Judge David Johnson dines in Hell every other Thursday night. They got good ribs.
Our reviews of 300 (Blu-Ray) (published August 10th, 2007), 300: Limited Collectors Edition (published November 18th, 2008), 300: The Complete Experience (Blu-Ray) (published July 21st, 2009), and 300: Two-Disc Special Edition (published August 10th, 2007) are also available.
"Give them nothing. Take from them…everything."
Zack Snyder's kick-ass blue-screen mini-epic finally sees its debut on high definition, the treatment this visual marvel was born for.
Facts of the Case
Based on the Frank miller graphic novel that was based on the historical legend, 300 interprets the great Battle of Thermopylae, the pivotal encounter between the limitless masses of the Persian horde and a small band of elite and scantily clad gym rats from Sparta.
Led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler, Reign of Fire), the 300 Spartans march to the "Hot Gates," a narrow mountain pass by the sea, which creates a natural bottleneck, neutralizing King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his Persian forces.
Meanwhile back in Sparta, Leonidas's spunky wife Gorgo (Lena Headey) tries to prompt the governing elders into military action, despite the drunken will of the Oracle of Delphi and the sinister machinations of scumbag politician Theron (Dominic West), which is all well and good, but let's get back to the stabbing and trash talking.
Oh, the stabbing and trash-talking! 300 and its glorious alpha male bravado, its red-meat posturing and wicked carnage, its brutality and slow-mo decapitations and crazy goat-headed minstrels, how you delight me so! This movie kicked me in the balls so hard back in March I was compelled to go see it two more times afterwards, bringing friends and loved ones with me to experience the computer-generated cluster-F anew.
Zack Snyder, who delivered previously with his action-horror hybrid remake of Dawn of the Dead really tapped into the testosterone wellspring for me, and judging by the box office receipts and fawning adoration I've heard from like-minded chaps, for many other people as well.
What is the phenomenon? If you get right down to it, 300 is nothing more than a hyper-stylized bloodbath that takes liberties with real history (which, to be honest, probably leaned toward mythical in its own telling back in the day), tosses some crazy rhino and giant elephant fights into the fray and ends with a simplistic, chest-thumping message about good versus evil, oppression versus freedom and outnumbered underdogs fighting like total studs.
But it is precisely this simple message that I submit resonated with so many people. It's what enchanted me. There's not much room for nuance in 300. Multiculturalism is traded in for the calamitous slaughter of one crappy civilization taking on a slightly less-crappy civilization—but the good guys and bad guys are clearly delineated. There's a freeing purity in that concept, of sitting in a movie theater and not being forced to consider and contemplate during the action scenes. There is absolutely room for that type of gray area mayhem (the Bourne films for example), but sometimes it's just nice to root for the good guy.
Snyder will give you plenty to root for. Gerard Butler's smack-talking Leonidas issues forth some of the most memorable pre-melee one-liners in sword and sandal history, and, as his performance has come to be known for, he bellows them out in deep-throated screams that would tear apart a lesser man's diaphragm. When he's not barking orders to his comrades, he's delivering the hurt on the battlefield, participating in some truly thrilling battle moments and boss fights cooked up by Snyder and cronies: beheadings, limb severs, eye wounds, bicep punctures, spear stabbings, punches to the face, kicks to the face, sword thrusts to the face, all accompanied by either a throbbing metal soundtrack (which works) or a more traditional orchestral battle score, grunting, huffing, and flexing and about 500,000 virtual cubic liters of computer-generated blood. Joy!
Onto the high-def treatment, which, as you can, guess, is top-shelf. Warner Brothers treats all its specialty HD discs with care and their hallmark to date is this one (also evidenced by the monstrous sales of both Blu-Ray and HD DVD). Your eyes will thank you once you get a look at the 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (1080p). Really, high-definition is the way this film was meant to be viewed. Colors are pronounced and the detailing is a marked improvement over the film reels from the theatrical release. Battle scenes are even more visceral and graphic and the wider, more epic shots (like the last one) benefit greatly from the improved clarity. When your eyes are done issuing their gratitude, your ears will immediately follow suit; the Dolby TrueHD and Digital Plus tracks serve the stunning sound work magnificently. The bass will rumble your guts out and the discrete channels bring the carnage from all angles.
Great special features, too. The blue-screen picture-in-picture option gives you a look at the film before the CGI was added, and Snyder talks you through it with a nice commentary track. And in high-definition, you'll get three deleted scenes, highlighted by a ridiculous midget-archer-on-a-giant's-back sequence that was mercifully cut, a multi-part making-of documentary including a Frank Miller feature, the documentary "300 Spartans: Fact or Fiction," a well-done look at the history of the story featuring my man Victor David Hanson, a brief complementary documentary called "Who Were the Spartans?" an image slide-show and five-minute slice of behind-the-scenes action and lastly some test footage. Buttressing this main portion of the bonuses is a series of webisodes spotlighting different aspects of the film's creation. Capping the set are an exclusive-to-HD DVD interactive strategy game that's way too complicated for me but looks pretty fun, a cool little "favorite scene" montage maker and some dispensable web-enabled mobile phone downloads.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Yes, I know, the blemishes of Spartan culture were glossed over—helots and all—but when you've got a deformed giant pulling a knife out of his eye socket, who really gives a crap?
300 on HD DVD is as awesome as you think it would be: outstanding video and sound and a great selection of extras give Leonidas and his crew plenty of staying power. The standard DVD on the reverse side allows for format flexibility, plus there's an additional audio commentary.
Tonight, we all dine in hell!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Director's Commentary
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