300: Rise of an Empire

In true comic book (excuse me, graphic novel ) fashion, Rise of an Empire presents the “origin” of the evil god-king of Persia and his hatred of all things Greek. Set ten years before the Battle of Thermopylae, this wild prologue is very much in the wheelhouse of writer/artist Frank Miller, whose as-yet-unreleased Xerxes comic provides the basis for this follow-up to the epic 300. A great Athenian warrior named Themistokles sets this dark destiny in motion, and we leap forward a decade to the resulting Persian invasion of Greece. An older Themistokles takes to the seas to stand against Xerxes’ overwhelming naval forces, as led by the savage, mysterious Artemisia, their deadly clashes concurrent with the legendary sacrifice of King Leonidas and his brave fifteen-score Spartans.

914300.box.jpgThe virtue of the Athenians seems almost quaint alongside the consummate badassery of the Spartans, and so this sequel/prequel lacks the testosterone overload of its predecessor. Stylistically, it is similar, with its lengthy, uninterrupted shots of violent variable-speed action. The bigger budget and seven years of advances in special effects are also evident in the more ambitious scale of it all. This movie was captured digitally, here displaying an impressively clear 2.4:1 image. Abundant tiny sparks or specks of lint waft through the air in many scenes, adding an almost hyperreal sense of depth. (Warner has also released a converted 3D version, but it was unavailable to us at press time.) Faux water droplets on the lens in many of the seafaring scenes also serve to impart verisimilitude. The subdued color palette is consistent and intriguing, although the blacks are somewhat flat throughout.

As we would expect from a lavish over-the-top spectacle, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is extremely aggressive, particularly in the surrounds, full of bloodthirsty throngs, crashing waves, and the creaking of wooden ships. The generous bass shook my walls, while the multichannel whiz of a flying arrow is brilliantly executed. The music also showed outstanding definition and a thoughtful mix across the speakers. Set free with sufficient volume, this movie’s sonics will thrill viewers with the scope and ferocity of ancient warfare.

A DVD and an UltraViolet HD Digital Copy are included, along with eight behind-the-scenes featurettes. These range from historical discussion to the physical preparation undertaken by the actors, but they are largely of the talking heads/B-roll variety, seldom probing much below the surface.

Studio: Warner Bros., 2014
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
Length: 103 mins.
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Noam Murro
Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Rodrigo Santoro