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300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Review

300: Rise of an Empire (2014) movie poster 300: Rise of an Empire

Theatrical Release: March 7, 2014 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Noam Murro / Writers: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad (screenplay); Frank Miller (graphic novel Xerxes)

Cast: Sullivan Stapleton (Themistokles), Eva Green (Artemisia), Lena Headey (Queen Gorgo), Hans Matheson (Aeskylos), Callan Mulvey (Scyllias), David Wenham (Dilios), Rodrigo Santoro (Xerxes), Jack O'Connell (Calisto), Andrew Tiernan (Ephialtes of Trachis), Igal Naor (King Darius), Andrew Pleavin (Daxos)

Own "300: Rise of an Empire" on Blu-ray 3D combo pack, Blu-ray combo pack, 2-disc DVD special edition and Digital HD on 6/24
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In 2007, 300 surprised many, myself included, with its ability to win over far more than just the fickle fanboy demographic for which it seem intended. Grossing $211 million domestically and over $450 M worldwide, it was a bona fide blockbuster and one no one really foresaw from a medium-budgeted March release. The success of that film has given us a lot more of its writer-director Zack Snyder,
who has since weathered a trio of high-profile commercial setbacks to take the reins of Warner Bros. and DC's biggest franchise, the Superman reboot Man of Steel whose 2016 sequel will also feature Batman. This year, Snyder's name-making action film finally spawned a follow-up in 300: Rise of an Empire, which employs him as a writer and producer.

Rise of an Empire stands as something of a midquel, existing to the side of the original film with a chronology that predates and succeeds it. Our attentions here are fixed on the ancient Greeks and Persians. Greek leader Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) dreams of a unified Greece, but for now he can only worry about waging war with Persia, whose forces greatly outnumber his own. Persia is seeking retribution for the film's opening conflict, set ten years earlier, in which Themistokles himself slung the arrow that killed King Darius (Igal Naor). The ruler's dying warning to his son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro, reprising his role) is twisted into a challenge by Artemisia (Eva Green), a Greek by birth who has blossomed into an unrivaled Persian general.

While Xerxes reinvents himself as a golden god-king, shedding his humanity and hair, Artemisia commands Persia's forces to attack the Greeks, who are unable to secure any allies. A cunning strategist, Themistokles exploits the weaknesses of Persia's fleet and quickly grabs the attention of Artemisia, who asks him to join her side, to no avail. The dynamics of the war change with news of the Spartans' slaughter after a hunchback betrayed Leonidas.

Opposing generals Artemisia (Eva Green) and Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) engage in a standoff that leads to passion in "300: Rise of an Empire."

Producers and studios are increasingly thinking outside the box when hiring filmmakers to helm big movies, but Noam Murro may just be the least likely selection yet. Prior to this, Murro had directed just one film -- the 2008 Miramax indie Smart People, at that -- and a slew of commercials. Nonetheless, he does a perfectly adequate job of filling Snyder's shoes. Rise's story may not resonate with the public to the degree that the original 300's did, but it is cut from the same cloth. Murro shows no interest in messing with what's already worked, so he relies heavily on stylized, extremely violent action, sometimes unfolding in slow motion. As a product of 2014, there is a new layer added: 3D, which is used to heighten the outrageous carnage, often splattering unreal amounts of blood in the camera's direction.

Bloodthirsty fans of sword and sandal fare should not be disappointed by the graphic action, which of course includes dismemberment. Those who want a bit more should appreciate that the film does a decent job of establishing and developing characters. Still, plot and personalities will never be the elements that define a 300 movie. In the end, it's about who's killing who and how cool does it look in this CGI-heavy hyperreality.

Domestically, Rise of an Empire grossed a bit over $100 million, purely on the brand name. Without it, would this even have gotten a theatrical release? Then again, can we really question the lack of star power since the original film was released back when Gerard Butler was still a relative nobody? With a production budget of $110 M (almost twice that of the original), the real reason why this film cannot be considered a financial disappointment is because foreign audiences again showed up in droves, contributing to an impressive $331 M worldwide haul.

Sparta's Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) is reluctant to support Themistokles' (Sullivan Stapleton) dream of a unified Greece. Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), whose transformation into a golden god-king is shown here, exerts his authority over Persia.

Australian actor Stapleton, who's fairly flavorless in the lead role, would probably be lucky to enjoy an American career on the order of Butler's spotty track record. On the other hand, Green seems well-suited to this kind of movie,
which requires little nuance and subtlety but a willingness to get naked few leading ladies bring to commercial fare. The role of a stone-cold female commander who uses her sword to both slice an apple and behead a soldier in the same scene would be juicy to any actress of fighting age, but Green sells the ridiculousness of it in striking fashion.

There's no getting around the fact that Rise of an Empire uses high production values on low art. I'm still astounded that anyone could adopt a film so gruesome and tough as the original as a favorite and yet its 7.8 IMDb rating and 11.8 million Facebook fans show there are plenty of people who have done just that. My opinion of the original lowered my expectations and thus influenced my apathy to this one. At least Rise is fast moving (end credits start at the 93-minute mark, which seems to arrive quicker than that) and easier to endure than its extreme predecessor.

Rise of an Empire is now available from Warner Home Video in a 2-Disc Special Edition DVD, two-disc Blu-ray combo pack, and the 3-disc Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet set reviewed here.

300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: 7.1 DTS HD-MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French; BD-only: Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: June 24, 2014
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (2 BD-50s & 1 DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $44.95
Blue Keepcase in Lenticular Slipcover
Also available as Blu-ray Combo Pack ($35.99 SRP),
Two-Disc Special Edition DVD ($28.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video


For all its dramatic faults, 300: Rise of an Empire is quite technically sound. The Blu-ray's 2.40:1 visuals are as sharp, sleek, and spotless as you expect 2014 digital video to be. Far more impressive, though, is the film's potent 7.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack. Regularly active from all directions, this is a very satisfying film aurally.

An historic rendering of Themistokles is one of several ways in which the bonus features pay notice to the movie's historical basis. Believe it or not, "Taking the Battle to Sea" didn't involve filming on water.


The standard Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with The 300 Effect, a series of four behind-the-scenes featurettes.

"3 Days in Hell" (7:08) addresses the supporting cast and incidents carried over from the first film, most of which I doubt you'll notice unless you've seen 300 recently. "Brutal Artistry" (9:08) covers staying true to the original film's look but adding to it, from visuals to sets and costumes. "A New Breed of Hero" (4:49) analyzes the character of Themistokles. "Taking the Battle to Sea" (8:52) comments on the visual effects needed to make it look like scenes were filmed on water.

Three subsequent supplements are labeled featurettes.

"Real Leaders & Legends" (22:52) gets historians to vouch for the presentation, discussing what we know about this ancient world and some liberties taken in the 300 films. I doubt that history buffs are a big portion of the film's audience, but those who are should enjoy.

Lena Headey's Queen Gorgo is one of the film's two "Women Warriors" celebrated. Men train for "300: Rise of an Empire" in "Becoming a Warrior."

"Women Warriors" (12:22) considers the role of women in the film, analyzing the two lead female characters and explaining how the depictions are true in spirit to ancient Greek lore.

"Savage Warships" (10:36) looks at the warriors' vessels in terms of production design, history, and research.


behind-the-scenes short "Becoming a Warrior" (4:39) touches on the cast's physical training with looks at the fat-burning, muscle-building gym work.

Pet peeve: the liberally-excerpted original film is always identified as "300 (2006)", but I say that a single Austin Butt-Numb-a-Thon screening does not a 2006 release make.

It's a good thing that all of these extras are also available on DVD at a time when many studios give short shrift to the by far still more popular home video format, but that they do so in one of Warner's Two-Disc Special Editions means that no extras accompany the film on the DVD included here alongside the two Blu-rays.

The standard Blu-ray opens with an UltraViolet promo and a now premature Jupiter Ascending trailer. The DVD follows those with trailers for Edge of Tomorrow, Transcendence, and the video game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

The rare Warner film to warrant an animated menu, Rise of an Empire gets a montage identifying its two lead characters atop blood splatters. The Blu-rays resume playback like a DVD.

The standard blue keepcase is topped by a nifty lenticular slipcover giving you three different stages of a Themistokles move as you turn it. Your Digital HD UltraViolet insert is the only joining the three understated discs inside.

If you're not into shirtless men and blood, "300" may not be the film series for you.


300: Rise of an Empire isn't as disarmingly awful as its predecessor, but it still doesn't make a strong case for this brand of extremely violent action film to exist. Warner's Blu-ray 3D combo pack offers dazzling picture, even better sound, and over an hour of substantial bonus features. Nonetheless, that only goes so far when the movie is too shallow and gory to recommend.

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Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack / Blu-ray Combo Pack / 2-Disc DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Spartacus: Blood and Sand - The Complete First Season • Spartacus: Gods of the Arena • Drive • Dragon
Sullivan Stapleton: Gangster Squad • Animal Kingdom | Eva Green: Camelot: The Complete First Season • Dark Shadows
Lena Headey: The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box • The Brothers Grimm • Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book
David Wenham: Australia | Rodrigo Santoro: I Love You Phillip Morris | Hans Matheson: Sherlock Holmes • Les Misιrables (1998)
From Director Noam Murro: Smart People | Directed by Writer/Producer Zack Snyder: Man of Steel
New: Pompeii • Winter's Tale • Parts Per Billion • The Lego Movie • 25th Hour & He Got Game

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Reviewed June 25, 2014.

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