I hope Frank Miller likes Hollywood now. After seeing “Sin City” and “300” come to the silver screen largely intact from the printed page, he must have put his “Robocop” and “Batman: Year One” frustrations long behind him. Here’s hoping we see “Ronin,” or even “Elektra Lives Again,” next.
Like “Sin City,” “300” accurately captures the look and feel of Miller’s work, down to the color scheme and even the composition of many shots, such as the well-known one of the Spartans shoving several Persians off a cliff. While no one will ever accuse either film of having a really deep story, “300” is, like its protagonists, a sparse affair, which drove the filmmakers to beef up the plot with a few character bits. While they’re a nice counterbalance to the fighting, I don’t think anyone really watches this movie for the heartfelt moments. They want to see the Spartans kick a*s, which they do. Repeatedly.
Sometimes the violence and other story elements are a bit over-the-top, if that’s possible in a movie where the word “bombastic” might as well have been written on the front page of the screenplay. Director Zach Snyder also overdoes the use of slo-mo, making me wonder if his name is really a pseudonym for Michael Bay. But you can’t complain that he left anyone wanting more in the battle department: “300” delivers all the cool fighting scenes you can handle.
Just don’t watch this movie expecting a history lesson. While it is based on an historical battle, Miller and company obviously took many, many liberties with the subject matter, pushing the story to the kinds of extremes that we’ve come to expect from comic books. (Yes, except stuff like “Maus” or “Watchmen,” two of my personal favorites.) It also comes across as a bit xenophobic and nationalistic, even more so than I remember from the comic book. Just a little extra-curricular reading demonstrates that the Spartans’ culture wasn’t exactly a model society, what with all the sickly boy babies left to die on the slopes of a mountain, and the fact that people who couldn’t cut it in life were deemed second-class citizens. It’s not a bad thing that Spartan culture is long gone.
Yeah, I know, I’m looking at this through 21st century glasses, and I need to lighten up and enjoy all the cool visual effects. I just wonder how many of the out-of-shape comic book and movie geeks out there (I count myself among them) would really enjoy living in a society where military service was mandatory through the age of thirty. And reading about the hardships children had to endure, which sometimes killed them, doesn’t give me a rousing feeling when Leonidas tells his men to fight for freedom from tyranny. I’m thinking he was a bit of a tyrant himself.
Now that I’ve killed your buzz, let’s see what else is on this two-disc set. While poking around disc one, you should be able to easily find the Easter egg in the Special Features menu. (If you can’t, we’ll have to throw you to the wolves for not being smart enough.) It’s a six-minute micro-featurette that dives into Snyder’s efforts to get “300” made, complete with a couple-minute clip he shot to convince the studio that this thing would really kick butt as much as he promised it would.
Disc one also includes an audio commentary with Snyder, his writing partner, Kurt Johnstad, and cinematographer Larry Fong. It’s a track that’s really aimed at the type of people who want to know how you’d make a movie like this, and which parts of each shot should be CGI versus real. Snyder points out all the spots where the film mimics Miller’s layouts and gets into other technical details, while Johnstad and Fong provide back-up. Sometimes they seem to forget they’re supposed to be talking and just lapse into silence while watching the film.
Over on the second platter, the bonus features open with “300: Fact or Fiction,” a 24-minute featurette that delves into the history behind The Battle of Thermopylae and how it was depicted in the film. We hear from not only from Miller, Snyder, and actor Gerard Butler (King Leonidas) but also various historians as they conclude that, yeah, the basic structure of the story comes from history, but plenty of liberties were taken too. And if you’re looking for more information about the real history, check out the four-minute “Who Were the Spartans? The Warriors of ‘300’.”
Moving on, “The Frank Miller Tapes” focuses mostly on “300” the comic book, bringing us comments from such comic book industry luminaries as Bob Schreck (DC editor), Paul Levitz (DC Comics president) and Neal Adams (legendary artist). Running just shy of 15 minutes, it covers not only “300” but also the rest of Miller’s career. Good stuff for those of you not well-versed in comic books. Like Miller, I have to wonder how the heck Snyder is going to pull of “Watchmen.” Please, no slo-mo shots of Dr. Manhattan striding through the Vietnamese jungles.
Next, we have a pair of micro-featurettes, “The Making of ‘300’” and “Making ‘300’ in Images,” which run almost 10 minutes total and give us some quick looks at the amount of blue screen work that went into this film, which was, unsurprisingly, quite a bit. We also have a dozen Webisodes that total nearly 40 minutes. They originally appeared online, as the name suggests, and they offer a nice overview of the making of the film. Personally, I prefer one big documentary to breaking up the subject matter into half a dozen sections, but this sort of thing seems to be the trend with DVDs these days. More bullet points for the packaging and sell sheets, I suppose.
Finally, Snyder introduces a trio of deleted scenes, running about three minutes. Two of them show us a bit more of the hunchback traitor Ephialtes while the third gives us a giant Persian carrying an archer on his back. Snyder says he cut that last one because “it was too much.” Dude, the whole movie is way over the top. What’s a few more seconds?