300: Rise of an Empire (Blu-ray Review)

It’s been way too long between the amount of time that has passed since 2007 when Warner Bros. brought Roman soldiers with unbelievably chiseled pecs and abs into our living rooms on our early adoption HDTV sets during the Red vs. Blu Wars (HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray).  Can you believe it has been that long and for that matter has taken this long to get a sequel out to the fans of the wildly insane, testosterone driven 300?  I still remember my first theatrical viewing of that feature.  It was quite a visual spectacle to behold and take in.  It was like the raw pages of Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name just magically came to life on the big screen.  Were those chiseled bodies real or CG?  Hell no!  Gerald Butler and the rest of the gang went through some rigorous training to achieve those astonishing physiques.  Now it wasn’t all about the awe, shock and gratuitous violence/sex, it was actually a quite entertaining and solid movie that took us on an incredible journey and did not let go of us leaving us thirsty for even more blood and vengeance by the time the credits rolled.  After all, our king, as mighty as he was, had fallen.   Vengeance was an instant mandate.  And now the time is upon us!  Ladies and gentlemen…I proudly introduce to you 300: Rise of an Empire on Blu-ray.

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So needless to say, 2007′s 300 inspired a lot of projects over the years from spoofs and knockoffs to even hardcore television series like the crowd pleaser Spartacus: Blood and Sand.  This sequel, “so to speak,” takes place before, during and after the events of the original film, hence why I said so to speak.  However, this time around Noam Murro mans the director’s chair while Zack Snyder serves as a writer and a producer because he has been awful busy pulling rabbits out of his a$$ to make magic with his ever evolving DC Comics world.  It’s scary to think, but the fate of the Justice League is in his hands.  Gulp.  I digress.

This time around the cast includes Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Callan Mulvey, Hans Matheson and Jack O’Connell with Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro and David Wenham, reprising their roles from the first film.  And while we do not cover it here in this Blu-ray review, it should be noted that there is a 3D Blu-ray release out there too.  And when you are talking about the highly stylized world and visuals of the 300 franchise, you kind of already know walking in things are going to look awful EPIC.  There I said it!  Things look EPIC!

As originally intended throughout rumors over the years, 300: Rise of an Empire covers some of the backstory of Xerxes (Santoro), and how he became the God King we see him as in the first feature, 300.  However, this film is mostly centered on the Greek leader Themistokles (Stapleton), who we will talk about in more detail down below versus that of the beauty, brawn and wits of Artemisia (Green), Achaemenid Queen of Caria and King Xerxes’ ally.  She’s the new kid on the block worth taking note of here.  She’s quite a commanding gal, but like Themistokles, we’ll talk about that more in a minute.  The graphic novel on which this is supposedly based is unpublished.  Dammit!

So I like what they have done here.  This is definitely a worthy sequel, but it’s so much, much more.  First we take a look at how the God King came to be, not to mention the aftermath of the fallen 300 Spartan soldiers and of course, Queen Gorgo (Headey) of Sparta’s contempt and wishes of vengeance upon that of Persia and its armies that ultimately laid waste to her husband, King Leonidas (Gerard Butler).  And let’s not forget being treated to a little backstory on Themistocles during the Battle of Marathon, from the first Persian invasion of Greece, and and that of Artemisia.  After all, you do want to know how Eva Green’s character became such a sword wielding bad-a$$, don’t you?  Hell yeah you do!  But wait!  300: Rise of an Empire is even more than that.  In addition to everything I just said up above and to put it in the simplest of terms like my girlfriend just muttered to me before falling asleep tonight, it’s a palette pleaser.  It’s an orgy of carnal pleasure, sex, gore, violence, testosterone set amongst epic grand scale proportions like we are accustomed to from the first film, but on muscle-building steroids and SUPER-SIZED!  It sounds like all the right ingredients to something special to me, eh?

They say bigger is not always better, but it sure doesn’t hurt here.  Forget the 300 soldiers in a confined mountain landscape for a moment and think of that heroic action on a much larger playing field, even across seas of endless blue, washed with crimson (blood).  That’s what you get with 300: Rise of an Empire.  They up the ante here.  The battles are bigger.  The scope is grander.  And by golly, while it’s not as iconic and masterful as the first film, it’s still epic in its own right with a thunderous score to boost and one menacing performance by Eva Green that shocked the white Parma, OH socks off of me.  She rocked that role like she was born for it and I couldn’t have been more pleased.  I have newfound respect for her.

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Perhaps the only thing that was missing here was the charm and charisma of Gerard Butler that made the first film such a rousing, masculine treat to both women, men and children (not that I recommend children watching) alike.  I did not feel the intensity in Headey.  I thought she could have brought it more, but Green….wow.  From the moment she walked on the screen she exhumed a level of confidence that just screamed keep your eyes on me…THE WHOLE TIME.  And boy, did I!  And I can’t single out Eva without talking about Stapleton either.  He did his best in theBraveheart moments when his soldiers needed words of encouragement and you could feel his generosity and caring for his men and the passion that propelled him to lay waste to every Persian that was unlucky enough to be around his sword, spear or even arrow’s trajectory path.  I went on a journey with him and I came out feeling victorious.

The film lingers on the Battle of Artemisium, which is a naval engagement, concurrent with the battle of Thermopylae previously seen in 300.  Here we really see Stapleton and Green really go at it as their characters are put to the ultimate tests as wits and brains are tested against muscles and courage.  It’s a battle of who can outsmart who, but I assure you that you definitely need to be smarter than a 5th grader to beat either one of them.  Finally after the film catches up with the aftermath of the first film we are treated to one hell of another grand naval battle, this one dubbed the Battle of Salamis, fought after the Persian Empire occupied Athens.  So lesson learned here.  How do you top the insane action of the first film?  Why of course…you move that insane action onto the open waters!  Will the Spartans relinquish their stubborn pride and join forces with the remaining Greek forces?  Will Queen Gorgo get revenge for her husband’s death?  Will Themistocles and Artemisia go at it in more ways than one?  These questions and more, rest assured, will all be answered.  All you got to do is show up on Tuesday, June 24th when your favorite retailer of Blu-rays opens.  Your job is simple.  Long live Sparta and King Leonidas!!!  Until then…let’s take a look at this impeccable Blu-ray in more detail…

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This is one time when I am wishing boy oh boy if I could only view this Blu-ray in 3D.  I remember how spectacular it looked in 3D IMAX in the theater and what a beauty this one is to behold even on the 2D Blu-ray format.  But I digress.  That’s what below is for…details…details…details.

  • Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1
  • Clarity/Detail:  Like I said in my LEGO Movie Blu-ray review over here, I dare you to find anything to nitpick on here.  Sure there’s a thin veneer of cinematic grain inserted via post complete with stylistic tones and visuals, but the wow-factor is ever present throughout on this.  Looking past the grain here things are absolutely razor sharp just like the tips of the spears and arrows employed throughout the battles within the film.  Let’s see if I can describe just how impeccable the detail is here throughout.  You can see every burning ash, speck of dust, bead of sweat, splatter of blood, stitch in fabric and hair stubble on faces.  Should I go or do you get the “picture”?
  • Depth: This one was obviously shot for 3D, but since I was only given the 2D version to review you’d be hard pressed to even tell the difference (I’m being a little facetious of course),  The depth in this presentation is wicked insane from the fleets of naval ships to the scenes on horseback as they are riding in the distance to the vegetation in front of them.  Even the characters themselves pop off the screen in full dimensionality.
  • Black Levels: Do I really even need to bother going on about how much I love this video presentation?  DO you really think the black levels would let us down here?  Of course not!  They are spot on deep, dark and gorgeous.
  • Color Reproduction: The one thing you already should know from the first 300 is that there is a certain, distinct color palette to this series.  Even the Starz Spartacus show copied that.  It’s not like Sin City or The Spirit, but it’s dusty and vibrant colors such as aquas and reds in soldiers capes do quite pop amongst the contrast here.  Even the fiery ashes that loom in the beach campfires warm the screen with delight.  I want to roast a marshmallow now!
  • Flesh Tones: Despite the stylization in the picture I never once had a problem with the flesh tones at all here.  They all look natural and compliant throughout.
  • Noise/Artifacts: I already covered the thin layer of grain and stylization so other than that there is nothing here to distract you from your viewing enjoyment unless you don’t like the occasional site of boobs every once in awhile.

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Before I even begin going into detail below I really wish I could score this track higher than a 5.  It is the loudest and most a$$ kicking surround sound presentation I have heard since last year’s Pacific Rim, which I covered here.  My rear speakers have never worked so hard.  I had to turn this bad boy down twice.

  • Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
  • Dynamics:  I don’t even know where to begin with this section.  Even the opening Warner Bros. and Legendary title cards before the movie started were epic in audio proportions.  My room was buzzing way before the film even began rolling.  This surround track is simply amazing as it literally engulfs you like a tidal wave running over you and b1tch slaps you in the face to bring you back to reality.  This one’s like a fly swatter.  It will sting you!
  • Low Frequency Extension:  Equally amazing here is the LFE presentation.  From the tidal waves to the thunder and lightning and the clanging of swords and shields, this one will rock you down to your bones.  You will feel every thud and consequently be sore from every blow.  It’s bombastic in every sense of the word.
  • Surround Sound Presentation:  I don’t recall my rear speakers ever working this hard before in their lives.  It’s like they perfectly matched the volume of the front ones throughout the feature.  They were like a pair of aggressive bees on both sides behind you stinging you over and over again.  I think it goes without saying things sound pretty well in this soundscape.  And the pounding of the battle drums and musical score will literally engulf you.  I kid you not.
  • Dialogue Reproduction:  The voices are all loud, clear and intelligible throughout and only occasionally get lost in the shuffle, but I won’t hold that against it.  It’s a war movie dammit!

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We received the Blu-ray Combo Pack of 300: Rise of an Empire, which includes the Blu-ray version of the film as well as a DVD that houses the movie in Standard Definition and a redemption code good for an UltraViolet Digital HD copy too.  I guess you can say no matter how you slice it, you’re getting three copies of the film, but only two that truly matter in my opinion.  Sadly, there’s no audio commentary or a stupendous Picture-in-Picture track like I remember the first movie on Blu-ray having (well I guess you can technically argue that it was the HD-DVD one).  Instead we have a bunch of featurettes to quench your thirst with.  While they’re nothing to write home about to mom and pops (assuming you don’t live with them or one or the other), it’s still better than having nothing at all.  Wouldn’t you say?  So let’s spend a few moments covering what supplemental materials you have to play with here and you’ll be on your merry gladiator way.

  • Behind the Scenes: The 300 Effect (HD) – First thing’s first, and I like this, we get to learn about Frank Miller’s initial pitch to Zack Snyder.  There’s nothing better than learning first hand how things we love ultimately came to be.  However I should mention that this one includes the following four segments:
    • “3 Days in Hell” (7:08) – It’s cool how the same characters from the first film are reintroduced here, but from another point of view.  No, I digress.  It’s hella cool!  It’s also surreal to see what the actor who played Xerxes really looks like.
    • “Brutal Artistry” (9:08) – They are taking what they did in the first film and upping the ante here as they say.  They also expand upon the landscape and the unique look of the film here.
    • “A New Breed of Hero” (4:49) – They talk about the different brand of character Themistokles represents.
    • “Taking the Battle to Sea” (8:52) – Okay.  I think this one is pretty self-explanatory as they explore the naval aspect and action in this one now that the fighting takes place on the surface of ships.
  • Real Leaders & Legends (HD, 22:52) – Here we have an extra where both filmmakers and historians chime in about this film’s loose historic adaptation.  They even go as far as to break things down individually character by character, battle by battle, etc.  You get the picture.  It’s some pretty cool and interesting stuff here so definitely give this your time and attention if you’re able to.
  • Women Warriors (HD, 12:22) – This one takes a look at the women warriors and leaders, most notably Eva Green as Artemisa and Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo.  Lena begs for action and Eva talks about the two months she trained for the role.  They also discuss the influence these women had within the film.
  • Savage Warships (HD, 10:36) – I’ll give you one guess what this featurette’s about.  If you guessed about ships, then winner, winner, chicken dinner!  You’re right!  This one takes a closer look at the ships and strategies of the Greek navy.  We also go behind the scenes on the sets and discuss the various naval battles and technology employed.   
  • Becoming a Warrior (HD, 4:39) – These are always my favorite kind of extras and I know my jealousy will show as plain as chocolate ice cream would on a white t-shirt, but I don’t care!  I want to be paid to work out too!  As Rod Stewart once said, some guys have all the luck, women too.

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300: Rise of an Empire seemed to get mixed reviews critically.  Personally, I think everyone’s expectations were a little too high.  I know mine were, but Eva Green takes command here and never lets you go.  I couldn’t help having a grand time with this.  Like the first Transformers and its sequels (as sucky as they were), this one’s not as iconic as the first film, but unless you’re Empire Strikes Back or Terminator 2, that’s a tough mountain to climb.  Instead what 300: Rise of an Empire does right is it gives us scale, a much larger one, along with every thing we long for: blood, sex, gore and exaggerated visuals, you know…everything that made the first film so spectacular and over-the-top.  You’ll get that here.  Trust me.  You just have to accept the fact that this one’s a tad different.  But look on the bright side.  With this Blu-ray Combo Pack you’re taking home an EPIC-sized film with a decent story, an exceptional audio/video presentation and some extra goodies to boot.  I don’t know about you, but I would take that over a fine meal any day.  Why?  Because when I’m done I’ll have something to hold and cherish rather than just a bon voyage toilet flush.  So do yourself a favor fans of 300.  On your way to work or on your way home from work (depending upon your particular work schedule) pick this one up at your favorite retailer of Blu-rays on Tuesday, June 24th.  Long live Sparta and the brave 300 soldiers that gave their lives up for your viewing enjoyment.  As always, thanks for reading review #179!

300 Rise of an Empire Blu-ray Review


Owner/Writer/Reviewer/Editor, Dreamer, Producer, Agent of Love, Film Lover, Writer of Screenplays and a Devoted Apostle to all things Ford Mustangs (the real ones with V8's!). Some of my favorite films include FIGHT CLUB, MOULIN ROUGE, THE DARK KNIGHT, STAR WARS alongside television shows such as SEINFELD, 24, SANFORD & SON and even the often loathed in the geek community BIG BANG THEORY. Outside of my three lives I live I also enjoy spending time with my girlfriend and our three girls (of the furry kind).

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