July 22, 2009

Blu-ray Review: 300 - The Complete Experience

In case you were wondering if you have had the complete 300 experience, you haven't. At least not until know with Warner Brothers proclaiming this new release to be "The Complete Experience." This comes on the heels of the single disk DVD, two-disk special edition DVD, three-disk box set, the HD-DVD, and the original Blu-ray release. Wow. That certainly is a lot of different releases in a pretty short period of time. I feel fairly certain will get another release of some sort before they are done with this film. In a way it sort of feels like Anchor Bay and their perpetual Army of Darkness releases (how many is it now? I've lost count). I will not believe we have reached the end until we get a release that includes Frank Miller's graphic novel, which is not included here (perhaps a motion comic version like what they did with Watchmen?).

The movie is definitely something special, although it is certainly not for everyone's taste. In the few years since its release it has garnered its fair share of supporters and detractors, but no matter who you ask, everyone has an opinion. Personally, I love the film, evidenced by its sixth place finish on my Top Ten list for 2007. It is big, exciting, emotional, filled with adrenaline, violent, bloody, and very, very stylized.

300 could very well be the next step in cinema style, the gorgeous union of live action and computer generated surroundings. It is not the first of this style, but it is the first one to be an unabashed popular success. Zack Snyder has delivered a visionary film that will grab you by the eye sockets and demand your full attention for two hours. On the flip side, it will also not be the last. Film makers have mastered the art of the narrative story, others have mastered the art of showing a story in a visually inventive way, however it is very rare that they come together in one nicely wrapped up package. This is the first step in that direction, and it is my belief the future will move away from the standard dramas and such that litter the landscape (as good as they are) and we will see the merging of technology and story.

This story is what myth and legend is made of. It is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel which is not, nor was it meant to be, a historical document. If you think you will be seeing a true historical epic, you will be disappointed, and possibly even offended by the oft times cartoonish portrayals. There may be some elements of fact blended into the fiction, but it is not the other way around.

300 plays out a grand tragedy, a tale of heroism, fighting in the face of insurmountable odds for what you believe in. It never falters, it never wavers, it knows what it wants to do and it runs headlong into the breach. It was a fight to defend their way of life. This is the way legend begins, it is exaggerated storytelling used for dramatic effect, both for the audience in the theater and in the home, as well as for those who are listening to the story unfold within the film.

Gerard Butler stars as our lead Spartan warrior, King Leonidas. He is the top warrior and a cunning strategist, but he is also a family man and a fierce defender of his people from threats inside and out. In this case, it is a little of each, but primarily from without. The mighty Persian army is marching on Sparta. The council and the oracle say that Sparta must not go to war, but Leonidas will have none of it. He will not stand idly by and have his people murdered and enslaved. So, off he goes with 300 brave souls on a mission to repel the oncoming forces.

This is a movie that is filled with macho posturing, sword swinging action, and is not afraid of letting a little blood fly. Everything takes place in a wonderfully realized alternate world, where every element is highly stylized. Snyder and his director of photography, Larry Fong, have created a fully realized world that is as convincing as it is unreal. Add to that the larger than life performances of the leads, in particular Gerard Butler. Butler takes the role of Leonidas in his teeth and never lets go. He brings depth to the overblown character. There is a lot going on behind the eyes of the warrior king, and Butler doesn't let you forget it.

In the end, this is quite simply, an amazing film. It has style, energy, violence, emotion, it is hard to tear your eyes away from the screen. It is this magical blend of visual style and deceptive emotional depth.

Audio/Video. The 1080p high definition video, in its original 2.4:1 is, simply put, beautiful. The film has a limited color palette, with lots of muted blue, steel grey, gold, with some vivid red, all of it finely reflected here. Crisp, clear, and often mesmerizing, Zack Snyder's heavily digital creation is very striking, watch the blades flash, the clash of bodies, the falling snow and drifting sparks, spectacular. The one criticism I have read is the grain. Personally, I like the grain. It gives everything a more real feel, the film grain gives helps pull all of the elements together, remove too much and the digital portions may begin to stand out, or the people may begin to look too smooth. This transfer strikes a strong balance with just the right amount of grain.

Likewise, the audio is solid. The audio is represented by two tracks: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1. It is an active track as you are enveloped in battle sounds as the Spartans clash with the Persian army. The dialogue is crisp, loud, and right from the center. My favorite part of the audio track is the Tyler Yates score, it is beautifully rendered here. It is as experimental as the film is and it sounds great here.

Extras. This release features both new features and many carried over from the two-disk DVD version.

New Extras:

  • Blu-ray Book Packaging. This package has been used for a few other titles I have seenm including Dirty Harry and Falling Down. The package is literally a book. The pages contain a map of the Complete Experience as well as some text information for the various experiences and background of the principal players. All of it is accompanied by some great photographs.
  • Digital Copy. Attached to the back in a cardboard envelope is a second disk with a digital copy of the film for your PC or portable device. I know some people don't like these, but I kind of do.
  • Blue Screen Picture in Picture Version. Now this is very cool. This allows you to watch the film with the blue screen in a window where you can compare what it looked like on the set to the finished product. It really is a fascinating look. Frankly, I am not sure how they were able to pull this off without feeling completely ridiculous. This view also comes with a new commentary from Zack Snyder talking about the differences and how shots were obtained.
  • The Complete 300: The Immersive Experience. This is where the real meat and potatoes of this set is. Complete with an introduction from Zack Snyder, this section offers three different paths to follow with the movie. On top of that, after you choose one, you can still get to the other tracks via animated icons representing the red/blue/yellow remote buttons, each color corresponding to a different track. Also, after selecting a track, you can go back to the selection page and choose each of the points individually, so you can go through them without having to watch the movie. Still, it is very cool either way.
  • Each path features trivia pop ups, behind the scenes footage, and interviews with all the major players, and there is a lot of stuff to go through. If you are so inclined, you will be busy or hours going through all of this material.
  • Red Track: Creating a Legend. This path centers on Frank Miller's growth from child to cartoonist while tracking his interest in Sparta as well as discussion of what went in to creating the story.
  • Blue Track: Bringing the Legend to Life. This path gets into the nitty gritty of the film making and how the shots were achieved.
  • Yellow Track: The History Behind the Myth. Finally, this path gives a historical perspective. Since the story is a fantasy telling of an actual event, it is interesting to put into perspective.

Carried Over Extras:

  • Commentary with Director Zack Snyder, DP Larry Fong, and writer Kurt Johnstad. The track is very interesting with lots of anecdotes about shooting, where the effects start and the real stuff ends, the reuse of props, and more. This is a very listenable track with Snyder doing most of the talking.
  • The 300 - Fact or Fiction? Interesting featurette with interviews with Miller, Snyder, and historians comparing what is presented with factual history. There is actually a good amount of truth to the film, blended with a healthy dose of exaggeration. It is a look at how this is the growth of myth and legend. (24:00)
  • Who Were the Spartans?: The Warriors of 300. More information on Miller's adaptation of the historical tale, and how this was likely the version filmed because it was the simplest take. It tells of how Spartans were different from other Greeks and their culture of being soldiers. The original badasses. (4:30)
  • Frank Miller Tapes. Conversations with and about Frank Miller, his inspirations, his ideas, and just how much he means to the medium. It is rather interesting look into his creative process. It ends with Miller asking Snyder: "I'm wondering how the hell you're going to do Watchmen?" That is another Miller creation that Snyder is also adapting.(14:30)
  • Preparing for Battle: The Original Test Footage. This originally appeared as an Easter Egg on the special edition DVD. It is a brief bit on the adaptation and the proposal, how Frank Miller didn't want his work filmed, how they animated the graphic novel pages with voice over by Scott Glenn. It is actually pretty cool. There is some cool pre-viz work shown, showing what they hoped to make. (7 minutes)
  • The Making of 300. This is slightly fluffy, but still worth watching. I still cannot believe this was all on a blue screen. Seeing the film and then seeing the performers in front of the blue screen with little else around them. (6:00)
  • Making 300 in Images. A series of stills and some video of the different permutations of the set, and everyone going about their job. Kind of a neat extra. (3:30)
  • Deleted Scenes with Introduction by Director Zack Snyder. Three scenes, the first two focusing on Ethialtes, and the third introducing the never scene midget archers on the backs of giants. (3:20)
  • Webisodes. 12 Episodes (Including: Production Design, Wardrobe, Stunt Work, Lena Headey, Adapting the Novel, Gerard Butler). These are all pretty interesting giving a look into the production during the production. (38:00)

Bottomline. If you love this movie and are Blu-ray capable, you will want to add this to your collection. The movie is great (you know that already), the transfer is beautiful, and the extras are overflowing. It is a little daunting at first and not necessarily the easiest to navigate, but when you get the hang of it, a world of extras open up in front of you.

Highly Recommended.


Post a Comment