300: The Complete Experience Blu-ray Review
Picture300 already looked pretty good on Blu-ray when it was released almost exactly 2 years ago, and things have not changed a great deal. It still has all the benefits - and all the disadvantages - of the original rendition. Presented with a 1080p High Definition picture in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.4:1, the picture is both an example of perfection, and of unavoidable, intentional problems. Detail is tremendous, but only when it wants to be, the movie itself the source of its own downfall. With so much processing, and the inherent side-effects of creating an entirely blue-screen production, the end result may look exactly as it is supposed to - i.e. a frame-by-frame live-action version of the graphic novel - but it will never look totally real, not on the Big Screen and certainly not under the scrutiny of pixel-accurate High Definition technology.
These are not real images that we see, just actors fighting in close quarters on a blue-screen set, with the background: the Hot Gates, the crashing ocean, the blazing sun and the entourage of hundreds of supporting troops on both sides, they all come across as totally fabricated. Sure, it is almost impossible to tell this other than in the fact that the end result on Blu-ray just looks all a little hazy. The graphic novel was intentionally gritty, literally splattered with blood and dirt, and the Director has gone to great length to give us that with both his Big and small-screen releases, but the effect is that nothing is crystal clear, nothing is devoid of noise, and the picture is almost stripped of any potential 3D pop that might have come about through filming 'on location'.
Don't get me wrong, 300 is all about the visuals and it is indeed amazing to look at; bathed in sepia, populated by plenty of iconic shots, but as a benchmark disc it does not hold up to visual criticism - noise, crushing, softness, it's all here. Again, I must say that this is all totally on purpose so in as far as this is an accurate representation of the movie - i.e. the way in which it was intended to be shown - the picture is unequivocally perfect, but adding a little objectiveness into this subjective opinion and what you basically have here is an artistically flawed image. High-contrast, bleached-out, totally desaturated, wow, Tony Scott would have been proud. A gloriously painted - but painted nonetheless - movie that will simply never get from the amazing 9/10 to a perfect 10/10 because it has set itself limitations: it may be almost-perfect CGI but that will still never best perfectly captured real-life images.
SoundOn the aural front things are very different indeed. All the processing in the world cannot hamper this being an indisputably amazing movie for sound design. And on Blu-ray we get a stomping Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track (the previously available Uncompressed PCM track having been dropped in favour of the Complete Movie Experience extra that now adorns the disc). Now I know that many reviewers generally regarded the PCM on the original 2007 release of this film as being marginally superior to the TrueHD track that we also got back then, but the differences were still clearly marginal. And because I don't have the two tracks to compare side-by-side, I have to rate this one objectively - and it gets a 10. Yes, it is the same track as the one that we heard on the release 2 years ago but it deserved a 10 back then, and it still deserves one now.
Dialogue comes clearly and coherently - often the guttural, bellowing bark of orders from the shock troops, or the war-cries of their mostly mutant opponents - dominating the frontal array to rally the audience as much as the men. The effects give your surrounds a supreme workout, offering up noteworthy dynamics across the array, with showers of arrows soaring across your living room, roaring warriors leaping across the battlefield, slinging spears and plunging their swords into their opponents. The slicing and dicing of the hack-and-slash Spartans is astounding to behold, and every perfectly (orchestrated) move gets a punchy sonic effect to bring the point home, literally. The score itself is all rock and bombast, thoroughly rousing and totally suited to the material, but at the same time utterly forgettable. When it kicks in full blast during the battle sequences it probably does the most damage across the channels, and the bass is enough to give your LFE even more of a workout.
ExtrasFans will have been eagerly anticipating this new release of 300 for one reason and one reason alone - The Complete Experience function. Although this is unabashedly a massive double-dip, there are certainly merits for those who have held out and end up picking up this superior edition. The Complete Experience is arguably the next level of High Definition BD interactive Picture-in-Picture capability, offering not one but three separate background tracks, all accessible whilst watching the movie. Creating a Legend looks at how writer Frank Miller and Director Zack Snyder interpreted the classic tale and tried to faithfully adapt the book for the screen; Bringing the Legend to Life looks specifically at how they made the movie look just like a live-action mirror of the comic; and The History Behind the Myth offers snippets of historical trivia about the Spartans, their traditions and the significance of this battle. There is a wealth of material, ready for you at the press of a button, and if the main film itself largely eschews depth in favour of gloss, this extra track certainly does not, giving us arguably the single most comprehensive, immersive supply of background material that has ever adorned a Blu-ray release. An almost identical feature - Maximum Movie Mode - is available on Snyder's near-simultaneously released Watchmen: Director's Cut Blu-ray (although fans should be wary that a double-dip for that landmark flick has already been announced for Christmas, sigh).
The Complete Experience, whilst being the most significant extra not found on the 2007 release, is not the only 'extra' extra feature. Previously only available on the HD-DVD release (where Blu-ray conversely got an alternative Audio Commentary because PIP facilities were not yet available on the format) we now get the oft praised Picture-in-Picture Video Commentary with Zack Snyder, where he compares the Bluescreen composite to the final cut. He takes us through every scene, explaining what was does, correlating it verbally whilst we watch the visual comparison on-screen. It is a neat extra, and whilst certainly not a deal-breaker, Blu-ray fans will be happy to finally have access to this, and those slowly replacing their HD-DVDs with Blu-ray counterparts will be happy that we finally have a superior version.
All the other extras are the same. Exclusive to the previous Blu-ray release we get the decent enough Audio Commentary by Director Zack Snyder, Writer Kurt Johnstad and Director of Photography Larry Fong. A touch on the technical side, it sees Snyder in the lead with the others trying to get a word in. Different from the video commentary it is definitely the less digestible of the two, mainly due to the lack of visual information.
Everything else is the same from all three previous editions: the 2007 Blu-ray, HD-DVD and SD-DVD. The Behind the Story section of the disc is split into a 24 minute The 300 - Fact or Fiction? which correlates the fictional representations with the factual events, drawing parallels and often avoiding the differences. Still, an interesting offering. Who Were the Spartans?: The Warriors of 300 takes just a brief five minutes to showcase how the actors adopted the customs and manner of the Spartans. Preparing for Battle: The Original Test Footage is an interesting 7-minute look at the sample footage Miller put forward to get the whole production green-lit. The Frank Miller Tapes mark 15 minutes of chat between Snyder and Miller about creating their theatrical imagining of 300. Then there is a brief, fluffy 6 minute Making Of complete with a further 4 minutes of stills montage that plays out images taken chronologically through the days of filming.
There are also 12 Webisodes, roughly 3 mins each, which look individually at: Production Design, Wardrobe, Stunt Work, Actors Gerard Butler, Rodrigo Santoro and Lena Headey, Adapting the Graphic Novel, Training the Actors, Culture of the Sparta City-State, A Glimpse from the Set: Making 300 the Movie, Scene Studies from 300 and Fantastic Characters of 300.Fairly bitty in inherent nature it still offers up some nice snippets of behind the scenes information about these key facets of the production.
Finally we get three Deleted Scenes with introduction by Director Zack Snyder. Two revolve around the hunchback character's attempted suicide and consequent shifting of allegiances (and are both taken straight from the graphic novel) and the third is a totally fabricated, over-the-top battle sequence involve a giant (we're talking Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring-style Cave Troll here) with a rapid-fire archer perched atop his shoulders. Blatantly unfinished CG, it is the most interesting of the Deleted Scenes even if it was the one that clearly could never be included in the final cut.
It's also worth noting that this Complete Experience edition of 300 comes packaged in a lovely book-style case which sports a nice little glossy 40-page intro to the film
Verdict300 is a classic tale of bravery and sacrifice in the face of overwhelming adversity, a momentous landmark in the Greco-Persian war, whose outcome has had repercussion across the Centuries. Here it gets the glossy, studio photo-shop makeover with Zack Snyder's faithful, CG-based adaptation of Frank Miller's already abbreviated pictorial 'summary' graphic novel of the Battle of Thermopylae. It is fantastic to look at, thoroughly engaging for the duration, but has little depth or significance when you consider the importance of the actual historical events that it semi-fictionalises. This Blu-ray double-dip sports the same artistically beautiful but purposefully artificial-looking video presentation and the marginally less praised of the two previously released audio tracks, but boasts an amazing new extra in the form of The Complete Experience, which further expands upon the previously known capabilities of Picture-in-Picture, and also sports the previously unavailable Picture-in-Picture Video Commentary. Complete with BD-live capabilities and a Digital Copy, this is certainly the definitive version of the movie, although only big fans should consider upgrading, most others can arguably make do. For newcomers though, this is the ultimate release to own.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.79
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