Frank Miller's '300' embodies the art of war

Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: July 30, 2007 | Publication: startribune.com | Author: Randy A. Salas
Publication/Article Link:http://www.startribune.com/459/story/1333565.html

"There's no way to tell the story of '300' without it being amazingly brutal," Frank Miller says.
And there's no way to watch "300" on DVD without being completely blown away by the audio-visual spectacle of this captivating, highly stylized film.

Based on Miller's graphic novel about the legendary 300 Spartans who battled an exponentially larger number of Persian invaders in ancient Greece, the violent blockbuster comes out today on standard DVD (Warner, two discs, $35 [also one disc, $29]), as well as in the competing high-definition formats, Blu-ray Disc ($35) and HD-DVD ($40). In any version, it's the best DVD so far this year for AV quality and content, but also apparently the biggest in sales, too: Preorders of the three versions have been in the top 10 sellers among all DVDs at Amazon.com for weeks.

Copious extras totaling about two hours, plus feature-length commentary, strike a pleasing balance among the movie's incredible look, the source material and the historic event that inspired it all.

It's important that the supplements dwell on Miller's original work, because the film brings his graphic novel to vivid life.

Virtually every scene features live-action actors with computer-generated scenery and special effects, giving the film a surreal, other-worldly quality. The extent of this is driven home in a feature, exclusive to the HD-DVD, in which director Zach Snyder provides in-film commentary while a picture-in-picture display shows what scenes look like without the enhancements. (The other discs offer audio-only commentary.)

Another way the film was made to look like the illustrations on the printed page was through what Snyder calls "the crush," a postproduction process that desaturates the color and overexposes the highlights in the film while reducing anything in shadow to blackness.

The filmmakers even scanned blood spatters from Miller's book and superimposed them over fighting scenes.

There's no question that Spartans were trained to be extreme fighters -- the SWAT team of the ancient world, as one commentator puts it. So it's fitting that "300" presents their story in an over-the-top manner, with a parade of increasingly unusual adversaries that include bizarrely deformed soldiers and oversized rhinos and elephants to reflect how they were perceived by the unworldly Spartans. Still, it's easy to see why a sequence with a dwarf archer riding atop a gigantic warrior was cut for being too outlandish, although it's nice to have it among the discs' deleted scenes for posterity.

Miller "has taken an actual event and turned it into mythology," Snyder says on the DVD. "He wanted to get at the essence of what a Spartan is, not the reality of what a Spartan is."I've never been accused of realism," Miller cracks. "And I've never deserved to be."

But at its core, "300" accurately reflects the way Spartans looked and lived, according to scholars Bettany Hughes and Victor Davis Hanson, who appear in several extras on the discs. It even preserves some of ancient historian Herodotus' accounts of the battle, such as a threat by the Persians that their arrows will blot out the sun. ("Then we will fight in the shade!" a Spartan replies.)

Some have dismissed the testosterone-drenched "300" as being strictly for guys. CinemaScore, a Las Vegas firm that tracks moviegoer habits on opening weekend, confirms that the film's audience was 71 percent men, who gave the film an A-minus. But here's the interesting part, according to the polling company: Women who saw "300" gave the movie the same high grade.

That's the real reason the "300" DVD is destined for glory. It's simply a great film. The discs' extras and flawless presentation are just a bonus.