A fever dream of an adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel, "300" is the follow-up from director Zack Snyder to his enjoyable remake of "Dawn of the Dead". The picture uses considerable manipulation, digital enhancement and other tricks in order to create a beautifully surreal world, made up largely of artificial backgrounds (similar to director Robert Rodriguez's adaptation of Miller's "Sin City".)
Essentially, "300" is a look into the legendary Battle of Thermopylae. King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) of Persia sends messengers into Sparta in order to inform them that they'd best lay down their arms and surrender. King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), not surprisingly, isn't hearing any of it. This, despite the fact that well, the Spartans have about 300 men (hence the title), and the Persians have, oh, about a couple hundred thousand.
After the Spartans make it perfectly clear that they are not going to give up without a fight, they head for battle against the massive Persian army. The majority of the film is essentially one big, brutal fight sequence. "300" is unapologetically style over substance; this is not a history lesson - it's largely a movie focused on a bunch of guys fighting and showing it in the most visually striking (such as a scene where a wave of arrows is so massive it turns the sky dark) way possible.
The movie certainly succeeds in that regard, but character development is pretty minimal, the story is rather thin and the movie's dialogue is fairly clunky. I wasn't expecting character development in an action picture such as this, but the movie really doesn't even provide all that much of an introduction for these characters before the battles begin. Credit must go to the actors for making these characters stand out as much as they do here, as in the hands of others, these characters could be more one-dimensional. Gerald Butler is commanding and convincing as Leonidas in a performance that carries the film decently enough and makes some very clunky dialogue work through sheer force. Santoro's less believable, but remains adequate as the villain of the piece.
"300" is dazzling visually, but the film does come up short on substance; even just a bit more character development would have made the film more engaging. Still, this is a film that presents itself essentially as a pure actioner from the get go and it more than delivers (to an almost exhausting degree during the film's nearly 2 hours - there's not a subtle second here) on the sleek, intense thrills.
VIDEO: "300" is presented by Warner Brothers on Blu-Ray in 2.40:1 (1080p/VC-1). The presentation quality does have some issues, but in many instances, they are actually part of the film's intentional visual style. Sharpness and detail do vary somewhat, although the film often appeared sharp and detailed. Some shots appeared a bit softer and seemed lacking in fine detail. Overall though, the picture does get an upgrade in terms of definition on the Blu-Ray.
The film's grainy, rough appearance is more apparent on the Blu-Ray edition than the DVD, but it does give the film the intended raw look. No edge enhancement or print flaws were spotted. The film's heavily stylized color palette looked accurately presented, with no smearing or other concerns. Overall, the Blu-Ray does an excellent job accurately portraying the film's intended "look".
SOUND: The film is presented in PCM 5.1. The film's sound design delivers just the sort of slam-bang audio experience that one would expect from a movie like this. The battles rage on around the listing space, as surrounds kick into overdrive with an assult of various effects and ambience. The battles are also spread quite well across the wide front soundstage. Even the quieter scenes in the film don't give the speakers a rest. Audio quality is terrific, with thunderous bass, clear dialogue and crisp, well-recorded effects. The PCM presentation is astonishing, offering a level of low-end power and clarity that makes it stand out as a reference quality presentation. Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also offered.
EXTRAS: Cinematographer Larry Fong, director Zack Snyder and writer Kurt Johnstad offer an audio commentary for the film. Not surprisingly for a movie like this, much of the discussion turns to the visuals, as the three chat about effects, cinematography, sets and more throughout much of the track. We also get some insights about working with the actors and thoughts about Miller's graphic novel and how it compares to the movie.
"The Making of 300" is a promotional piece that lasts a little under 6 minutes. While it offers a few good interviews, it's pretty thin. "300: Fact or Fiction?" is a more engaging piece, and runs about 25 minutes. This takes a look at the history of the story, with plenty of historian interviews that shed light on the fact vs. the fiction of the film. "Preparing For Battle" talks about the development of the production, but focuses quite a bit on test footage that was developed to show the studio what Snyder was going for. "Frank Miller Tapes" (15 minutes) offers interviews with the head of DC Comics and others chatting about Miller's work. "Who Were the Spartans?" explores what the lives of the Spartans were like. Finally, we get 12 webisodes, 3 deleted scenes and photo galleries. The main featurettes and deleted scenes are in HD; the webisodes aren't.
Final Thoughts: "300" is a dazzler visually, but comes up somewhat short on substance. Still, this is an entertaining action film that provides some incredible visuals, strong atmosphere and over-the-top battles. The Blu-Ray edition boasts excellent video quality, outstanding audio quality and some solid extras. Recommended.
The Film B