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In 480 B.C. a state of war exists between Persia, led by King Xerxes, and Greece. At the Battle of Thermopylae, Leonidas, king of the Greek city state of Sparta, leads his badly outnumbered warriors against the massive Persian army. Though certain death awaits the Spartans, their sacrifice inspires all of Greece to unite against their common enemy. Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller (Sin City) and Lynn Varley.
For more about 300 and the 300 Blu-ray release, see the 300 Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on August 2, 2007 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Michael Fassbender
Director: Zack Snyder
» See full cast & crew
300 Blu-ray Review
With the impact of a megaton bomb, 300 reforms the war epic genre, but do the picture and sound of the BD-50 live up to the hype?
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, August 2, 2007
In the midst of an intense battle, the screen snaps into slow motion with the gentle dexterity of a falcon poised in mid-flight. Blood erupts in a graceful arc from the neck of a Persian warrior. The stabbing instrument is a Spartan spear and gripping the handle is the bellowing King Leonidas, in a powerhouse performance by Gerard Butler. The action snaps back into full motion and the bloody violence rages on. The characters are superimposed over a washed out, apocalyptic backdrop. Distortion-laden guitar riffs surge under the clamor of battle. With amped-up intensity and enough adrenaline to rock a coliseum, 300 is a CGI-stylized thrill ride.
The story takes place nearly 2500 years ago. The setting is Sparta and the dramatic cliffs of Thermopylae, where Leonidas leads a band of 300 skilled warriors against hundreds of thousands of Persian troops commanded by the emperor Xerxes. As the film begins, we learn the warrior's code and other trademarks of Spartan society. Suddenly we are thrust into a crisis that threatens the freedom of all of Greece. Those valuing freedom push for action while corrupt and philosophical politicians argue for inaction. Spartan life is fascinating in its overwhelming emphasis on martial training and excellence. Men and women empower each other in contrast to other ancient states where women were virtual slaves. The Spartan queen, played skillfully by Lena Headey, took a can-do attitude to try to save her people, even in the absence of her husband Leonidas.
Based on the Frank Miller illustrated novel, 300 takes CGI filmmaking and postproduction to cartoonish levels, blurring the distinction between actors and animation. At one point, when Leonidas and his force of 300 men are setting foot on their journey from Sparta to Thermopylae, the illusion breaks down and we can clearly see that the actors are disconnected from the CGI-generated environment around them. The stylization only works because 300 does not pretend to be anything but what it is: an action film that brings illustration, animation and the battle of Thermopylae to life.
300 Blu-ray, Video Quality
My theory and general observation that CGI and digital postproduction flatten the picture is certainly borne out in this highly detailed BD. I don't mind the 2-D effect at all, given that director Zack Snyder wants us to see the pages of a Frank Miller novel. Certain elements of the visuals are extraordinarily three-dimensional. The spears and blood and occasionally the faces and bodies seem to form a visual stage of their own, popping out of the drab background. But the fact is that the picture looks flat compared to film that is not born from blue-screen and postproduced to death on a video workstation. Where Pirates of the Caribbean and Casino Royale show a depth that almost welcomes you to step in your screen, 300 is not welcoming in that way at all.
But how much of the lack of depth is attributable to Snyder's vision and how much to the VC-1 codec that Warner favors over the MPEG-4 AVC used by Disney and Sony BDs? That is impossible to say, unless Warner someday sees fit to release an MPEG-4 version of 300. I suspect it would provide greater depth and realism. The amazing quality of 1080p video allows one to make these judgments at all. So let's get this out of the way right now: the 300 BD displays incredible detail, delivering resolution comparable to film. It may not be the movie I'd choose to demo my system for a friend new to HDTV, but it's not far down the list.
Just look at the film grain itself, prevalent throughout 300, to get a sense of the resolution. I would be inclined to rate the video much more harshly if the film grain was missing or not adequately resolved. I notice much whining about film grain, but that is like whining about water being wet. If it isn't wet, it wouldn't seem like water. And if there is no film grain in the picture, it wouldn't seem like film. Another subject of whining: 300 is in an aspect ratio of 2.4:1. I enjoy this ratio, but those wary of black bars, be warned.
300 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
While the video detail is impressive, I suspect Warner takes some shortcuts and lacks some of the attention to detail in producing blu-ray content compared to other studios that do not dabble in HD DVD. I also suspect Warner takes shortcuts in the audio production of its blu-ray titles, and here again 300 is detailed beyond standard DVD, but does not get the highest marks. The audio seems a bit masked and not as open, not conveying the same depth as other studios' BDs. Mastered at a relatively low level, 300 requires the volume to be pumped up about 6 dB compared to some other content. But the tones seem accurate and detailed. Often, the sound effects are outright adrenaline boosting and awe-inspiring.
The common clank of weapons on shields or crushing into flesh was resolved convincingly and brought the action to life. The background score was sometimes a bit muddled or lacked detail, but the average listener should have no complaints once the volume is adjusted. Voices were a standout success, ringing out clear and with copious detail above the soundtrack and din of battle.
Some HDTV fans are excited by Dolby TrueHD. I have been to Dolby Labs in San Francisco where I was invited by a friend from Sony Singapore to compare the TrueHD and PCM content of a promotional blu-ray disc. We heard a difference that audiophiles would describe as a more realistic resonance with the PCM. The instruments reproduced using TrueHD had less bloom, but on low-end systems, this may come across as an advantage, so I am reluctant to criticize Dolby TrueHD. Those with golden ears and a reference quality system will definitely want to opt for PCM, though.
300 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The 300 BD has plenty of special features in 1080i (although some parts are in 480i and 480P. These include additional scenes of the traitorous hunchback and giant warriors not in the theatrical release; a special on Frank Miller's vision and how it was brought to film; a fact or fiction study of the life of Spartans; a segment on how the actors build their characters around Spartan characteristics and customs; a webisodes feature allowing viewers to go on set with the cast and crew; and commentary by director Zack Snyder.
300 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Spear thrusts, battle cries and erupting blood become artwork in 300. What makes it fun to watch, beyond the technical prowess of the filmmaker, is the value placed on freedom and the way the testosterone is dedicated to fighting tyranny and slavery. Beyond that, 300 is about a real people and a real battle. It tells a story.
If you've followed my reviews, you may be wondering how I could praise 300 but find Apocalypto to be abysmal. Consider the reason behind showing the violence and the manner in which the camera frames and follows it. In Apocalypto, we follow a man over the edge of a waterfall and have to see his head cracking against the rocks below, and blood clouding the water in a sober, realistic voyerism. In 300, we follow a man over the edge of a well and watch him artfully flail and contort until his figure fades to black. We get the message without seeing him die so graphically. The bloodwork in 300 was cartoonish, over the top, bigger than life. In Apocalypto, it was sadistic, meticulous, unyielding and simply sickening. The camera dwelled on organs yanked from bodies. But 300 never went there.
Another difference is the way 300 is stylized. It is an illustration come to life. This required working with small sets and CGI, and as a result, the movie feels claustrophobic and 2-D. But it is a style worth the price, and the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
It may not be for everyone, but 300 is a blockbuster like few others for those who enjoy CGI worlds, special effects, epic battles and graphic violence. It had elements of the slasher or goth genre and an overall dark, foreboding feel to it. When I first saw it, I thought for brief moments I was seeing a cheap imitation of Gladiator, with the same elements of honor, glory, battle skill, dedication and betrayal. But upon second viewing I realize 300 is a truly innovative film that stands on its own merits. The story is strong, the production values are impressive and the thrill ride is intense.
300: Other Editions
Blu-ray bundles with 300 (1 bundle)
300 Blu-ray, News and Updates
• 300: The Complete Experience Blu-ray Announced - May 12, 2009
Warner Home Video has announced the Blu-ray release of '300: The Complete Experience' on July 21 to tie in with the release of 'Watchmen'. Video will be 1080p VC-1 accompanied by a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. It will be presented in a Digibook edition with ...
• New Blu-ray Release of 300 Confirmed - June 26, 2008
At the Saturn Awards earlier this week, Collider.com managed to get an interview with producer Mark Canton, who worked as the producer on '300'. During that interview, he confirmed that they were working on a new Blu-ray release for the film. Given past information ...
• Wal-Mart Offers Sub-$300 Player with Free $100 Gift Card and $15 ... - June 9, 2008
As we reported earlier, for this week only, Wal-Mart is offering a $100 gift certificate free with the purchase of any Blu-ray player (including the PlayStation 3) online or instore. This includes the Magnavox NB500MG9 which can be had for $298 (or less than $200 ...
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