Inspired by the 1962 Cinemascope epic The 300 Spartans that he saw as a lad, writer/artist Frank Miller would go on to create the five-issue graphic novel 300, a wildly stylized, heavily fictionalized account of the Battle of Thermopylae. In his telling, full of indelible images and gruesome violence, the historical events of brave King Leonidas and his 15-score soldiers' resistance against an innumerable horde are elevated to nigh-mythological status. Led by the self-proclaimed god-king Xerxes, Persia was mercilessly conquering much of the world, but the willful Spartans, still renowned as the greatest warriors ever, dared to stand their ground.


Filmmaker Zack Snyder proved to be more than capable of adapting this unique work, successfully immersing audiences for two hours in an ancient Greece that never was. He made the smart move to trust the source material, relying heavily on Miller's gorgeous artwork, distinctively colored by his longtime partner Lynn Varley, to yield cinematic visuals unlike anything seen before. The screenplay by Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, and Michael B. Gordon humanizes the heroic Spartans, curtailing their brutality while also adding a "meanwhile, back home..." political subplot to provide grander context.

Despite his uncanny gift for infusing static comic book panels with a sense of kinetic action, Miller didn't need to worry about depicting convincing fighting styles in his graphic novels. Consequently, the film's cadre of buff actors was tasked portray a variety of thrilling combat techniques, largely with sword and spear, but most importantly with palpable ferocity. Ultimately, 300 is about the absolute refusal to compromise and the staunch determination to fight for one's core beliefs. It's a tale that challenges the notion of how "victory" is measured.


The film's unique look combines live-action Super 35mm photography with a vast amount of digitally generated characters and locations. Inescapable film grain and some video noise linger, even while clarity and overall nuance has been enhanced in this upscaled-to-4K presentation for the movie's Ultra HD debut. Depth of field is impressive, with discrete layers of focus. The famous rain of Persian arrows has never looked better, although some compositing outlines are now more pronounced as well. In rare instances, a mild flicker can also appear on slow panning shots. Blacks are appropriately inky, while shadows lack detail due to a deliberate crush applied in post-production to more faithfully represent Miller's renderings. High dynamic range adds some extra zing to campfires and such, while the color grading does wonders for the painstakingly manipulated 2.39:1 picture. The crimson Spartan cloaks exhibit a subtly renewed punch, though I'd forgotten how much of the movie is ratcheted down to near-monochromatic levels, spared by just the slightest tint of yellow in the eyes of the wolf that would make a meal of young Leonidas.

Zounds! The new immersive Atmos mix (with TrueHD 7.1 core) for 300 hits you like a Spartan shield to the gut from the very beginning and seldom relents. Aggressive hard surrounds dominate the mix with frequent use of overhead effects, and the subwoofer channel barely gets a respite. As a result, our pulse stays high, as if the battle could resume at any moment, which of course it does. But behind all that bombast is tremendous care: natural echoes hang in the air, random voices resound in the council chamber, and muttered lines of incidental dialogue are laid plain. Tyler Bates' booming musical score also benefits from clear separation to display newfound verve.


The well-rounded legacy audio commentary by director Snyder, Johnstad, and cinematographer Larry Fong appears on the 4K platter. Curiously, the included regular Blu-ray version is in fact the first-ever disc from 2007, with the original A/V master and a limited selection of bonus content relative to the superior 2009 "Complete Experience" edition, so hang onto that one if you happen to have it. There are no new extras, but the uptick in video quality and dramatic Atmos audio renovation make this new 300 version a worthy addition to your home theater demo arsenal.

STUDIO: Warner, 2007
AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby Atmos with TrueHD 7.1 core
LENGTH: 117 mins.
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
STARRING: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, Michael Fassbender, Rodrigo Santoro, David Wenham