by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & 300 Special Edition
& r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & here was a time in my wayward youth when I fell deeply in love with the special features on DVDs. It didn't last very long -- exactly one afternoon, actually.
In late '99 or early 2000, I recall watching (I'm not proud of this) American Pie at a friend's house. We were 18 and stupid and thought 1) sex was the most interesting, important topic of discourse available to humans, and that 2) masturbation was the best possible subject for building a sight gag. We finished the film, watched the deleted scenes and the making-of featurette, then started re-watching the film with the actor/director commentary. Halfway through that, rather than listen to Jason Biggs talk (even we had our limits), we decided to raid the liquor cabinet and go skateboarding down a steep hill.
Though I've watched a lot of DVDs since then (most of them better than American Pie), the experience is always the same. Some content in DVD extras is better, and some is worse -- but it usually coincides with the quality of film at hand. As a rule, watching a production about a movie never quite rises to the level of watching the film itself.
Never until this week, though, had special features actually ruined a film for me.
As a film, 300 is a purely sensory experience that takes a lithe, stylized, bloody-as-hell graphic novel based on the battle of Thermopylae between a few Spartans and a humongous horde of Persians, strips it of basically all cultural and historical context and ramps up the blood. It's fake as hell -- spritzed, CG-enhanced -- but it's immersive, and it's a lie you want to believe.
Film, like all art, is built upon layers and layers of artifice. Some artifice, like an actor's process, is a mysterious, emotion-based thing. The artifice at work in a hack-and-slash epic -- especially one this gorgeous -- isn't as mysterious. It's a huge-ass green screen and a million computers. Period.
When the special features show your favorite scene (the doomed hero surgically whittling through dozens of savage, half-human foes) as it was actually shot (a single 'roid-raging actor stabbing wildly at a green screen with a latex sword), the artifice, and thus the film, is completely destroyed. Nice one, Hollywood.