Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Gerard Butler, Lena
Headey, David Wenham, Dominic West, Rodrigo Santoro
Director: Zack Snyder
Audio: Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 116 Minutes
Release Date: July 31, 2007
“This is madness!”
“Madness? THIS IS SPARTA!!”
What’s in a number? Well, if you’re talking about 300, the number means a harrowing adventure story, a brutally violent escapade, a visually striking triumph, and a powerful feat of storytelling all wrapped up in a single film.
Like Sin City, 300 was based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, but cinematically, it takes his style and story even further. This film for me represents the most perfect realization of a graphic novel yet depicted on the screen, using CGI, incredible cinematography, and a bloody glorious tale from the pages of history, all in a way that seems to take filmmaking technology to the next level.
The story focuses on the legendary battle of Thermopylae, where a band of 300 rough and tumble warriors from Sparta led by the unflappable King Leonidas (Butler) made a stand against the all-conquering Persian army of Xerxes (Santoro), whose minions numbered in the tens of thousands. At the heart is really a battle of ideals: the Spartans believe freedom isn’t free, and would rather die as free men than live as slaves, no matter how flamboyantly temping Xerxes’ flattering offers may be.
The Spartans were possibly the most kick-ass warriors in the history of the world. Raised from childhood to be fierce, brave and ruthless, they weren’t the kind of soldiers who would let a little inconvenient fact like being outnumbered hundreds if not thousands-to-one stand in their way…not when their very way of life and everything they hold dear was facing annihilation.
But Persia isn’t Leonidas’ only enemy. At home, within the realms of his own government, are voices who actually blame Leonidas for the war rather than Xerxes…politicians who would rather bicker and quibble than take up arms against an enemy bent on conquest, even entertaining the notion that they could live in submission to Persia in exchange for peace. Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?
And so, under such circumstances, Leonidas and his 300 bravest warriors vow to make a stand to the death rather than submit. They have no illusions about what their end result would be. But the Spartans were fighters like no other. Even though they faced certain demise, they kept their goal of taking as many enemy combatants as possible with them.
Even though the history of these events has long since been written, the film, as directed by Zack Snyder, is remarkable in how it allows the story to unfold in a visual splendor unlike anything seen in the movies before. My girlfriend said it best: it’s an amazingly beautiful film, even though that seems an odd description considering it might also be the most carnal and violent I’ve ever seen. The bloodshed is constant and relentless, but the historical bent makes it all seem plausible and palatable. This isn’t just gore for the sake of gore…it’s the blood and guts of a courageous but outnumbered army making their choice to pay for their freedom with their own lives.
Most of the backgrounds and set pieces are computer rendered, but unlike in George Lucas’ recent endeavors, the visuals don’t overwhelm the story, but rather underline it. This is not some distant future world, but a long gone past that’s just as far away as any Star Wars galaxy. And it tells a tale that’s intriguingly, and maybe even frighteningly, close to our home and our own present day situation.
I haven’t even mentioned Gerard Butler as Leonidas…what an intense, incredible and memorable performance from the man who played The Phantom of the Opera. Every shot he’s in seems like an instant icon, and any frame of his could have easily been the poster image. That feels like a lot of pressure for an actor, not to mention the fact that so much of his performance took place against blue screens and against armies that had to be rendered later on a machine. Butler carved out an instant star for himself, proving himself capable of carrying action, drama and romance as well as any in Hollywood.
I have a feeling many will try to duplicate 300 in style, and many will try to make it even bigger, badder and bloodier than this one. But they will miss the point if they do so. The story must come first, and this story is first rate. It employs technology to expand the canvas, not dominate it. And that’s why this film will remain a cult landmark despite the inevitable string of imitators sure to follow.
What do you get when you create largely CGI worlds and render them on Blu-ray? Something quite spectacular. 300 has opened my eyes to a level of detail I don't remember getting even when I saw the film theatrically. If there's a minor drawback, it's that a little more grain is noticeable (this is a high contrast production), but that pales next to how much more you see. When the blood flies, it's almost three dimensional in quality. And the arrival of Xerxes, with all his jewelry, is an eye-popping sight to behold!
Get ready for battle...Dolby TrueHD makes 300 more raucous sounding than ever. The battle scenes will absolute take over your living room with dynamic range and crystal-clear fury. You can also experience a PCM 5.1 mix, which is a stronger offering than the standard Dolby Digital, also included.
This is the kind of movie you’ll want to know more about, and the double disc offering from Warner doesn’t fall short. The first disc contains a great commentary with director Zack Snyder, along with his go-writer and director of photography.
Then you can get even more in-depth with the second disc, with some deleted scenes and many featurettes. You’ll see how Frank Miller’s vision was realized on film, a look at the actual Spartans of history, and how the actors used facts to build their portrayals. Finally, peruse some webisodes for more behind-the-scenes with cast and crew. And may I add, I love the fact that with Blu-ray, you can access the menu at any time in pop-up form and make new selections without having to stop the movie!
Spartans (and others)…prepare for glory. Warner has delivered a knockout disc, worthy of one of the true best pictures of the year. This must be seen…and if you couldn’t catch it in big screen glory, fear not: you'll see and hear more on this Blu-ray disc than you would have even in the theatre. Unreservedly recommended.