HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: 300 Spartans
HTS Overall Score:63
Before “300’s” blood soaked arrival to the silver screen, Hollywood has already recounted the tale of King Leonidas and his 300 Spartan warriors who defied an army numbered (by modern estimations) over 250,000 strong. The Battle of Thermopylae is a story of legend, and one that has been told for generations, adding on more and more heroic feats as the story gets told, retold and retold again. There is nothing more exciting than an underdog, whether it be in sports or on the battlefield, where a small force stands brave, against all odds and ends up defending against a superior force. We all know the tale of Leonidas, and others of his ilk. Horatio at the bridge with 2 men, taking an entire force with that limited space to pass, giving his life for the cause. Leonidas is famed for pulling the exact same stunt, guarding a narrow pass at Thermopylae with only 300 Spartans along with a thousand or so other Greeks against the might of King Xerxes (Ahasueres) and his mercenary army. 300 Spartans is a bit of a hit or miss title, losing some of the sheer pulse pounding action of 300 and tends to wade heavily in that sort of 1960s epic cheese that was prevalent in that day and age. A decent film, it’s nothing great, seen a bit as archaic and cheesy in our modern day storytelling.
We know the outcome, King Leonidas is going to die along with all of his men, but in some ways this makes it all the more exciting, anticipating that inevitable demise, admiring these brave men for walking into what is known as certain death and still wishing that it had gone the other way.
King Xerxes (David Farrar) of Persia, is bent on conquering the known world, enslaving nations to his will and inscripting men into his enormous army. Taking over all of the Asian known world, he has now set his eyes on the city states of Greece. Seeking a quick and easy victory the overconfident Xerxes marches upon Greece with an army that would make even the bravest Grecian tremble in fear. Realizing that unity is the only way to survive, Themistocles of Athens and King Leonidas (Richard Egan) do all they can to unite the Greek city states and put forth a force than can save their endangered people. The only problem is that the other city states are looking to Sparta to make the first move. Spartans are known to be the most ferocious warriors alive and without their lead, the rest don’t want to fall into line. Leonidas promises the other city states that he will move as quickly as possible, but has to return home and seek the council of his elected officers. Once home he realizes that the beaurocrats are too worried about religious festivals and protecting Spartan interests to be of any effect. Since he can’t force the army to movie without the elected officials granting approval, King Leonidas moves out with just his own 300 man bodyguard unit, hoping to kick start the rest of Sparta into following.
Heading for Thermopylae, the hardened warriors hope to stop Xerxes long enough for the rest of Greece to unite behind them and give them the time they need to set up a proper ambush of the Grecian fleet. Once in place Leonidas repels wave after wave of Xerxes men, sending them to their doom while thumbing their noses at the enormous army. Shocked that such a force could repel his army, Xerxes finally becomes frustrated and sets off to withdraw and raise a new army back home. However, just before they are about to leave, a Greek traitor shows the Persians a small goat path, that leads behind the pass and allows for the fleet to pin Leonidas and his men in the pass, effectively clearing a way.
Most tales of the battle are fairly fictionalized, and this is no different, but in varying degrees. It was known that Leonidas and his men DID hold the pass, and that a group of Spartans did invade Xerxes camp in an attempt to off the king and cut the problem off at the roots, but there is certainly PLENTY of Hollywood fingers in the pie. The romance between our young lovers in the film was most certainly a tale of fiction and I chuckle at the civility of the Spartan people represented. The Spartans were famous for being an extremely brutal and harsh people, stripping their citizens of any thought of peace, but focused on a life of extreme training, denial of comforts and the brutal treatment of outsiders. If you weren’t able to fight you were considered an outcast where you would be fed to wolves or torn apart as sport by the more adept citizens. Here we see a group of stoic warriors who are more than happy to be chummy with each other and have this extremely patriotic Hollywood smile at all times. While it’s nice to think of them as civilized, kind people who just are tough, it’s kind of jarring when you realize just what sort of people they really were. The real historical nuances that stand out are the little details that went into the film. The Spartans were known for their incredible marching speed and here you see the wear of tear that the group goes through as they try with all their might to get to the pass before Xerxes. The men are haggard, worn and tired, they barely can get there in time. Also there are some great Chariot scenes as Xerxes tries, and fails, to throw his superior forces against the narrow pass. Lastly I really appreciated that as the movie passes, the shields and clothing of the Spartan soldiers slowly deteriorates, the shields becoming dented and misshapen as the battle continues etc.
Richard Egan does a great job of portraying the next to perfect Leonidas, but the rest of the acting is a bit over the top and seems wooden and forced at times, indicative of that 1960’s “epic” film making style similar to Cleopatra and Ben Hur, just with a much smaller budget, and lesser actors. While it’s a watchable film, and definitely good for a rental, the film just is more a curiosity of its time rather than a film that will stand the test of the ages and be hailed a “classic”.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=14887[/img]The 2.35:1 AVC encode for “300 Spartans” is a decent upgrade over its DVD counterpart. There’s some good and bad parts of the master, but overall it looks pretty decent. There’s a nice layer of film grain covering the entire film, giving us a nice natural image most of the time with rich reds that saturate the entire screen. Sometimes the colors look a tad boosted, so much so that the reds almost appear orange and OVER saturated. Skin tones are modest and look natural, with that pinkish hue that was so commonly used back in the day. There’s some significant softness in the first 15 minutes of the film, but that clears up later on to give us a fairly clean picture. It’s obvious and older and dated master was used, but there doesn’t appear to be an significant use of DNR or other digital tampering, but rather just an old master that didn’t have a lot of restoration put into it. Still fans of the movie will be pleased with the upgrade.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=14888[/img]The 1.0 DTS-HD MA mono track is very good, considering that it is only one channel. As a result we don’t get a whole lot of immersion or use of any LFE whatsoever. There are no major pops, hisses, or flaws in the recording and the vocals are crisp and clear in the single channel that is used. It’s a clean release that really is just limited by its recording more than anything. If you go in with the expectation that you are listening to a mono track you won’t be disappointed.
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“300 Spartans” is at its core, an old fashioned B movie. Even in it day it was never a big budget event and seems even more archaic with modern effects. Still there is a sense of Hollywood cheese that was part of the time and for fans of the genre it’s certainly worth a rental. Unfortunately it’s never a “so bad it’s good” film, nor even a really BAD film at all, rather it’s a relic of its time, albeit an extremely watchable relic. I honestly wouldn’t ever revisit it again, but it was well worth the watch just to see David Farrar play it up as the indomitable Xerxes
Starring: Richard Egan, David Farrar
Directed by: Rudolph Maté
Written by: Gian Paolo Callegari, Remigio Del Grosso
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 1.0, Spanish DD Mono, German DTS-HD MA Mono
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 113 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: February 25th, 2014
Buy 300 Spartans Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Rent It
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