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300 HD DVD Review

Category: 300 News
Article Date: July 20, 2007 | Publication: IGN | Author: Todd Gilchrist and Christohper Monfette

Posted by: stagewomanjen

Todd Gilchrist's review:

It's truly difficult to resist making epic proclamations about a filmmaker's career after watching something like 300. Director Zack Snyder, the man responsible for a superlative remake of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, adapts Frank Miller's graphic novel with passion and creativity, proving that classical storytelling will never go out of style — especially if more filmmakers are able to make it look as cool and exciting as this. Combining old-school mythmaking with ultramodern technique, Snyder has crafted a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that is unlike any movie audiences have seen, and in so doing he may have sealed his own fate as a possible redeemer of modern moviemaking.

Gerard Butler plays Leonidas, the wise king of Sparta. Raised with the utmost ideals — honor, duty, glory — Leonidas is a brilliant military strategist and egalitarian champion of personal freedom. So when news arrives from Persia to herald Xerxes' (Rodrigo Santoro) sovereignty over Sparta, he rebuffs the declaration and announces that his countrymen must fight to preserve their way of life. Unfortunately, the Spartan elders honor an ancient and fickle belief system that prohibits Leonidas from challenging the impending Persian hordes.

Fearing for the safety and freedom of his people, Leonidas enlists 300 soldiers -- declared his personal bodyguards -- and mounts a valiant defense against Xerxes and his limitless armies. Meanwhile, his wife, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), attempts to employ more diplomatic means to solicit support from the Spartan council, even as Theron (Dominic West) poisons its members to her plan from within.

The simplicity of the plot is the film's greatest virtue. Rather than languishing in the details of military strategy or inundating audiences in the subtleties of Spartan politics, director Snyder renders Miller's story in big, broad strokes. For example, the film's opening sequence introduces rather simply the cultural tradition that inspired larger-than-life figures like Leonidas: Great men are born and bred, nurtured in their natural abilities and trained to serve a specific purpose. Indeed, this sequence not only explains everything one needs to know about the hero, but reveals the origins of his masterful battle strategy… not to mention the Spartan philosophical ideals upon which it is based.

At the same time, however, there is a palpable humanity to Leonidas and his men. While they do in some way provide the latest cinematic iteration of Schwarzeneggeresque musclemen — not one of them is built less than Ford tough — they are not without thoughts and feelings, which are applied liberally to their efforts to protect one another and, by extension, their Spartan homeland.

Best of all, Leonidas' relationship with his wife Gorgo offers a rare display of tenderness and devotion that is seldom seen in "guy movies" like this one, and provides some of the film's most profound and lasting emotional underpinnings. Notwithstanding a sex scene that almost surely ranks as one of the hottest and most beautiful in recent memory, theirs is a partnership that reflects mutual understanding and shows the sort of commitment that is to be aspired to in real life as much as on the silver screen.

Thankfully, the acting also plays directly to this seeming juxtaposition between classicism and modernism. Butler, a reliable Russell Crowe-like leading man who hasn't yet enjoyed the success he deserves, finally finds his Maximus in Leonidas. He possesses enough strength and tenderness to satisfy all of the demands of his character, and yet defines the film within terms that will have audiences swooning over his personal stage presence for countless roles to come. As Gorgo, meanwhile, Headey is a terrific adult beauty who conveys credible intelligence as well as smoldering sexuality. The lack of self-consciousness she lends her character — especially when clothed — is far hotter than and sort of make-up for the "prettiness" filmmakers might have found in a more familiar (i.e. commercial) face.

Of course, the only way their performances would have worked is if the material was treated deadly serious, and Snyder exerts masterful control to make sure that each defiant turn and earnest proclamation is absolutely sincere. He choreographs the action in such a way as to inspire awe no matter what his characters are doing, employing slow-motion so freely that it seems more the norm than the 24 frames per second that audiences have become accustomed to. But at the same time, none of these flourishes feel superfluous. Instead, they create the kind of momentum and operatic scope that elevates a tall tale to the stuff of legend.

That said, there are so many painterly images in 300that it qualifies as the closest thing to "pure cinema" that audiences have come to in quite some time: The silhouette of the Spartan elders' temple against a cloud-stained moon; the spectacle of dead bodies in the shape of a great, gnarled hand reaching out of scorched soil; more than one extended shot of the Spartans laying waste to their adversaries as the camera changes speeds, zooms and shifts focus to keep up; and the pristine and breathtaking shadow of a lone spear as it ascends a stairwell towards its designated target.

Ultimately, the film looks a little bit like a Boris Vallejo print come to life — muscled supermen springing to action to save their oil-painted landscape — and full credit must go to Snyder. But with both this and Dawn of the Dead, he has proven himself a consummate storyteller who can transform convention into cinematic magic… which is why it's with reluctant enthusiasm that we assign him the responsibility of restoring the luster of mainstream movies.

After all, who knows how well Snyder will do moving forward, or what career path he might follow? It seems like his only (or maybe most obvious) predecessor would be Ridley Scott, who broke into the mainstream with a similar sort of genre-movie deconstruction and whose last big commercial success no doubt served as at least a vague template for some of the style on display here. Suffice it to say that Snyder could do worse than follow Scott's career path, rewriting rules and changing the landscape with each new effort. But keep in mind that it took Scott 22 years to follow Alien with a Gladiator, and it took only four for Snyder to go from Dawn to 300.

Ultimately, this film combines an archetypal conflict, an ancient storytelling tradition reaching back as far as the Greeks themselves, and technique that makes it relevant to modern audiences. In other words, it's not clear whether great movie myths are born or bred, but 300 is unequivocally one of them.

Score: 10 out of 10

Christohper Monfette's HD DVD review:
Video and Presentation
To drop my critical, third-person persona for a moment, I'm simply not sure how much there is to say about this stunning HD DVD presentation. The masterful blending of an already beautifully-envisioned film with the superb fidelity of the high-definition format leave only a string of adjectives hanging from the end of my otherwise critical tongue - stunning, gorgeous, crisp, clear, colorful, brutal, polished, perfect.

Rich, endless black levels; unbeatable contrast; a raw, atmospheric grain and the film's epic cinematography combine to offer the high-def format its new benchmark DVD. Likely it will be some time before another cinematic army will prove vast and fierce enough to adequately conquer the inarguable supremacy of this landmark film.

Score: 10 out of 10

Languages and Audio

Offering its massive, impactful audio mix in English-language Dolby TruHD, Dolby Digital Plus (in English and French) and a stripped-down 5.1 Spanish mix - with subtitles available in all three languages - 300 marches into battle with horns blaring, swords slicing and the drum-like beat of an army walking toward its fate. The audio proves remarkable in any format, but the TruHD firmly sets the viewer onto the tragic battlefield, magically protected as blades clash, whips snap and arrows slice the air from the front channels to the back.

An epic musical score and thunderous audio effects work provide an aural component rich and deep enough to pose a challenge to even the most massive audio army. Turn up the volume, light the torches and defend your living room against the hordes of neighbors kicking down your door in an effort to restore peace and quiet. But what does it matter - with this disc, you've got 300 friends in your living room, ready to defend their place in your DVD collection.

Score: 10 out of 10

Extras and Packaging

Load up the disc, sit back and count to 300. Surprisingly, you won't be counting the number of soldiers noted by the film's title, but rather, the seeming number of extras present on this jam-packed HD DVD.

-Picture-in-Picture Commentary with Directory Zach Snyder
-Additional Scenes
-HD DVD Game: Vengence and Valor
-Scene Editing Tool

The above might not, at first, look like much, but as soon as viewers crack the long, laundry list of featurettes and webisodes, hours upon hours of additional - and, more importantly, worthwhile - content will unravel across the screen. With nearly three hours of featurettes, an hour of previously internet-only webisodes and the commentary itself, viewers should have no trouble getting lost in the bloody battlefield of this DVD.

The picture-in-picture commentary is a ridiculously entertaining and informative addition, highlighting not only Snyder's dynamic, easy-going personality but everything and anything audiences may have wanted to know about the film's production. With a second, smaller screen in the bottom-left corner matched shot-for-shot with the theatrical release, viewers can see the green-screen, blue-screen, warts-and-all reference shots compared against their fully-produced end products. The Film-School-101, special-effects master class value is both remarkable and completely accessible as Snyder walks us through the arduous, painstaking process of creating an effects-heavy film with an impressive charisma and a well-delivered lesson plan. And the dual-picture accompaniment is a welcome, educational visual aid.

The deleted scenes are few in number but actually quite interesting to watch, providing more perspective on the Hunchback character while introducing audiences to a cut segment featuring a Persian Giant. Removed for "taking the film too far into the stratosphere," the attack of the giant - while lacking the polish of the finished film - is a well-designed, if not agreeably over-the-top, sequence. Lasting only several minutes, there's no reason not to check out this handful of lost moments.

With six "Behind the Story" featurettes on this disc - running anywhere from five to 25 minutes in length - there's a wide array of battles to be fought before the day is won or lost. And if you're picking your battles wisely, you'll certainly check out the following highlights:

"300 Spartans - Fact or Fiction" is a great mini-doc about the myths and realities of a contingent of men about whom modern historians know quite a bit - but still relatively little. As Snyder states, "A master storyteller knows not to ruin a good story with the truth," to which Miller later responds, "I've never been accused of realism." The focus of the piece examines the long line of Spartan stories and highlights how each interpretation was based off others before them, tracing the line from Greek stories to Frank Miller's modernesque interpretation. Filmmakers and historians combine to discuss the reality and mythology of the Spartans, underscoring the elements not communicated in the feature film. Snyder himself is obviously well-schooled in the culture far beyond what he chooses to illustrate on screen.

"Who Were the Spartans" is a continuation of this basic premise as it extends to the actors themselves, filling the rolls that unspool across the screen. Each actor appears briefly, intermingling with the historical fact, and discussing which elements they chose to take and leave in the development of characters that had to work in an epic, narrative film.

"The Making of 300" is a more traditional, behind-the-scenes offering which fortunately - given the film's incredible design and subject matter - remains captivating, even if it is a somewhat more standard, self-aggrandizing offering than the majority of these high-quality bonus features.

"Preparing for Battle: The Test Footage" is, in many ways, perhaps the most interesting feature included in this collection. While it doesn't reach to the scope of the previous entries, it details Snyder's efforts to get the film greenlit, ranging from his initial presentation, to a mini-film (narrated by actor Scott Glenn) created solely from Photoshop'd frames of the original graphic novel to the final - and jaw-dropping - fully produced (and incredibly kick-ass) short film made to convince executives that 300 was a film worth making in its entirety.

Many viewers may have viewed the webisodes when they originally hit online, and while each short segment feels like a brief chapter from a singular, thirty-minute documentary, each element is captivating in its own right. All of them are fairly self explanatory and well-worth the exploration. Highlights include:

-Production Design
-Stunt Work
-Adapting the Graphic Novel
-Culture of Sparta
-Scene Studies
-Fantastic Characters of 300

Exclusive to the high-def release is an option allowing audiences to mark their favorite sequences and edit them together into a montage which can then be uploaded for others to see online. The editing tool is over-simple and occasionally clunky to use and lacking any real incentive to take the time required, the feature stands out as more of an amusement for those to tinker with and then discard. It's a nice inclusion if you're inclined to use it, but a bit too simple for those looking to do more with it.

Finally, the HD DVD game "Vengeance and Valor" is similar to the editing tool in that there's simply not enough depth to make it worthwhile for those interested in actually playing it. A Risk-like game of Spartan chess, players are asked to advance their infantry against the enemy along designated paths and choosing the forces necessary to attack (i.e. swordsmen, archers, etc.). Unfortunately, if this disc has a weak spot, it's this rather unenjoyable and underdeveloped game.

Overall, however, this is one incredibly strong and distinctly Spartan collection of extras and well worth following into battle.

Score: 10 out of 10

The Bottom Line

We could easily use 300 words to describe this gorgeous, benchmark HD DVD, but we'll only use three in conclusion:



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