Frank Miller’s graphic novel that recalls the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C in which 300 Spartans courageously, if misguidedly, stood against the overwhelming invading forces from Persia led by the “god-king” Xerxes was brought to the screen in 2007 by writer/director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead). Like Robert Rodriguez’ treatment of Miller’s Sin City before it, Snyder took brought 300 to the screen in a visually stylized film that is faithful to every frame of Miller’s novel. Unlike Sin City, however, 300 does it to the detriment of storytelling.
Sure, King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his group of muscle-clad, sword wielding warriors dish out a frenzy of testosterone-induced action with awesome bluescreen effects that will keep viewers balancing on the edges of their couches, but after a while the awful dialogue and absence of plot becomes too heavy a burden to bear over 300’s two-hour time frame. If narration like, “the seaborn breeze, coolly, kissing the sweat at his chest and neck. Gulls cawing, complaining, even as they feast on the thousands of floating dead,” will keep you entertained, then you’ll love every sweaty, bloody moment of 300, otherwise the moments between the gore and the dazzling effects will leave you chuckling to yourself.
Of course, turning this ancient epic battle into something that will appeal to modern audiences is part of the trick. Frank Miller’s fascination with the story of the 300 Spartans as told by Zack Snyder and company on screen is rife with modern day rhetoric on patriotism and freedom. The glory of dying in battle for one’s country is bludgeoned into the heads of viewers before the literal bludgeoning begins. Therein lies the real appeal for the latter day moviegoer — there are impalements, beheadings, and all the slicing and dicing this side of Food Network one can handle.
300 is ripe for spoofing as is evidenced by the numerous clips on YouTube and the recent Meet the Spartans. Beyond its vision historical fantasy, it is a big budget Friday night WWE event with swords and shields and men in leather pants. After the stunning noir that was Sin City, which is still one of the most brilliant graphic novel adaptations ever to make its way to the screen, 300 is a mixed bag and somewhat of a disappointment. Visually, it is an accomplishment, but not as accomplished as the former and its plot merely exists as a vehicle for the violence. That is not enough for a good review from this reviewer.
Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I owned the original, bare-bones release of 300 on Blu-ray from Warner. But now that copy resides some 1200 miles away with a woman I had the sad misfortune of getting involved with; I’m sure there are a lot of guys out there who can sympathize. So, when I compare this release to the previous version, I have to do it from memory and, if memory serves me correctly, the transfer on this reissue of 300 looks identical to the previous edition.
There were many viewers who complained about 300’s grainy picture, but make no mistake, the grain in 300 is absolutely intentional. The film’s graininess was digitally enhanced in the digital intermediate stage and anyone who has seen images of 300 before this VC-1 encoding from Warner knows that it is supposed to look even sharper and grainier than it appears here.
With that being said, 300 on Blu-ray looks well enough, with good contrast levels and strong detail and texture. Colors are intentionally unnatural and de-saturated with a sepia toned color palette. As such, flesh tones do not look realistic, but, again, that is not a consequence of the transfer. The transfer does have some weaknesses, however, and they come in the form of some occurrences of black crush and posterization. So, although the net result of the 300 transfer is one that looks pleasing if you don’t mind grain, it is certainly flawed and less than perfect.
300: The Complete Experience is provided with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (48kHz/16-bit) lossless mix that is aggressive, lush with atmospheric sound effects from the very opening moments, and resounding with deep low frequency extension. The surround channels are occupied with many discrete sound effects; the front channels are used effectively for directionality, following action across the screen. Dialogue is clean and dynamic range is quite wide. The overall mix is rather entertaining and balanced, providing just the right amount of excitement during the relentless combat scenes. This is certainly a mix that can be used to showoff the best of home theatre sound systems.
There are also English, French, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kbps) audio mixes provided.
There would be no reason for Warner to reissue 300 were it not for the abundance of new bonus features that have been added to the release above the previous bare-bones version. Making full use of Blu-ray’s superior capacity, bandwidth, and interactive features, Warner has put together a compelling value added package with 300: The Complete Experience on Blu-ray that makes it an enticing double-dip item. Additionally, 300’s package has been redesigned and it now comes in one of Warner’s Digibooks with a 40-page color book with exclusive photos, cast information and more.
The supplements available on this release are:
The Complete 300: Comprehensive Immersion — An interactive, BD-Java based, picture-in-picture feature that allows viewers to select between three different informative perspectives to watch during the film:
- Creating a Legend: Frank Miller and Zack Snyder Interpret a Classic Tale
- Bringing the Legend to Life: Building a World from a Comic
- The History Behind the Myth: The Real Story of The Hot Gates
Behind the Story:
- The 300 — Fact or Fiction?: (1.78:1; 1080i/60) — Historians and Frank Miller discuss the facts concerning Spartan culture, King Leonidas, and which occurrences from 300 are factual and which are fictional.
- We Were the Spartans?: The Warriors of 300 (1.78:1; 1080i/60) — A look at Frank Miller’s rendering of the Spartans in his graphic novel and the divisions of class in Spartan society.
- Preparing for Battle: The Original Test Footage (1.78:1; 1080i/60) — Jack Snyder speaks about and shows the original test footage he shot to convince studios to green light production of the film.
- Frank Miller Tapes — Frank Miller’s importance as a graphic novelist is discussed in this brief featurette.
- Making of 300 (1.33:1; 480i/60) — This five-minute “making of” featurette is more promotional than informative.
- Making 300 in Images (1.33:1; 480i/60) — A high-speed motion collage of the film’s production.
- Bluescreen Picture-in-Picture Version — Watch the entire film with as the non-treated bluescreen version appears in a picture-in-picture comparison window with commentary by director Zack Snyder comparing the two.
- Commentary by director Zack Snyder, writer Kurt Johnstad, and director of photography Larry Fong.
Webisodes (1.33:1; 480i/60):
- Production Design
- Stunt Work
- Lena Headey
- Adapting the Graphic Novel
- Gerard Butler
- Rodrigo Santoro
- Training the Actors
- Culture of the Sparta City-State
- A Glimpse from the Set: Making 300 the Movie
- Scene Studies from 300
- Fantastic Characters of 300
Additional Footage (1.78:1; 1080i/60):
- Deleted Scenes — Three deleted scenes with introductions from Zack Snyder.
- BD-Live — There is a BD-Live option on the disc, but at the time of this review there was no relevant material available via this feature.
- Digital Copy — A bonus disc with access to a free standard definition download for iTunes/Windows Media-compatible devices.
The Definitive Word
300 may make for a wonderful bit of pop culture and as far as graphic novel adaptations go, it is hardly the worst there is out there, but it is not a great film. It is mildly entertaining even as it becomes quickly tedious. Thankfully, Warner has fortified this home theatre favorite with an abundance of supplements that may well make it worth a double-dip for those early adopters who already own this title and enjoy it.