind the scenes bits, and interviews. We hear from Snyder, authors/historians Bettany Hughes and Dr. Victor Davis Hanson, writer/executive producer Frank Miller, and actor Gerard Butler. The show includes some historical notes about the Spartans and comparisons between those facts and the movie’s fiction. We also learn about Miller’s graphic novel and its film adaptation.

All those factors combine well in this pretty enjoyable piece. It manages to give us a nice examination of how 300 fits with history and fleshes out those facts to a satisfying degree. It should help expand fans’ enjoyment of the film since it broadens their understanding of the material at hand.

For more historical information, we find the four-minute and 24-second Who Were the Spartans? The Warriors of 300. It features Snyder, Miller, Butler, Hanson, Hughes, and actors Rodrigo Santoro and David Wenham. “Warriors” expands on “Fact” as it examines the culture of the Spartans and their society. It’s not as good as “Fact”, but it offers a decent addition to the set.

Preparing for Battle: The Original Test Footage lasts six minutes, 43 seconds and includes notes from Zack Snyder, Miller, Nunnari, Canton, and Deborah Snyder. We see a reel adapted from the original graphic novel to demonstrate what Zack Snyder wanted to do with the project as well as some other elements used to pitch the project. It’s a cool glimpse of the filmmakers’ intentions.

Next we discover The Frank Miller Tapes. This 14-minute and 31-second piece offers remarks from Snyder, Miller, DC Comic president/publisher Paul Levitz, comic book creator Neal Adams, and DC Comics group editor Bob Schreck. “Tapes” looks at Miller’s start in comics, his development, his influences, and his work on 300. This becomes an enjoyable view of Miller, though it disappoints due to its essential focus on 300. While we get some insights into Miller’s processes and goals, I’d have liked something that took a broader look at his career to better put 300 in context. Nonetheless, “Tapes” works pretty well for what it is.

Making of 300 goes for five minutes, 47 seconds and presents remarks from Snyder, Miller, Butler, Johnstad, visual effects supervisor Chris Watts, Spartan trainer Mark Twight and actor Lena Headey, This promotional piece mostly tells us the movie’s story along with some quick notes about its visual style and the actors’ physical training. It offers exceedingly little substance; you won’t miss anything if you skip it.

A different view of the film’s creation comes from the three-minute and 34-second Making 300 In Images. This provides a visual montage of photos and video fooahe from the 300 set accompanied by music. We see the various elements but they come devoid of context and fly by at a ridiculous rate. Some potentially intriguing bits appear here but they’re robbed of substance and add little to our understanding of the film and its creation.

Three Deleted Scenes fill a total of three minutes, 21 seconds. That running time includes non-optional introductions with Snyder. The first two show a little more of Ephialtes, while the third offers some more action with midget archers. They’re all pretty silly. In his intros, Snyder explains why he cut them.

Next we find 12 Webisodes All together, they go for a total of 38 minutes, 20 seconds. These present remarks from Snyder, Headey, Butler, Santoro, Miller, Johnstad, Twight, Wenham, Watts, production designer Jim Bissell, costume designer Michael Wilkinson, stunt coordinator/fight choreographer Damon Caro, assistant stunt coordinator/assistant fight choreographer Chad Stahelski, creature shop supervisor Mark Rappaport, special effects makeup supervisor Shaun Smith, and actors Vincent Regan and Dominic West. Quick promotional bits, these look at production design, wardrobe, stunts, the graphic novel’s adaptation, the actors, their characters and their training, visual effects, and some aspects of Spartan culture.

Even though the “Webisodes” clearly exist for publicity purposes, they still often manage to provide good information. The first three “Webisodes” deal with production design, wardrobe and stunts, and those prove especially valuable. I also like the ones that check out visual effects, training, makeup and characters. Most of the others tend to be somewhat fluffy, but all remain enjoyable.

The set also boasts a digital copy of 300. This feature allows you to easily move the film onto a portable media device. If that works for you, have fun!

The Blu-ray opens with a promo for Watchmen. No trailer for 300 appears anywhere in the package.

Finally, the Blu-ray release includes a hardcover book. This comes as part of the package; open up the disc’s casing and the book appears on the left half. It features a mix of components. It throws out a description of the “Immersion” experience along with production notes, photos and biographies. It finishes the set in a nice manner.

Possibly 2007’s biggest cinematic disappointment, 300 takes an interesting premise and turns the material into laughable schlock. I feel absolutely perplexed that this ripe cheese maintains such a big audience of folks who love it, though I’ll go out on a limb and opine that they’ll be embarrassed by it within the next 10 years. This is a terrible piece of overacted, overwrought and over-dramatic action trash.

As for the Blu-ray, it offered excellent picture and audio with a terrific roster of extras. Obviously I can’t recommend the film to new fans, as I don’t enjoy it. Those with a pre-existing affection for 300 will want to scarf up this Blu-ray, though. It’s the best release of the film to date.

To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of 300

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main