This. Is. “300”… on 4K UHD for the first time.

If history is to be believed, then the story of King Leonidas I of Greek Sparta is truly remarkable. The story goes that the king and 300 of his soldiers took on an invading army of 100,000 Persians, defiantly keeping them at bay despite the terrible odds. If you didn’t learn this story in school (where my Latin students at!) or you missed the 1962 Rudolph Maté film The 300 Spartans, then your exposure likely came from either Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s 1998 Dark Horse Comics limited series 300 or the 2006 Zack Snyder film which followed. Starring Gerard Butler (How To Train Your Dragon), Lena Headey (Dredd), Dominic West (Tomb Raider), Michael Fassbender (Frank), Rodrigo Santoro (Project Power), and more, Snyder’s 300 would do more than inspire an endless series of “This is Sparta!” memes, it would perfectly translate the images on the comic page in a way that hadn’t been done before, capturing the hyper-realism in a way that proved emotional at the same time. For the first time on 4K UHD, you can experience Snyder’s 300 anew with enhanced picture and sound as you go back to the beginning of a run of films that would herald Snyder’s burgeoning legacy.

Gerard Butler as King Leonidas in 300.

Faced with the choice of fealty or death from Persian conqueror Xerxes (Santoro), King Leonidas (Butler) tries to convince the leadership to go to war, but is halted by the upcoming Carnea, a traditional festival that prevents any war from taking place during it. Lacking the support he needs to enlist the entire Spartan army, Leonidas takes 300 men to a tactical location where they may halt, or at the least slow, Xerxes’s advancement on Sparta. With the help of other Greeks, Leonidas and his men take down wave after wave of soldiers, but their numbers are few and a glorious death is all but inevitable.

Prior to 300, comic book movies straddled a line between the source material and the real world. Blade (1998), X-Men (2000), Batman (1989), Tank Girl (1995) each had one leg in the two worlds, requiring them to attend to two masters. The closest a film likely go to its source material was, perhaps, Dick Tracy (1990), which felt as pulpy as the classic serial, with colors, design, and performances to match. With 300, it was as though Snyder literally lifted pages from the limited series and animated them. At the time, it felt revolutionary. Now, though, with his take on both Watchmen and the DC Comics trinity out for consumption, 300 feels a tad archaic and looks that way with the HDR improvements.

Let me explain:

As I’ve discussed with other WB 4K UHD releases, the quality of the picture has more to do with the source than it does when the film was released. To get the best 4K UHD experience, the source should either have been shot on 35mm or should possess a small number of digital elements as those digital elements are harder to upgrade to 4K. On the plus side, 300 was shot on Kodak Vision2 35mm. On the negative side, the 35mm was finished via a 2K digital intermediate. This means that the film was run through a digitizing process to manipulate color and other characteristics. If you’ve seen 300, you know that it contains dark blacks, blood reds, amber golds, and muddy browns, each of which are amplified to give the sense of a classic tale that’s grown visibly older with time. Because of this digital treatment to create the compelling aesthetic, the 4K UHD picture harbors an excess of visible artifacting. The once pristine image is host to so much discernible distortion that there are few scenes in which the HDR appears to enhance the experience. At its best, as in the scene where the 300 take on Xerxes’s immortals, the nighttime sequence has the inky blacks HDR offers, the masks of the immortals are a shiny silver, and the helmets of the Spartans are a soft bronze. But as the immortals march up the path, the artifacting is visible on the skin of the monster-man they lead via chains among them. In close-ups or in scenes where digital effects are limited, the picture is unspoiled and engrossing. Because moments like these are few, the rest of the picture is difficult to engage with. Curious as to whether this was a common occurrence or not, I played the accompanying Blu-ray in both the same unit as the 4K UHD disc (4K LG with Xbox X player) and tried it in a separate unit (Panasonic Plasma with Panasonic Blu-ray player) and the distortion was present as well, just less obvious. I say this as someone who has owned 300 in every format it’s been released in and who still thinks the HD-DVD release remains unmatched in both sound and image quality, the film is absolutely still a banger, just as much fun in 2020 as it was in 2006, even if the visual element isn’t as strong in this release.

The sound, however, is an entirely different story.

The press release from Warner Brothers states that, “Dolby Atmos soundtrack remixed specifically for the home theater environment to place and move audio anywhere in the room, including overhead.” While our home theater does not have Atmos, the mix is vastly improved from the Blu-ray. Tyler Bates’s fantastic score (listening to it on CD as I write this, actually) doesn’t just play, it wraps you up in its notes. The dialogue is clear and the action never overtakes in any way that would disturb understanding. Whether it’s the arrows slinging down to force the Spartans to fight in the shade or the explosions of bombs from Xerxes’s mystics, you’ll feel totally wrapped up in the sound. So if you have an upgraded system that can handle Atmos, I can only imagine what kind of treat you’re in for.

For a first-time 4K UHD release, 300 is a bit of a mixed bag. The sound is incredible, creating a truly immersive experience, except that the visual element isn’t as evenly mixed. Considering the amount of green screen Snyder used to create this Grecian epic, it’s not too surprisingly that the upgrade to 4K can’t display an unspoiled image. Combine this with over three hours of bonus features available on other releases and it may be worth waiting on a sale before snagging this one.

300 4K UHD Special Features

  • Commentary with director/co-writer Zack Snyder, co-writer Kurt Johnstad and director of photography Larry Fong

300 Blu-ray and digital Special Features

  • Commentary with director/co-writer Zack Snyder, co-writer Kurt Johnstad and director of photography Larry Fong
  • The 300: Fact or Fiction
  • Who Were the Partans? The Warriors of 300
  • Preparing for Battle: The Original Test Footage
  • The Frank Miller Tapes
  • Making of 300
  • Making 300 in Images
  • Webisode: Production Design
  • Webisode: Wardrobe
  • Webisode: Stunt Work
  • Webisode: Lena Headey
  • Webisode: Adapting the Graphic Novel
  • Webisode: Gerard Butler
  • Webisode: Rodrigo Santoro
  • Webisode: Training the Actors
  • Webisode: Culture of the Sparta City/State
  • Webisode: A Glimpse from the Set: Making 300
  • Webisode: Scene Studies from 300
  • Webisode: Fantastic Characters of 300
  • Deleted Scenes with introduction by Zack Snyder

Available on 4K UHD/Blu-ray Combo Pack and digital October 6th, 2020.

Categories: Home Release, Home Video, Recommendation, Reviews, streaming

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: