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 Sullivan Stapleton, Rodrigo Santoro and Eva Green star in this action film based on Frank Miller's graphic novel 'Xerxes' and set before, during and after the events of '300' (2006). In 480 BC, Athenian General Themistocles (Stapleton) leads the Greek Army in a war against the invasion of King Xerxes I (Santoro), naval commander Artemisia (Green) and their Persian forces. Themistocles allies with the Spartans but they are still outnumbered by Xerxes' men. Who will be victorious? The film was co-written by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad and also stars Lena Headey, Jack O'Connell and Hans Matheson. (Taken from the official synopsis.)

Video


I remembered the film being quite immersive theatrically, so I was eager to see if that same immersion translated to the small screen with this Blu-ray 3D release. Although not a native 3D project much of the film was shot on a green screen, with most of the effects inserted during post-production. In this respect it shares something in common with Pacific Rim, another impressive 3D conversion that also made for a great home viewing experience. If you’re interested in the technical side of things, the 3D version of the film is presented in its original 2.40:1 ratio, encoded at 1080/24p via MVC.

As with the original feature the image here is very impressive. Once again it’s hard to critique an image as heavily post-produced as this, because all comparisons with reality are rendered nigh-on impossible. The film largely retains the general look of the original 300, albeit without the stylised grain and with a shift towards a cooler colour palette to reflect the predominantly seaborne settings, but those scenes which take place in the Persian deserts or in the flashbacks to Sparta look reassuringly familiar. Detail is extremely impressive throughout, particularly in the close-ups where every streak of blood, sweat and dirt is visible on the faces of the razor-stubbled warriors. If there are any artefacts they escaped my attention, as the image appeared flawless to my eyes. There are no film artefacts (obviously), but neither are there any high or low-pass filtering issues or encoding problems. It’s just about as good of a 2D presentation as you’re likely to see.

As for the 3D, well it’s pretty much as I remember it from the theatrical viewing (not that I claim to have a perfect memory, that is). The film’s subject matter and nature of the shoot (predominantly CGI) lend themselves well to the format, which is used to bring subtle depth to the battles along with offering more obvious ‘in your face moments’. Blood splatters across the camera, dust and the glowing embers of camp fires hang in the air, and the camera lens is partially obscured by the constant spray of seawater. Some of the effects do look a little forced, and I’m sure I noticed a couple of instances of minor crosstalk (unusual for my display), but other than that it’s a very good 3D presentation. Suffice to say, Rise of an Empire looks superb regardless of how many dimensions you’re watching in.

Audio


I try to steer clear of terms like ‘reference level’, because references are constantly shifting, but as things stand Rise of an Empire’s DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track is best described as such. There’s just so much going on here it’s hard to know where to begin. Things get off to a good start right from the studio logos, which slide apart to reveal the bodies of the Spartans from the first movie accompanied by the satisfying sound of heavy stone doors opening. From then on in we’re treated to a constantly engaging three-hundred-and-sixty-degree sound field, with plenty of ambient and environmental effects such as crowd noise, wind, ocean waves, thunder and more.

Panning between channels is flawless, which particularly noticeable as the armies rush toward one another or let loose spears and arrows. Dynamic range is also extremely wide, with some crystal clear highs and earth-shattering lows from the subwoofer, without the slightest hint of distortion. The action scenes are the primary beneficiary of the latter, especially those where thousands of soldiers rush into battle simultaneously, or during one particularly explosive naval battle. Throughout all of this dialogue prioritisation and clarity remains perfect.

Perhaps my only criticism is that some of the effects and music sound a bit harsh, but I concede that this could be owing to my equipment (although I don’t recall having similar thoughts about any other films in recent memory) or even just stylistic intent. It’s a minor thing and only applicable during a small number of sequences, but I thought it worth mentioning all the same. With that said, it doesn’t really lessen the impact of what is an extremely impressive, demo-quality track.

Extras


Warner has assembled a modest selection of bonus material, the majority of which falls into the ‘promotional fluff’ camp. That’s not to say it is entirely without merit, just that you’re not going to find in-depth making of documentaries or historical exploration. Here’s what you will find:

  • Behind the Scenes: The 300 Effect: This encompasses four short featurettes, beginning with ‘3 Days in Hell’, in which the cast and crew discuss the film’s genesis, its characters and performances. ‘Brutal Artistry’ grants a closer look at the film’s design and ‘A New Breed of Hero’ focusses on the new lead, Themistocles. The final featurette, ‘Taking the Battle to Sea’ concerns the aquatic combat sequences, specifically how they were realised.
  • Real Leaders & Legends: This reasonably lengthy collection of interviews with historians and filmmakers is probably the highlight of the package, as they compare and contrast the film to the historic events of the real Greco-Persian Wars.
  • Women Warriors: This short piece concerns the characters of Artemisia and Queen Gorgo and examines women’s place in society in ancient Greece and Persia.
  • Savage Warships: This is another fairly interesting featurette that examines the historical accuracy of the naval battles depicted in the film, as well as the ship design.
  • Becoming a Warrior: This is another one of those ‘how the actors got into shape for the role’ featurettes.

Overall


An outstanding audio-visual presentation is the clear highlight of this release. 300: Rise of an Empire looks and sounds fantastic on Blu-ray, with the 3D version proving surprisingly effective for a post-converted effort. What the bonus material consists largely of promotional EPK stuff that doesn’t live long in the memory, it’s about par for the course these days (sad as it may be) and there are a few interesting moments to be found amongst the talking head fluff. Personally I still prefer the original 300 by quite some margin, but this isn’t a terrible follow-up and it was certainly more entertaining than the other recent Frank Miller inspired sequel, Sin City 2. There are certainly a couple of reasons to recommend this release (and no I’m not referencing Eva Green’s boobs), not least the impressive world-building and brutal, hyper-stylised combat sequences. Another would be as demo material to showcase your system, because you’re not likely to find much better than this any time soon.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

 300: Rise of an Empire
 300: Rise of an Empire
 300: Rise of an Empire
 300: Rise of an Empire
 300: Rise of an Empire
 300: Rise of an Empire
 300: Rise of an Empire
 300: Rise of an Empire
 300: Rise of an Empire
 300: Rise of an Empire


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