Sunday, December 12, 2010

[DVD] The 300 Spartans (1962)

Zack Snyder's 300 based on Frank Miller's graphic novel may perhaps be the interpretation that's etched on the modern moviegoer's mind, with its slow motion, stylized battle sequences leaping out from the panels of the comic, and plenty of wailing WWE style with Gerard Butler leading the charge as King Leonidas of Sparta, his troops severely outnumbered against the mighty Persian army in the Battle of Thermopylae, but morale running high nonetheless for being able to fulfill a warrior's calling of an honourable death on the battlefield while defending their homeland from foreign invaders.

Naturally the 1962 film version directed by Rudolph Mate will be dated, but the spirit and scheme of things remain on the agenda, with the story given a more holistic coverage of the same battle with its sea component mentioned, a pity that it wasn't filmed. In my opinion when I look back with nostalgia, Swords and Sandals epics in the 60s were always about grandeur with its scale and countless number of extras suited up with equipment and logistics to portray an era long past, without resorting to modern day trickery with computer programs to make up the numbers. Logistics, I can imagine, could be quite the nightmare.

For a tale that's been told since 480 BC, you can bet that interpretations will defer depending on the source, and if compared with 300, there are some aspects here in the story that held more potential. For instance, it would have been great if the sea battles made it to the film, and Leonidas (Richard Egan) conducted a daring raid of the Persian camp with a handful of merry men, which made them go on the offensive instead of just depending the narrow pass at Thermopylae, for a reason none other than to spread chaos and panic, and also to buy the Greeks time to set up their defences.

More importantly, this film doesn't over romanticize the Spartan warriors. Yes they are great in their fighting prowess and their fearsome reputation is legendary, but The 300 Spartans take time off to dwell on the need for unity amongst the squabbling Greek contingents, where unity is strength should everyone stand up and be counted when faced with a collective aggressor. Superstition and religion also played a key role in the methods of the Spartans, as with the key turning point of their betrayal which turned the tides for them. Battle sequences aren't as stylized, and some of the strategies were quite weakly executed to have imagined the Persian army led by Xerxes (David Farrar) himself, also beefed up with his Invincibles troops, couldn't outfight the Spartans since almost all fights are close quartered melees.

Dialogue is slanted 60s styled, so don't expect pompous lines screamed across the screen by any character wanting to rouse their troops. Even Richard Egan's Leonidas wears an optimistic smile now and then, and seemed relatively more friendly than the Gerard Butler version who looks like a murderous butcher eager to shove his spear into the rear of his enemies. For all the lean and meanness of Butler's very toned and muscular Leonidas and his Spartan troops, the lack of physique gets camouflaged here through the use of battle armour, and while 300 was essentially a King Leonidas story, this one somehow had a romantic subplot spun between the characters of Ellas (Diane Baker) and Phylon (Barry Coe), with the former persuading her beau to abandon duty for romance and the quieter life. From some angles it seemed more Phylon-focused given the number of subplots, development and scenes involving this character instead.

Still for those who prefer a break from the flashy, exaggerated treatment gladiator style of Snyder's 300, this version may be the more accurate account given its mention and time devoted to the sea component and other Greek troops joining the Spartans, and also without making Xerxes look androgynous. But if you're more of an action junkie, then stick to Snyder's stylized version as the battle sequences here couldn't withstand the test of time compared to what's on offer by filmmakers today.

The Region 1 DVD by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format with audio options in English stereo, and English and Spanish mono. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish, with scene selection over 32 chapters.

Nothing notable amongst the Special Features, which consists of Fox Flix, a collection of trailers of more swords and sandals epic films such as Cleopatra (4:38), Demetrius and The Gladiators (3:12) and The Robe (2:04) all presented in Letterbox format. As the saying goes, they no longer make them as they used to when you watch these previews. Three The 300 Spartans TV Spots running 1:03, 0:23 and 0:13 presented in full screen black and white format remind you of the era of television those days sans colour, and rounding the features off are the Theatrical Trailer (2:37) and the Spanish Trailer (2:35) in the Spanish language.

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