“Into Hell’s mouth, we march.”
Zack Snyder’s 300, an adaptation of the graphic novel by Frank Miller (Sin City), has already seen life on home video several times, with a two-disc DVD, and shiny next gen Blu-ray and HD DVD releases. Now, it’s time for even more Spartan glory with this massive limited edition collector’s set.
It’s a good life in Sparta, thanks to the tough but fair leadership of ultra-badass King Leonidas (Gerard Butler, Dracula 2000). The unfathomably large armies of the Persian empire, though, are heading toward Sparta with plans to enslave, and slaughter everything in their path. The Spartan spiritual leaders insist that the army not go to war, but instead remain behind to honor a festival. So Leonidas takes his 300 personal bodyguards for a “walk,” with a plan to hold back the Persians at the Hot Gates, a narrow stretch of bottlenecked land. While Leonidas and his men fight wave after wave of enemies, his wife Queen Gorgo (Lena Heady, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) tries to convince the Spartan politicians to send the army to the king’s aid.
First things first: Just what’s inside this gigantic gold box? Open it up, and the first thing you see is a 52-page hardcover book containing photos from the film, storyboard art, and art from Miller’s graphic novel. The book also contains the 300 two-disc set, and a third disc featuring a new documentary and a digital copy of the film. The second item that comes out of the box is a large black box-within-the-box holding a nifty-looking Lucite display with a motion film image, and six oversized postcards reproducing the movie’s theatrical poster campaign. Sometimes, these gigantic fancy-pants box sets turn out to be kind of flimsy once you open them up, but, thankfully, that’s not the case here. It holds together nicely and it will look sweet on your bookshelf.
The new documentary, “To the Hot Gates: A Legend Retold,” follows the entire creation of the film, from pre-visual special effects and set designs, all the way through the production, and the many computer effects that give the movie its striking look. At times, the interviewees go overboard with fawning praise for Snyder and Miller, but overall, it’s a nice behind-the-scenes look at the movie.
For other extras, there’s a tech-heavy commentary, four more featurettes about both the making of the film and the history behind the legend of Leonidas and his 300 warriors. The “Frank Miller Tapes” is a featurette about the graphic novel writer/artist, his history in the medium, and interviews with those who have worked with him. Some deleted scenes with optional intros by Snyder and some original webisodes round out the package.
Visually, the DVD delivers, with a crystal clear widescreen picture, showing off a ton of detail, and making the most of the movie’s intense sense of movement and color. Although many scenes are bathed in a golden-brown light, the red of the Spartans’ capes stands out in contrast with this, jumping right off the screen. Other scenes are lit in a cool bluish light, and these too don’t lose any of the detail in the movement or backgrounds. The sound is excellent as well, especially when the electric guitars on the score kick in.
It’s style over substance. I’ve always felt that if a filmmaker is going to do the big slow-motion money shot, then he or she should only do so if the story truly demands it. In 300, though, Snyder rolls out slow-mo money shots every few minutes. Part of this is to recapture the unique look of Miller’s artwork for the big screen. In order to give the movie that Miller vibe, a lot of the big, eye-candy moments had to be slowed down so that we the viewers can really soak in the visual. As the film goes on, though, it wears me down with a “trying to hard to look cool” feeling. I can get why there’d be a slow-mo shot of a Spartan jumping through the air with his sword drawn, but why also is Queen Gorgo walking into a room also a high-tech slow-mo shot?
Snyder’s slavish devotion to filming a panel-by-panel recreation of Miller’s comic is good in many ways, giving the movie its unique sense of style, but in other ways it limits the storytelling. The characters are all broad strokes. Leonidas is stalwart and strong, Gorgo is smart and cunning, Xerxes is cruel and full of himself, and so on. The result is that this is not an actor-driven film. When he’s not shouting about glory and freedom and Sparta!!! Gerard Butler does get in a few emotional scenes where he almost lets his guard down and reveals some humanity. For a good portion of the runtime, though, 300 is more about the abs than the acting.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate 300. The visuals a truly stunning at times, and the fight chorography is genuinely thrilling. It’s just that Snyder shows no sense of restraint anywhere in the film. This is filmmaking in excess. While it starts out cool and exciting, those excessive elements wear down the viewer after a while, so that all you’re doing is gasping at the next eye-popping DGI shot instead of being drawn into the story.
For me, 300 is a fascinating but flawed experience. If you loved the movie and haven’t bought it yet, then this box is most certainly the one to get. If you already own it, then it’s up to you to decide just how much you love the movie, and if a new documentary and some cool packaging are worth the upgrade for you.