300 - The Complete Experience - on Blu-ray
Before there was a ragtag band of Rebel Alliance warriors fighting Palpatine's evil Galactic Empire against overwhelming odds, 300 brave Spartans faced the vast Persian army of King Xerxes - and their gutsy stand has reverberated throughout thousands of years of human history since then.
If ever there were an epic story, this is it - and it's true, apparently.
Director Zack Snyder's take on Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's graphic novel is equally graphic, in that there's plenty of splattering blood and severed body parts, but it's also a stylish and involving story about a group of people for whom honor, duty and the service of something larger than themselves is Job One (sorry, Ford!).
Sounds like just the movie for self-absorbed times such as ours..
We have no idea how accurate 300 is historically but regardless of that, it's a classic adventure that focuses on the best of what makes us human (regardless of what you think of the Spartans), where people who know full well that they're marching off to their deaths do it anyway, damning the consequences because they know what they do is right and necessary.
Our hero is Leonidas (Gerard Butler), the Spartan king who leads his proud band of 300 to that certain death. He fights for his people, their land and their freedom and he will not bend lo the forces of Hades whirl around him. Accompanying him are the best and brightest of a land that prided itself on its strength, both physical and moral.
Left behind are the women and children, the politicians and the bulk of the mighty Spartan army - the latter of which must remain home because it has been decreed that the army not take on the God-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), at least not right now. But Leonidas knows they have to do it now - 'cause that's when the Persians are coming, not later - and there's not much point in waiting if it's going to be too late when finally you get around to it.
So into the breach march the 300, to meet and hold the Persians at a narrow mountain pass called Thermopylae (which apparently means "Hot Gates" in Greek - and they're about to get a lot hotter!).
And we get to see it all, in a beautifully stylized and computerized rendering that may be drenched in blood and ultraviolence, but which is still quite lovely to behold, especially in high definition. The 300 stand in stark contrast to the thousands and thousands of Persians massing against them, mighty fusillades of their arrows flying through the air toward the Spartans in a digitally-created rain of death against which you'd think no one could stand.
Yet the Spartans not only stand, they prevail initially, through battle scenes that capture the visceral horror and, yes, the camaradarie and glory, that real life warfare must have. There are places in which you can almost feel the battle in your bones, despite being in the comfort of your home theater.
Meanwhile, back at the Spartan ranch, the king's wife, Gorgo (Lena Headey), uses every means at her feminine hand to get the Spartan politicians to send the army out to help her husband. These scenes may slow down the battlefield action, but they do add depth and texture to the overall tapestry.
Director Snyder shows a deft hand for violence and action - and art. He makes horrible scenes of dismembering, decapitation, and blood splattering into the air look almost surreally beautiful - stuff that otherwise could seem gratuitous.
The performances are excellent, especially Butler and Headey - though it's a bit weird to notice a Scotsman's brogue coming from the Spartan king. The overall look is also very engrossing (with, maybe, a slight focus on the "gross" in engrossing?).
The Blu-ray picture is 1080p glorious, though a tad grainy in places (possibly by design), but overall the dark image is very sharp and colorful and a nice way to show off your system. Since it's so stylized it lacks some of that great "depth" that's common on the best Blu-rays, but it won't spoil your enjoyment.
Warners got the audio right with 300 as well. It's offered in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround, though it's missing the uncompressed PCM track of the original BD relawse. But the sound is as glorious as the picture, with excellent surround and channel separation and good use of the low frequency effects channel.
And when Warners marketed this as "the Complete Experience", they weren' t kidding. There's some two hours of extra stuff on the disc.
First of all, it's one of Warners' "Book" packages that not only includes the Blu-ray disc (and in this case a digital copy as well), but there's about 30 pages worth of stuff between the covers as well, including info both about the movie and about how to access the cornucopia of content in this new edition.
And it is a cornucopia. Besides the usually tiresome BD Live feature, there's a spectacular array of features including "A Comprehensive Immersion", which gives you three timeline-based features that focus on "Creating a Legend" (which looks at the creation of Frank Miller's original graphic novel of 300), "Bringing the Legend to Life" (which, not surprisingly, deals with "the making of 300"), and "The History Behind the Myth" (which looks at the real events and their effect on history). There's a lot of great stuff here, accessible via the colored buttons on your Blu-ray remote (so THAT's why they're there!) and it works well.
That's just the beginning. There's also an abundance of more "standard" special features such as a blue screen picture in picture feature in which director Snyder compares the studio footage to its final form. 300 Spartans - Fact or Fiction (HD) and Who Were the Spartans are pretty self explanatory, as are the deleted scenes, audio commentary and "Frank Miller Tapes". There's also a series of webisodes that look at various aspects of 300 and a look at the battle scenes.
It's a lot of stuff and fans will undoubtedly devour it with gusto.
But as usual it's the movie that's the most important, and this is a good one as long as you can stand the violence.
300, from Warner Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.