Those who seek to make movies from comic books simply cannot win, it seems. If the cry after the viewing of a typical attempt to translate sequential storytelling to film is usually "Why didn't you just film the comic book?", the cry of "Why did you film the comic book?" follows a viewing of 300. At least from me.
300 is writer/artist Frank Miller's retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, certainly one of Herodotus' Greatest Hits. Three hundred Spartan soldiers managed to hold the massed armies of the Persian Empire at a narrow passage for three days while Ancient Greece got its act together. Betrayed by a treacherous shepherd, they got what Spartans desire, a glorious death in battle. Miller took some liberties with the story, but within the bounds of artistic license.
In the translation to film, some of these become problematic. The magic of comics, as pointed out in one of the extras, is that the reader's imagination fills in what occurs between panels; movies do not have that liberty, and while a sequence can unfurl on the printed page in a series of stunning images, making those images actually move in three dimensions from point A to point B can cause unwelcome questions and violations of expectations in a viewer. If the keepers of the Oracle, the Ephors, are so greedy, why is the temple so inaccessible and dangerous? Why do our waxed warriors eschew the heavy bronze armor for which the Spartans were famous? And why do our heroes always break ranks from the small unit formations of which they are justly proud, to fight solo on the battlefield?
Because it was that way, or looked that way, in the book. Director Zack Snyder has done a bang-up job of the transfer, if that was his intent. Lynn Varley's color palette is even slavishly duplicated. The one snag is a literal telling of the graphic novel 300 would run a little over an hour, so padding is provided by a trite, predictable subplot concerning the Queen attempting to convince the town council to come to the three hundred's aid. At this point in his career, at least, Miller was a masterful story teller, and these diversions break the flow of the story, which was itself as lean and mean as a Spartan soldier. In the book, you were at the Hot Gates with the Spartans. In the movie, the focus is split, that all-important energy is dissipated. And yes, call me an old fogey all you want - I know I would have in my younger days - but MTV camera tricks and heavy metal music simply do not equal Ancient Greece.
There is not a single shot in this movie that does not have at least one bit of CGI or compositing going on - it has lived in a computer all its life, and therefore looks incredible on DVD. The sound is similarly tremendous.
With four separate soundtracks, disc one will supply you with only one extra: the commentary track featuring director Snyder, writer Kurt Johnstad, and director of photography Larry Fong. Sadly, this track is often given to comments like "That moon's not real." Very little solid information is given about the difficulties of filming this movie, outside of how much use they got out of one very versatile piece of sculpted rock.
Well, I guess that isn't the only extra: you can recreate the theatrical experience with nine minutes of previews and ads before the menu even comes up. Trailers for Trick'r'Treat, The Brave One and the DVD-only animated Death of Superman. Ads for the movie soundtrack, the 300: March to Glory video game, and the GameTap web service.
Surely the same wouldn't be true of the second disc? Not you discount the ads pimping high-def DVDs, the Blade Runner 25th Anniversary Edition and... National Hockey League DVDs???
Disc Two has the meatier features, like The 300: Fact or Fiction, which has a couple of historians who would have been really welcome on Disc One's commentary track; more of the same on Who Were the Spartans?; then we're into comics stuff with The Frank Miller tapes. Making 300 is a bit of a fluff piece, with more clips from the movie than making-of footage; Making 300 in Images will give you motion sickness as images flash past too quickly to register. There are Three Deleted Scenes with introductions by Zack Snyder - and those enraged by the inclusion of the rhinoceros had best not peek in here.
The extras are rounded out by the Webisodes presented on the movie's official site and Apple's Quicktime Movie Trailers site, and give a slightly better view of the filmmaking process. These focus on Production Design, Wardrobe, Stunt Work, Lena Headey (Queen Gorgo), Adapting the Graphic Novel, Gerard Butler (King Leonidas), Rodrigo Santoro (King Xerxes), Training the Actors, Culture of Sparta. Glimpse from the Set, Scene Studies, and Fantastic Creatures.
Dr. Freex, 7/14/2007