There are some movies that just should not be submitted to the pan-and-scan process that chops up to a third of the picture from a movie so that it will fit snugly on the average TV screen. With its panoramic shots, unique color palette and nigh cataclysmic battles, Zack Snyder’s 300 is definitely one of those films. On the other hand, a good widescreen presentation and a ton of excellent supporting material can take a cult fave – like Fred Dekker’s Monster Squad – and give you one of the most satisfying DVD packages of the year…
300 – Full Screen Edition
Zack Snyder’s film adaptation of Frank Miller’s famous graphic novel, 300, is a stunning achievement in film. Using CGI to terrific impact, Snyder’s film literally brings Miller’s work to life. He gets some fine performances from Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham and Dominic West [among others] and the balance between fight choreography and political confusion on the homefront achieves some complex characterization with a few deft strokes. It is one of my favorite films of the last several years.
Imagine my surprise then, when the screener I received for this review was the full screen edition. Gone are the sweeping shots [the angry seas that buffet a half-dozen Persian ships provides almost as much impact as a good game of Battleship. Battle sequences that took on a kind of austere yet dynamic majesty have been reduced to claustrophobia-inducing grappling.
What was a rousing – dare I say inspiring – movie that dealt with a culture that valued death before surrender; freedom above life, is now a cluttered hodgepodge that sounds like the original; shares stars and effects with the original, but feels like a phantom of that original… a mere hint of what was an amazing cinematic experience.
If you’re buying the DVD to recreate the experience you felt in the theater, buy the Widescreen Edition. If you want to find out more about how the film was made, get the Two-Disc Special Edition. Stay away from this hack job.
The one-disc full screen edition only has one special feature – an audio commentary by Snyder, screenwriter Kurt Johnstad and director of photography Larry Fong. Sadly, the commentary never addresses how the effects were; relates on-set anecdotes, or does much more than state what’s onscreen, and which shots are CG – and which utilize more practical props/sets. As commentaries go, it’s not particularly interesting, but maybe Snyder will learn from this and do better on his next DVD.
Grade: 300 – Full Screen Edition – F
Grade: Feature: B-
Final Grade: D-
The Monster Squad – Two-Disc 20th Anniversary Edition
The Monster Squad is a little horror-comedy that pitted a group of kids against a number of monsters who were patterned after [but not exactly like] the classic Universal monsters. The idea was to make a movie that would recall the mix of scares and zaniness that made the Abbott & Costello monster movies of the fifties – and the result may not have had the genius of a Joss Whedon, but the tone and use of genuine wit certainly predated the Buffy movie by half a decade.
While it’s clumsy in spots, and the budget [or lack thereof] is occasionally obvious, The Monster Squad holds up pretty well. The squad – Sean [Andre Gower], Patrick [Robby Kiger], Horace [Brent Chalem], Rudy [Ryan Lambert] and Phoebe [Ashley Bank] – learns of the existence of monsters – Count Dracula [Duncan Regehr], Frankenstein [Tom Noonan], the Werewolf [Carl Thibault], the Gill-Man [Tom Woodruff Jr.] and the Mummy [Michael MacKay] – who are trying to retrieve an ancient amulet that will tip the scales balancing good and evil in their favor.
While most people will not have heard of the movie, a surprising number of them will have heard one of its signature lines [like “Wolfman’s got nards!”] – it’s the kind of movie that lives because its fans take lines like that and shoehorn them into allegedly normal conversations. Well… that and a host of monsters that were created by monster master Stan Winston.
Another interesting thing about the film is the number of influential people who were involved: Peter Hyams [Capricorn One, Outland, Timecop, Threshold], Rob Cohen [Ironweed, Bird on a Wire, Dragonheart, xXx: State of the Union], Fred Dekker [House, Night of the Creeps, Tales from the Crypt, Enterprise] and David Proval [The Sopranos] among them.
Features: Disc One: Audio commentary by director Fred Dekker, and “Squad” members Andre Gower, Ryan Lambert and Ashley Bank; commentary by Dekker and director of photography Bradford May. Disc Two: Monster Squad forever! – a suite of five featurettes [The Monster Master; The Monster Maker; The Monsters & The Squad; Lights, Camera, Monsters! And Monster Mania]; A Conversation With Frankenstein [onset interview with the big guy]; Deleted Scenes; Animated Storyboard Sequence; Original Theatrical Trailer and TV Spot, and Stills Gallery.
Grade: The Monster Squad – Two-Disc 20th Anniversary Edition – B
Grade: Features – A+
Final Grade: B+
Reviews Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted on 08/02/07
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