3D slo-mo hyper-stylised sex, blood and utter carnage
300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray Review
Painting a broader picture within which the story already told in the original 300 is but one piece in the puzzle, Rise of an Empire quite ambitiously expands the scope, but ultimately devolves into repetitive mayhem, collapsing without a lead presence to take the reins.Within minutes Rise expounds the history of Greece at the time; with states reluctant to unify even as Persia threatens to crush them all. Using hefty flashback-within-flashback-within-flashforward techniques we shuffle back and forth to set the stage for the events not just in this, but also the original 2007 movie, showing that they were all ultimately a part of the same great, desperate, bid to stave off the overwhelming numbers that the Persians were invading with.
Despite introducing us to a brand new batch of characters – as well as offering welcome development into old characters, like the God-king – Gerard Butler’s King Leonidas is conspicuous in his absence even during the flashbacks, and casts a long shadow over the contenders to replace him. Sullivan Stapleton gives it his best, but even a couple of tours on the Starz TV show Strike Back doesn’t give him enough presence to command hundreds of men and rally them into battle.More impressive are the female warriors, with Dredd’s Lena Headey returning as Leonidas’s wife, with bloody vengeance on her mind, and Casino Royale’s Eva Green demanding your attention in her second Frank Miller-created warrior-villain of the year (she would later be one of the best things about Sin City 2).
Miller himself tries his best to recapture the magic of 300, and thankfully fleshes out a much grander tale, rather than sticking to the brief pictures-speak-a-thousand-words style of his original piece. And director Noam Murro may not be Zack Snyder, but he sure as hell knows how to impersonate him. But ultimately the tale feels more of the same – only with ships – and the novelty of tactical manoeuvring at sea devolves into Stapleton’s leader basically telling his men that he’s fresh out of ideas. A better lead actor and a less sequel-focussed finale and this might have been something really special, rather than just an enjoyable expansion.
What is 300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray 3D Picture Quality300: Rise of an Empire hits UK Region Free Blu-ray complete with two picture-perfect, demo and reference quality video options – a 1080p/AVC-encoded 2D version on the first disc, and a 1080p/MVC-encoded 3D variant on the other. They are flawless offerings; pure spectacles to behold. And, no matter what you may think of the movie itself, it sure as hell looks amazing.
Kicking off with the 3D, the first thing that immediately stands out is the particle-filled atmosphere within which the entire movie is set – as if the movie has been shot under an ash cloud and every scene, indoors or outdoors, has these minute particles near-suspended in the air. Although the description may sound odd, it works perfectly for the 3D effect, offering up literally dozens upon dozens of points-of-reference for varying layers of depth; all just that little bit out of focus, but all adding to the consistent depth of the piece.
Characters are remarkably well-rounded (indeed, even in the 2D counterpart you get a feeling of 3D pop), whilst colourful flourishes of clothing, shiny weaponry and thick crimson blood spatter further defines the 3D texturing. Blue cloth cuts a swathe through the highly-stylised, over-saturated battlefield; shiny, almost pearl-coloured shields have a visible roundedness to them with their domed shape; and blood cascades across the screen, frequently splattering on the camera itself. Beads of sweat – and blood – feel so tangible that they may well drip on your living room floor, and the whole experience is so overwhelmingly immersive in every battle; every set-piece, from start to finish.
300: Rise of an Empire may have its flaws as a movie but it is an impressive, immersive spectacle in 2D or 3D.
The 2D alternative is just as impressive, boasting a striking amount of detail despite the heavily stylised comic-book nature of the piece which is designed to fluidly intermesh with Snyder’s 2007 predecessor. Skin textures, clothing weaves and background details are excellent, leaving the CG-dominated proceedings still peppered with the kind of observations that make it all feel highly authentic, even if inherently unreal. The digital imagery is flawless, with no signs of any overt manipulation – no edge enhancement, banding, blocking or other issues. The colour scheme is obviously skewed to suit the style, but allows for plenty of rich and vibrant tones even in spite of the distinct lack of primaries on offer. Black levels are strong and deep, promoting excellent shadow detail throughout.
What is 300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray Sound QualityOn the aural front the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track is just as impressive, further helping to immerse you in the experience. Dialogue is surprisingly important, at least during the first act, which layers flashback upon flashback in an attempt to bring past, present and future together, all with Lena Headey providing a voiceover throughout, and it comes across never less than clearly and coherently at all times. Barked orders and battle cries; angry whispers and musings, it all gets fine presentation from across the fronts and centre channels.
Again, whatever your reservations about the movie, no such criticisms can be levied against the audio, which will leave you overwhelmed throughout.
Effects are where it’s at, with plenty of slicing and dicing; limbs lopped and blood spurting – every single gruesome, violent act given its own distinct aural promotion. Arrows whizz through the air and thud home and swords clang on shields, allowing the battle to spill out into your very home, with keen directionality across the array and welcome bass anchoring the blows. There are even a few sparks of fire and thunderous explosions to further ignite the track.
Junkie XL’s engaging score may not quite hit the same rousing notes as the original 300’s score did, but it’s perfectly suited to the proceedings and furthers the immersive quality, engulfing you in the heat of the battles, keeping the surrounds active at all times, and giving the LFE plenty to do even when people aren’t being torn apart.
300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray ExtrasA quintet of Featurettes make up the entirety of the extras, with the main Behind the Scenes: The 300 Effect offering up a half-hour dissection of the production split into 3 Days in Hell, Brutal Artistry, A New Breed of Hero and Taking the Battle to Sea, and looking at everything from Miller’s unpublished prequel/sequel to the sea-based variation on the outnumbered theme. Real Leaders & Legends is a far more interesting piece, taking 23 minutes to compare the story to real history, and look at the real historical characters. Women Warriors adds further flavour with its 12 minute look at the two leading lady warriors on offer here, and the 11 minute Savage Warships looks at the naval side of things, with a brief 5 minute Becoming a Warrior looking behind the training for the roles. The disc is rounded off by some Preview Trailers.
Is 300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray Worth BuyingRise of an Empire has plenty of decent ideas, and cleverly tries to expand the scope of the original movie through painting the hefty backstory that led to said events. In many ways, it is a far more impressive sequel than anybody really had any right to expect. Unfortunately the biggest missing ingredient is a vital one, with the lead actor struggling to walk in the footsteps of Gerard Butler's Brian Blessed-like Leonidas from the first movie. And with a story that, eventually, devolves into just the same events as 300, only adapted for sea, you can't help but feel that the movie was actually far more throwaway than all its extensive narration would have you believe.
Equal parts attempted history lesson and ludicrous sex-and-violence sea-based action-fest, Rise of an Empire is still more fun than it had any right to be.
On Region Free UK Blu-ray we get demo and reference 3D video, 2D video and audio, as well as a nice selection of extras, leaving this as an impressive release for fans of this or the first movie. I'd imagine anybody who liked 300 would struggle to resist having this in their collection and this is certainly a worthy edition.
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