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300: Rise of an Empire (3D Blu-ray Review)

2 Jul, 2014 By: John Latchem

Box Office $106.58 million
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 3D BD
Rated ‘R’ for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language.
Stars Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, Rodrigo Santoro, Peter Mensah.

The first 300 is best known as a stylistic action film about shirtless underwear models battling a horde of CGI monsters, which brought Zack Snyder into the ranks of ‘A’-list directors.

Actually, the 2007 film presented a hyperrealistic retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 Spartan warriors led by King Leonidas defended a mountain pass against a massive Persian army, giving the rest of the Greek city-states a chance to organize a defense against the invasion.

Even more blood spills in the follow-up 300: Rise of an Empire, an entertaining companion piece that should satisfy fans of the original film.

The first film was, of course, based on the same-titled graphic novel by Frank Miller, and the second is based on Miller’s Xerxes, which has yet to be published.

Essentially the naval version of the first film, Rise of an Empire focuses on Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton of “Strike Back”), the Athenian general tasked with uniting Greece against the Persian invasion. While Leonidas defends the pass at Thermopylae, Themistokles leads his troops in a series of naval battles against the Persian fleet, led by the fiery Artemisia (Eva Green).

The film’s story weaves into and around the events of the first film, telling of the origins of the Persian king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his desire to avenge his father’s death during an earlier unsuccessful invasion of Greece. With the Persians on the move, Themistokles visits with characters returning from the first film, such as Sparta’s Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), to persuade them to join his dream of a unified Greece.

Though Snyder, who served as producer and co-writer, handed off directorial duties to Noam Murro, Rise of an Empire is presented in with the same visual style as the first film, relying on and abundance of slow motion and splashes of color across a drab palette. Because of the reliance of the artificiality of the visual presentation, the 3D effects are very pronounced, which proves quite effective in embellishing the battle scenes. This can be especially disorienting as the ships begin to ram into each other.

The end result is a film that greatly expands on the story of the original, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Snyder ever sanctioned a special-edition Blu-ray of both films that combined them into one giant epic (also giving Warner a chance to convert the original into 3D).

The Blu-ray extras consist of a series of featurettes, about half of which focus on the making of the film and the other half exploring the historical context of the film’s story with interviews of historians.

While it’s interesting to learn about how filmmakers went about re-creating Greek warships, or how the actors trained for the physicality of their roles, it’s the history lessons that are the most fascinating, especially when it’s revealed that for all his efforts to defend Greece, Themistokles ended up in exile as governor of a Persian province.

Another featurette focuses on the historical Gorgo and Artemisia, which is a welcome addition since it’s already inherently fascinating that these strong, vibrant women actually existed to begin with.

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