300 (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Sep 30, 2020
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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300 (4K UHD Review)

Director

Zack Snyder

Release Date(s)

2007 (October 6, 2020)

Studio(s)

Legendary Pictures/Virtual Studios/Atmosphere/Hollywood Gang (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: C+

300 (4K Ultra HD)

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Review

Ah, the glory days of classical antiquity! When men were real men, women were real women, and a good strong warrior could skewer a hundred foes with a single thrust of a spear.

Based on the popular comic series/graphic novel by Frank Miller, Zack Snyder’s 300 is an epic and fantastical retelling of the historical Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, when a hardy handful of Spartans led by King Leonidas blocked the advancing Achaemenid legions of Xerxes the Great to keep safe the lands of ancient Greece. Gerard Butler shines here as Leonidas in the film that made him famous and he’s backed by the likes of Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), Dominic West (The Wire), David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings), and Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) for good measure.

Though far from historically accurate, Miller’s 300 comic book was made memorable by its stylized and artistic depiction of violence. Snyder’s approach in adapting it for the screen was to recreate that comic shot-for-shot. Every panel on the page has its moment in the film, connected like dots by other footage and scenes (including subplots Snyder added himself). Photographed entirely on virtual sets against green and bluescreens, nearly everything but the ground, props, and costumes was added later to achieve Miller and colorist Lynn Varley’s signature look. Given the source material, there’s not much depth here, but the action is compelling and Headey’s presence manages to keep this bath more one of blood than testosterone (if only just). It should probably be noted here that 300 is also a film that lends itself to unfortunate political, cultural, and ideological translation, though it’s so over the top that it’s hard to take any such reading (or even the film itself for that matter) terribly seriously. It’s just sword-swinging fun.

300 was shot on 35 mm photochemical film in Super 35 format using Arriflex and Panavision Panaflex cameras with Panavision Primo lenses. It was finished at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio as a 2K Digital Intermediate. Normally, for a film like this, Warner would go back and rescan the original camera negative in native 4K and simply upscale the 2K VFX work. But the nature of 300 is that it was shot entirely on virtual sets, so there really are no shots in this film untouched by VFX. As such, it appears that, for this new Ultra HD release, the film’s original 2K DI has simply been upsampled to 4K. The improvement in detail is therefore modest. There is, however, an improvement. Fine detail and texturing are just a little bit more refined looking. Grain is still medium-coarse by design, but the new encode seems to handle it better. What’s more, there were a few shots in the HD presentation that had a bit of what looked like edge enhancement. Not so here—edges are clean and rock solid. Of course, the film has also been graded for high dynamic range (only HDR10 is available on this disc), and that makes a much bigger difference. 300 has always been an intentionally high-contrast presentation, but its brightest aspects are now bolder, while its shadows are a deeper ink-black. In between, the greater dynamic range and 10-bit color depth add surprising nuance to the film’s red-brown-bronze-gold palette. Are there films that look better in 4K? Certainly. But it’s hard to imagine this film could look better than it does here.

But wait… there’s more! This 4K disc beings plenty of sonic bluster too, thanks to a new lossles and object-based English Dolby Atmos mix. And from the very first thunderclap, it’s pretty ferocious. It offers a much bigger and wider soundstage than before, with newly-added vertical extension thanks to the overhead channels. Bass is muscular, yet effortless. Dialogue is clear as a bell, and effects panning and directionality are more aggressive. In fact, the atmospherics as a whole are livelier than ever. And composer Tyler Bate’s bombastic score makes for perfect sonic lubrication as swarms of arrows rain down from above and the shing-clang of swords on shields rings out all around. The Atmos lacks the seamless naturalism of the very best reference mixes, but boy… this one will really give your audio system a nice workout. Additional sound options include English Descriptive Audio, French (Québécois), French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Thai, all in 5.1 Dolby Digital. Optional subtitles are included in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, German for the Hearing Impaired, French, Italian for the Deaf, Dutch, Mandarin, Korean, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Thai.

Warner’s 4K disc includes only one extra:

  • Audio Commentary with Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, and Larry Fong

But the package also includes the film in 1080p on Blu-ray (strangely, it appears to be the original 2007 Blu-ray Disc, not the better Complete Experience BD release from 2009), which also includes the commentary and adds:

  • The 300: Fact of Fiction? (HD – 24:36)
  • Who Were the Spartans?: The Warriors of 300 (HD – 4:32)
  • Preparing fo Battle: The Original Test Footage (HD – 6:43)
  • Frank Miller Tapes (HD – 14:42)
  • Making of 300 (SD – 5:51)
  • Making 300 in Images (SD – 3:40)
  • Webisodes (12 clips – 38:23 in all)
  • Production Design (SD – 3:51)
  • Wardrobe (SD – 3:39)
  • Stunt Work (SD – 4:09)
  • Lena Headey (SD – 1:45)
  • Adapting the Graphic Novel (SD – 3:46)
  • Gerard Butler (SD – 4:06)
  • Rodrigo Santoro (SD – 2:28)
  • Training the Actors (SD – 2:32)
  • Culture of the Sparta City/State (SD – 2:13)
  • A Glimpse from the Set: Making 300 the Movie (SD – 3:25)
  • Scene Studies from 300 (SD – 3:16)
  • Fantastic Characters of 300 (SD – 3:07)
  • Deleted Scenes with Introductions by Zack Snyder (HD/SD – 3 scenes – 3:32 in all)

Those extras were fine for their day and the commentary is really the best of the lot. Sadly, there’s no new content. The aforementioned The Complete Experience Blu-ray added a Multi-Path Interactive Experience with three different viewing paths (each with additional Focus Points clips), not to mention a Bluescreen Picture-in-Picture Version of the commentary. Why none of that is included here is hard to fathom. You do at least get the usual Digital Copy code on a paper insert.

300 wouldn’t make my personal list of favorite action films, and I think Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004) and Man of Steel are more interesting. I’ll give it this much, though: It’s visually striking and damned entertaining. I do wish Warner had produced some new content—even a retrospective look back at the film would have been welcome. But 300 has never looked or sounded better, so if this be its last stand on disc… at least it’s a memorable one.

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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