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The following is taken from my region two review of the standard definition DVD release of 300. I felt that there was little point in reworking the text for the movie portion of the review just because Blu-ray is a different format. I hope you will agree.

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Feature


Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, 300 recounts the events of the epic Battle of Thermopylae, in which three-hundred Spartan warriors—led by King Leonidas—made a heroic stand against the vast hoards of ‘God King’ Xerxes’ Persian Empire. Facing insurmountable odds and the very real prospect of death, the small band of Spartans stood their ground for three days, sacrificing everything to ensure freedom not only for Sparta, but Greece itself.

I haven’t read the graphic novel on which 300 is based, but by all accounts it presents a highly stylised account of events that plays fast and loose with historical accuracy. This super-realism apparently had its detractors (most notably writer Alan Moore), but there’s no suggestion that the film is an accurate retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, rather an accurate translation of the graphic novel. As it stands, the film is structured in such a way that the embellishments actually make sense, as events are communicated to the audience by one of the survivors as he tells camp-fire stories to rally the troops.

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Visually the film is quite breathtaking, looking every bit as good as Miller’s Sin City did when it arrived in theatres back in 2005. 300 is like watching a living, breathing comic book, with larger-than-life characters accomplishing superhuman feats in the face of insurmountable odds. The live-action elements integrate seamlessly with the digital backdrops in a manner superior to any other film I’ve seen, creating some truly striking imagery that simply would not have been possible utilising conventional methods. It’s a great advertisement for the use of CGI in film, and proves that CGI is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself when employed correctly.

If action is your thing you certainly won’t be disappointed, as 300 includes more than its fair share of combat. There’s something perversely satisfying about watching a group of stripped-down, oiled-up Spartans committing unspeakable acts of violence against mutant Persians in super slow-mo. Yes, 300 is violent, almost incredibly so for a ‘15’ rated movie. There are decapitations, amputations, impalings and eviscerations galore, often performed concurrently on a single unfortunate individual. However, as violent as the film is I didn’t find it particularly harrowing, perhaps because I’m somewhat desensitised to such displays, but also because the whole thing has the look of a videogame cut-scene (which, as I’ve already said, isn’t a bad thing).

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The cast do a particularly good job with the relatively limited material (let’s face it, the film’s thin on plot and big on action), with Scotsman Gerard Butler ( Dracula 2000, Reign of Fire) putting in a particularly impressive performance as Leonidas. The supporting cast of ‘featured’ Spartans includes David Wenham ( Lord of the Rings), Vincent Regan, Michael Fassbender and Tom Wisdom, who deliver their lines with suitable machismo. Lena Heady steams up the screen as the strong (and delectable) Queen Gorgo, and plays her part in the political sub-plot opposite Dominic West’s ( Mona Lisa Smile) scheming Theron very well. It’s unfortunate that both Rodrigo Santoro (Xerxes) and Andrew Tiernan (Ephialtes) are afforded so little screen time, but both are able to craft memorable characters nonetheless.

Video


300 arrives on Blu-ray at its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1, encoded in 1080p utilising the VC-1 codec (in this respect it is identical to the HD DVD version). I was very impressed by how accurately the standard-definition release mirrored the theatrical presentation, so I was very eager to see what a high-definition format could do with the material.

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The results are very impressive and a lot of the comments from my standard-definition review still stand. It really is hard to critique an image that’s been heavily post-produced, because everything is stylised to the point where comparison with reality is all-but impossible. Those who hated the grainy look of the film are still likely to find fault with the transfer, but as mentioned in my previous review it's actually an accurate representation of the theatrical experience. With that said, the leap to high-definition definitely improves things, especially on larger sets. When up-converted to 1080p the standard-definition version starts to suffer, at least on my 42" screen, but this Blu-ray release handles things like digital noise with greater ease.

As with the DVD, this hi-def release preserves the look of the film extremely well, whether it be the aforementioned grain, or the bleached out, contrasty look. The predominantly sepia palette is well rendered, as are the occasional splashes of colour (mostly red), and black levels are deep and solid without sacrificing shadow detail.  I won't go so far as to say that 300 is up there with the very best Blu-ray of the transfers I've seen thus far, but it's not a million miles off.

 300

Audio


The standard-definition release of 300 features an impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, but this Blu-ray release takes things a stage further, with both lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and uncompressed PCM 5.1 tracks on this disc. The presence of PCM audio actually gives the Blu-ray a theoretical edge over the (now-defunct) HD DVD version, at least on the audio front, so I chose to listen to the PCM track for the purpose of the review.

The film opens fairly quietly, but there are plenty of ambient effects on hand during the calm before the storm. The wind whistles through wheat fields and birds twitter as they flitter around, but what I was really waiting for was some Spartan on Persian action (so to speak). Once Leonidas and his boys get stuck into the opposition the track really comes alive with the sounds of battle, be it the clashing of swords against shields, the ferocious war cries of the armies, or the screams of the dead and dying.

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There’s plenty of directionality to the mix, with every channel used to bring the battle to life. At times I felt like I was right in the middle of the carnage, as the sounds of combat assaulted me from every angle. However, it's not just the obvious that pleases, as one of my favourite moments came when the blood from a thrusting Spartan spear splashed across the screen and into the right-hand speaker—gruesome, but cool. The subwoofer is made to work overtime pumping out the low frequencies as hundreds of soldiers rush to war, often shaking the room as if Xerxes’ army itself was at hand. Dialogue is generally clear throughout, although typically mixed at a lower level than the other constituents of the track. There are one or two occasions where it sounds a little hollow, but I don't believe this is an issue with the PCM track itself (all tracks exhibit the same trait).

Since my review of the standard definition edition of the film, it has been brought to my attention that a fair amount of Tyler Bates' hard-edged score was 'inspired' by tracks from the film Titus. After a little bit of research I have concluded that there is indeed an unmistakeable similarity between certain tracks, to the point where the cries of plagiarism ring true. I briefly toyed with the idea of reflecting this in my scoring, but I came to the conclusion that it's not my place to sit in judgement of such things. I'm here to review the audio track on this disc, not to chastise composers for stealing music. 300's PCM track is possibly the best I've heard from the Blu-ray format, and that's good enough for me.

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Extras


As with the movie portion of the review, the bulk of this section is taken verbatim from my standard DVD review. We kick off with a commentary track from director Zack Snyder, writer Kurt Johnstad and director of photography Larry Fong. Ordinarily I’d listen to a commentary in its entirety, but I found it very difficult to do so in this case. The track really suffers from ‘pointing out the obvious’ syndrome—specifically relating to the use of CGI—and there are also frequent periods of dead air to contend with. If you like your ‘yak-tracks’ on the dry side you might get a little more enjoyment out of it than I did, but I wouldn’t count on it.

The extras continue with a strange little feature entitled ‘Be 1 of the 300’, in which director Zack Snyder thanks the online community for their help in getting the film off the ground. This short thank you is followed by a scrolling list of names set to music from the film, and runs for around eighty seconds. I found it most odd, but I guess it’s nice that these people got some recognition.

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‘300 - Fact or Fiction’ runs for a little under twenty-five minutes and deals with the mythology behind the movie. For me this was probably the most entertaining featurette on the disc, as it examines the various cinematic interpretations of the Battle of Thermopylae that have surfaced over the years. The piece features historians talking about the ancient civilisations depicted in the movie, with particular regard to just how much truth there is to Miller’s work. While they make no secret of the historical inaccuracies, they are eager to point out that this has been a constant throughout history and that the basic facts underpinning the film are sound. Director Zack Snyder and writer Frank Miller are also on hand with their thoughts.

‘Who Were the Spartans?: The Warriors of 300’ is a short (04:24) featurette that examines the factual origins of the Spartans portrayed in the movie, providing superficial insight into their daily lives and social structure. This is really a thematic continuation from the previous piece, but this time the actors are on hand to voice their opinions and discuss their interpretation of the historic events.

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‘The Frank Miller Tapes: Unfiltered Conversations with Frank & Friends’ runs for just under fifteen minutes and features interview footage with the artist and a number of his friends, colleagues and collaborators. Those interviewed include comic book author Neal Adams, DC Comics President Paul Levitz and DC Group Editor Bob Schreck (who looks somewhat like his namesake), along with director Zack Snyder. Miller discusses his early years in the business, from his first break in the business (courtesy of Adams) through to his more recent work, but the focus remains on the 300 graphic novel (although Miller jokingly asks Snyder how he intends to pull off Watchmen).

‘The Making of 300’ sounded like it was going to be a thorough examination of the creative process, but actually turned out to be a sub-six-minute featurette. It covers a lot of the same ground as the material that came before it, with footage from the film punctuated by sound-bites from the actors and creative team. This is obviously the sort of featurette that was used to promote the film in between adverts on TV, and as such it’s a bit of a letdown.

‘Making 300 in Images’ is a similarly-themed featurette that uses time-lapse photography to take the viewer behind-the-scenes through the various stages of production. I guess it was moderately entertaining, but everything flew by so quickly I had trouble maintaining interest despite the short (three-minute) running time.

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Three deleted scenes introduced by Zack Snyder come next. The first two concern Ephialtes, but really add nothing to the film so I can see why they were excised. The third scene was removed because it pushed the boundaries of believability even for 300, and if I use the words ‘midgets riding giants’ you’ll get the gist of what happens. The fact that the combined running time of these scenes is only a little over three minutes (with the intro) doesn’t really help matters.

The final bonus features on disc two are the ‘Webisodes’, of which there are twelve in total. You can choose to watch them individually, or via a ‘play all’ function, but with a combined running time of just over thirty-eight minutes it’s nice to have the option to watch one or two at a time. The Websisodes concentrate on such things as production design, wardrobe, stunt work, the principal cast, adapting the graphic novel, training the actors, glimpses from the set, scene studies and the fantastic creatures and characters. The webisodes are actually among the most entertaining features on the disc, which is a little disappointing the more I think about it.

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Overall


In bringing 300 to the screen, Zack Snyder has done a fantastic job of recreating the feel of Miller’s original graphic novel. While it won’t appeal to everyone’s tastes—specifically budding historians or those opposed to brutal, graphic violence—the core of the story remains, and what the film lacks in clever plot twists and dialogue it more than makes up for with sheer style and ‘balls to the wall’ action. This review marked my sixth viewing of 300, and far from becoming tired of the ‘hollow’ action I found that I enjoyed the film on a deeper level this time around. At the end of the day that’s all I can really ask of a movie.

Technically this Blu-ray Disc is very impressive. The visual elements won't be to everyone's tastes, but you'll have a hard time finding anyone to complain about the fantastic PCM soundtrack. As with the standard-definition version the only disappointing aspect of the release is the lightweight bonus material. Most disappointing of all is the lack of any 'next-gen' extras, such as the PiP commentary track as found on the HD DVD version. Now that profile 1.1/2.0 machines are starting to appear, I’m sure we’ll see a reissued disc with the PiP commentary and interactive features in place, so it’s worth bearing this in mind if you want to avoid the dreaded ‘double-dip’. Even with that in mind, 300 on Blu-ray still gets a big thumbs up from me.

* Note: The above images 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.


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