Sunday, July 15, 2007

[DVD] 300 (2007) (Exclusive Two Disc Limited Edition)

For a review of the movie 300 and without me repeating myself twice, you can click here.

This DVD review is based on the Warner Home Video Code 3 Exclusive 2 Disc Limited Edition (with Spartan Helmet). The actual DVD of course is the 2 Disc widescreen special edition which can be bought separately, and comes with a miniaturized 300 art book, which unfortunately is not included in this Limited Edition.

Disc 1 contains the movie. The visual transfer is nothing less than stunning, pristine and clear just as how I remembered watching the digital version of it on the big screen. Presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with its aspect ratio of 2.40:1 kept intact, relive the cinematic experience if you have your home theatre system set up. With the audio in Dolby Digital in the original English track, or the dubbed Thai one, you'll feel like having dropped right into the thick of the action in battle sequences.

Subtitles are available in English, Chinese, Bahasa Indonesia, Korean and Thai, with selectable menu options being in the same language. Scene selection is spread over 30 chapters, and for action junkies who just want to get straight to the battle scenes, then you'll want to go to Chapters 12, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 27.

The only irritating aspect is that the trailer for The Reaping will play once you select your menu language, but thankfully, it can be skipped and you can dive straight into the main menu.

Only the commentary is included in Disc 1, which is done by director Zack Synder (who turned out to be the more talkative of the lot), writer Kurt Johnstad and director of photography Larry Fong. The commentary comes in Chinese and Korean subtitles only, and somehow ends quite abruptly when the end titles start to roll. Keep the commentary on during your second viewing, especially when you want to learn little nuggets of production information, such as the Oracle scenes were shot in a small water tank, how the mock weapons actually work, or technical bits like the visual effects for Leonidas' "Crazy Horse" sequence, with its 3 simultaneous cameras shooting as close to one another at the same time to achieve the special zoom-in-out shots.

Otherwise, most of the commentary dwelled on which shots were CG-ed, or mechanical, or shot on set etc. Listening through it, you'll get to learn what's real and what's not, what's in addition and not in the graphic novel, which parts are historically based, which sets are real, and plenty of reminders on how small a soundstage they have to work on, despite its epic scale. Quite informative, but ultimately, strips off some of the fun and movie magic.

Disc 2 is the special features disc with approximately 95 minutes of extras. The most frequent message being played throughout, and by the time you get through it all, you'll understand, if you have not, that this is not a historical account of the epic battle, never was, but a stylized retelling based on Frank Miller's vision in his graphic novel. Disc 2 is in English, with subtitles available in Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Thai. Presentation of the various feature was inconsistent, some in anamorphic widescreen, some in letterbox.

The first featurette, presented in anamorphic widescreen, is The 300 - Fact or Fiction (24:35), which debates which is fictionalized, and which have been dramatically ramped up for the most parts, touching on the state of Greece at the time, being made of city states, of Persia, of the Spartan women, society and expectations of society in general. Interspersed with scenes from the movie, and interviews with Frank Miller (who revealed which parts were made up), director Zack Snyder and historians from whom we learn a lot more from their discussions.

Who were the Spartans?: The Warriors of 300 (4:24) was presented in the letterbox format, and talks about Spartan society and about the warrior profession, which revealed quite surprisingly how free and yet unfree their society is, with equality for their citizens, and yet condoning slavery, with 15 slaves for each citizen. A little pity that for the most parts, it repeated some of the discussion items from the earlier feature, and runs a little short here.

Frank Miller Tapes - Unfiltered Conversations with Frank & Friends (14:34) contained interviews with comic industry folks like Frank's mentor Neal Adams (the other mentor being the late legendary Will Eisner), and editors and publishers like Bob Schreck and Paul Levitz. It talked about Frank's early life and his experience on his mentorship under Neal and Will. Discussion on the convergence of mediums (graphic novel and film) was touched upon, as was how graphic novels are fertile ground for Hollywood storytelling and adaptations. Segment ended with Zack Snyder revealing quite coyly how he will approach Watchmen.

Making of 300 (5:50) was presented in letterbox format, and I thought that this segment would be at least 20-something minutes long, as is standard length for the usual making of documentaries. What I thought was interesting was how unpolished the entire production looked, without the CG enhanced effects, the blue and green screens all over, and the colours not touched up. The actors playing the 300 chosen Spartans spent 8 weeks in pure training, and their buffed bodies show, except that it's not as bronzed as the final product.

Making 300 in Images (3:39) was an interesting concept, a featurette which comprises of still photography images being jointed together to tell the entire making of. Doesn't add much value to the explanation of the production process, and most likely is included here as a vanity project.

The Deleted Scenes with Introduction by Director Zack Snyder (3:21) was presented in Letterbox format, with just woefully 3 of such scenes. Two of them involve the traitor Ephialtes, and the last one involved the Persian giants and the midget archers on top of them. Sadly though, each deleted scene was just too short, and you'll be disappointed with the last one especially if you're expecting some large scaled battle with them.

Lastly, the special features contained all the Webisodes which were made available from time to time during the production process. Presented in letterbox format, you're given the opportunity to play them all, or segment by segment. By the time you reach here though, you might find some of the material presented being repeated from elsewhere. Here, I shall break them down as per the presentation order on the DVD:

  • Production Design (3:50), which contains pretty amazing stuff on how a single rock set was able to be recycled and shot differently for different scenes.

  • Wardrobe (3:38), with a team of 60 costumers on hand to design all the intricate costumes, and for Leonidas alone, he has 17 helmets for various stages of the movie.

  • Stunt Work (4:07) which highlights the different fight styles incorporated for the 300 Spartans.

  • Lena Headey (1:45), an interview with the actress who plays Queen Gorgo.

  • Adapting The Graphic Novel (3:45)

  • Gerard Butler (4:05), an interview with the actor who plays King Leonidas, where he talks about his role and exclaims "it's a kick ass story".

  • Rodrigo Santoro (2:27), an interview with the actor who plays the Persian God-King Xerxes.

  • Training the Actors (2:31), for those who want to get those pectoral muscles, to get a lowdown on what the actors have to go through in terms of the grueling routine of gym, metabolic and lifting / throwing exercises.

  • Culture of the Sparta City State (2:10) which explains the war culture.

  • A Glimpse from the Set: Making 300 The Movie (3:25), which includes more of director Zack Snyder speaking about the movie.

  • Scene Studies from 300 (3:15) which specifically explains the consideration of the height differential between Xerxes and Leonidas, how that was handled, as well as how the wall of bodies were made to fall as realistically as it could.

  • Fantastic Characters of 300 (3:05), which was a detailed look at how some of the creatures and monsters, like Ephialtes, were designed and made up.

Final Word
I had expected a little more from the special features, given that they are on a separate disc, and listening through the commentary revealed a little more about some deleted scenes which were not included. Most of the Making Of features could have been extended a little, instead what you got were short teases of the entire process.

However, for action junkies who can't wait to relive some of the stylized action sequences, then pick up the DVD and you can zoom specifically into those without having the need to sit through all the verbal mumbo jumbo.

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