300 Blu-ray Review
PictureTaking the high-contrast, bleached-colour scheme to altogether new dimensions, Synder turns out a movie that is pure burnished gold and battered bronze. It is a unique look and one that has not been mistreated by the transfer in any way. The 2.40:1 image is simply gorgeous to look at and possesses a dreamlike quality that positively invites you into it.
The complex “colour crushing” process that the film has received does not, in any way, affect the solidity of the blacks or the copious use of browns during some sequences, the frame literally dripping with detail like a freshly painted canvas. Contrast, although obviously treated post-production, is never compromised, with gloriously dazzling portions of the picture sitting comfortably alongside darker shades to produce an image that is rock-solid and impeccably balanced throughout. Check out the sunlight that catches hold of the Spartan shields and helmets as seen from the high overhead shot of them pushing forward over the Persian dead during the first attack. Distant glimmers of light play across the sea, as well, with finite flickers of incandescence that the 1080p resolution picks out with ease. Detail on the shields and the armour of the enemy - since the Spartans, themselves, don't seem to wear much - is magnificent. Look at the embroidery on the Persian sword-fodder, on their moustachioed emissary and upon the paint-daubed native warriors. It is one thing to maintain that stylish “crushed” effect, but it is another to keep the detail and the texture so rich and finite within that visual style.
The first battle with the Immortals is shot with an eerie silvery cast - part twilight, part metallic - and it looks truly sublime here. Shadow definition is simply excellent, with the blacks and the various shades of grey blending together without any trace of cross-filtering. Blood, black for the most part, still looks sticky and vital. The transfer perfectly captures the cartoonic splashes that speckle the screen, the geysers that fountain across it and the gobs of the stuff that are flung virtually into our faces. It seems to hang in the air, time-slowed and exotic. Detail in the gloom is incredibly sharp, too. Look at the mangled flesh around the Uber-Immortal's mouth, the victims impaled to the Tree Of Death, the feral eyes of the Persian spy glittering in the dark - all painstakingly exhibited by the transfer. The battered helmets and arrow-scuffed shields are excellently handled, too. And just look at Butler's eyes blazing out from the slits in his helmet. When the axe severs the horse-hair plume above his head, you can see individual strands wavering. Or the sheaves of wheat in the fields, which just look so real that you could almost brush your hand through them, Maximus-style. Colours are deliberately muted, but look at the red cloaks when the Spartans march off to war and check out the blazing flames of the ruined village or the pot-bombs igniting against our heroes' shields for some visual dynamism.
Three-dimensionality is brought convincingly to the screen as well. Look at the depth on the amassed Spartans in the phalanx, or the Persian fleet being buffeted by the storm. The enemy cavalry can also be seen moving into position on the far coast, miles around the bay from the Spartans. The individual arrows in flight are also terrifically realised. Immaculate framing that lifts Miller's panels from the page to the screen is always dealt with a depth of field that is breathtaking to see. I cannot think of another disc that has looked this good on my 52 inch 1080p Sharp ... and all this despite the intentional grain that festoons the picture! Yes folks, there is no getting away from it, 300 is a very grainy film. But this hampers the image in no way at all. Synder has placed it there for a reason, and it embellishes the stylish image with an ultra-heightened realism that makes you think that dust and grit is actually being kicked up by the characters in the picture. On the digital front, there is naturally, considering the source, nothing to mar the transfer. There is no edge enhancement, object delineation remaining consistently sharp and clear throughout, and no element of over-saturation or smearing. Having seen both the HD and the BD versions, I can only state that I thought the BD image seemed a little smoother, but, other than that, both contain a transfer that is absolutely of reference quality.
Nothing less than a perfect 10 from me, folks.
SoundComing with a Dolby TrueHD track as well as a PCM Uncompressed option, the BD edition of 300 is spoilt for audio splendour. Personally, I found that the PCM was the better track, featuring a much more dynamic and aggressive mix and a far more open soundfield. Both are excellent, but the PCM is possibly the best track I have heard so far on either format.
There are literally too many acoustic delights to list. But some of the greatest moments to savour are as follows - the sound of Leonidas' spear punching through the wall during his last act of defiance; the sonorous clanging of Ephialtes' shield when he hurls it down the cliff; the blast of individual explosive pots during the magicians' bombardment of the Spartan positions, accompanied by a sizzling tingle of sparks replicated on Bates' score; and the awesome clash of steel and massed voices when the two armies first collide. Listen out during this scene, particularly, to the moment when the Spartans stop allowing themselves to be pushed back - the noise seems to suck back in on itself - before heaving their enemies aside with a mighty clang of shields. Individual hacking and slashing sound utterly amazing, too. The scoring of Leonidas' helmet, for instance, when the uber-Immortal carves his blade over the King's head features a battlefield equivalent to someone dragging their fingernails down a blackboard.
Voices and dialogue are marvellously presented. There is never a instance when they are submerged or muffled despite all the raging carnage taking place around the track. Bates' score is also beautifully captured with a sheer rush of musical dynamism swirling all the way around the speakers. High ends are simply glorious and the mid range is extraordinarily detailed and extensive. The front soundstage is wide and spacious and the rears are engaged almost constantly. Smaller details, such as the scattering of earth when the rhino grinds to a halt, the swishing of Spartan capes, the tumbling of loose stones as Ephialtes clambers up rocky slopes are all scintillatingly conveyed by a track that employs some of best sound design engineering that I have heard.
And if all that wasn't enough, the bass levels are nothing short of astounding. Virtually everything has some form of weight or impact integrated into it. Obviously, you would expect something like the massed charge of the Persian army to sound spectacular, but there is such a deep-seated rumble as they teem in their thousands around the precarious path of Thermopylae that you would swear the Captain's first assumption that it is an earthquake was correct. The swooshing of blades and spears and the intricate whistling of the flights of arrows are absolute reference quality, every component of the set-up around you involved in placing you deep into the heart of the battle. But listen out for the moment when a pile of flaming pots and debris falls over as the Spartans investigate the remains of a massacred village - I almost jumped out of my skin!
I have to say that the PCM track on the Blu-ray is definitely better than the TrueHD, folks. But, either way, you are assured of a truly monumental audio experience. Warn the neighbours that you are going to war!
ExtrasIt is great to see that both the HD and the BD releases received quite a plethora of special features. But whilst they both carry most of the same features, they do differ with regards to some crucial elements. For instance, the HD Combo comes with the much-touted Picture-in-Picture feature that enables you to watch the entire film in a little blood-spattered box-out down in the corner without the finished CG effects. With a running commentary from Zack Synder describing exactly what you are seeing onscreen and how it will be augmented later via the blue-screen CG. This is not available on the BD, and nor are the web-enabled features. But, what you do get over the HD is a scene specific commentary from Zack Snyder, writer Kurt Johnstad and DOP Larry Fong that will go some way to making up for it. Full of interesting trivia and sound production detail, this is inevitably a little bit technical but still well worth listening to. Snyder takes the lion's share of the proceedings, and it would have been great to have heard from Butler, but this is still a nice start to the package.
Additional Scenes. Now I had had high hopes that the film, itself, would be extended, but we will just have to make do with these three deleted sequences. Only brief and featuring introductions from Synder explaining why they were cut, we have two extra moments with Ephialtes - one daft and one revealing more of his pain and anger at not being permitted to join the Spartans - and a terrific battle scene depicting a midget archer atop a monstrous war-giant (think troll from Lord Of The Rings) who engages the Captain in a skirmish. This isn't quite finished off properly - the leg-severing doesn't look right - but it is great to watch and would have been fine in the completed movie, I feel.
300- Fact Or Fiction (24.35 mins) is a great piece that chronicles the truth of the battle and of the Spartan culture with Frank Miller's interpretation of the events, as filtered still further by Zack Snyder. Featuring a couple of historians - one old, grey and male, the other young, gorgeous and female - the makers and lots of Frank Miller, himself, this is fine, interesting stuff that utilises a lot of film-footage, imagery from the book, statues and views of the real Thermopylae as it looks today. There is some nice talk of the Immortals and plenty of justification for the more fantastical elements of the film. Gerard Butler pops up briefly, as well. Detailed and fun, this is a fine feature, folks.
Who Were The Spartan? The Warriors Of 300 is simply a 4.30 minute look at how these hyper-masculine super-soldiers came to be, with Synder, Miller, Butler and those historians all contributing again. This time David Wenham has a word or two, as well, although this little feature is really just a Spartan warrior pep-talk.
Preparing For Battle: The Original Test Footage (6.43 mins) shows us the absolutely fantastic sequence that Synder and Co. produced to get the film green-lit. Remember that cool scene that Paul Verhoeven shot to sell Starship Troopers to the studio? Well, this is much, much better. Starting off with the Warner logo - as you see it, bronze-tinted, at the head of the finished film - being struck with a spear and then detailing one Spartan warrior roaring into conflict with throat-slicing dexterity and resilience and finishing with an amassed line of Leonidas' finest striding towards the vast enemy forces, this is so good you just wish it was in the movie. Terrific.
The Frank Miller Tapes is a fifteen-minute look as the comic-book writer and pop-culture icon. Just a praise-fest for the guy - and deservedly so - this shows us a lot more of the imagery from the graphic novel and talks to the man, himself, about his work. Focussing mainly on 300, but touching on other material he has worked on, this is fairly repetitive of what has been on already. In fact, you could have actually read the original novel by now just by pausing on all the frames that the features have shown us. Still good, though.
Making Of 300. Don't get your hopes up here, folks. This isn't the big meaty documentary that you may have waiting for. Merely six minutes of fluffy behind-the-scenes gubbins, but with a bigger roster of participants that finally lets us see something of the actors' training regime, this only scratches the surface of the production.
Making 300 In Images. Now this is an oddity. Lasting for 3.40 mins, this is a time-lapse montage of the production from day one, set to music that is not from the film. Strangely compelling but ultimately redundant as I doubt you will ever return to it again. Good to see Michael Fassbender rehearsing that leap in fast motion, though.
And finally, we get twelve 3-minute Wepisodes that take us on set for some detailed background into the movie as it was being made. Covering everything from characters, costumes and more Frank Miller to stunt-work, scene studies and the physical training of the cast - which is something that I always enjoy seeing, being a fitness-freak, myself - this rounds out the packed disc quite nicely with bite-sized segments that add up to quite a decent whole.
All in all, the HD package is a very good one, with some novel new features. I just wish that there had been a more comprehensive making-of documentary that took a little more time to focus on things in detail. Plus, some more contribution from the stars would have been nice. As it stands now, I feel like I am a personal friend of Zack Snyder and Frank Miller. Which, of course, would be no bad thing.
VerdictThere's only one way to sum up this movie, and that is AWESOME. As historical storytelling goes, all the crucial elements are in place, with this version adding a little more fantasy than Miller's more pared-to-the-bone narrative. The old Hollywood adage of filming the myth rather than the reality certainly holds true, but what a myth a play with. I may be beholden to Gladiator for the rest of this life (or the next, eh, Maximus?) but 300 stands as one of the best heroic action fantasies of all time. No matter how effects or visual filmmaking may evolve over the coming years, Synder's film will always remain a benchmark for adrenaline-pumping, hyper-immersive uber-carnage on a grand scale. I love every sweat-soaked, blood-flinging, muscle-packed moment of it. The book was excellent, the film, with its emotion-stimulating score and breathtaking imagery, is even better again ... Frank Miller's world literally brought to kicking, screaming, limb-lopping life.
The AV transfer is to die for. I thought the BD releases of Pirates Of The Caribbean 1 and 2 were the best things I had seen so far, but 300 manages to go even further than that. The image is not as colourful, but still incredibly detailed and languishing within one of the most captivating and breathtakingly gorgeous vistas you can imagine. The extras on the BD are very tasty, as well. The omission of the picture-in-picture feature is compensated for with the makers' commentary. So, overall, the BD has this and the glorious PCM track to commend it.
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