The legendarily heroic stand of the Greeks against the Persians at Thermopylae made for one of this century’s more stirring epic films in 300, but Rudoplh Maté’s 1962 effort The 300 Spartans got there first. Unlike the stylized, graphic novelized look of Zack Synder’s film, The 300 Spartans has a cleaner, more generic look of a Hollywood film of its era (though filmed in Greece). But despite some wrongheaded ideas in writing the script and some major casting snafus, the emotional wallop of the bravery and sacrifice of the extraordinarily brave men of the story still comes through brazenly well.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HDMA (Mono), Spanish 1.0 DD (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 54 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 02/25/2014
When the Persian emperor Xerxes (David Farrar) decides in 480 B.C. that he wants to conquer the known world to his west, he heads with an indomitable army of 13,000 expecting little resistance since the Greeks at this time were too busy in their own civil disputes among their various city states to bother uniting against a common enemy. Sparta’s King Leonidas (Richard Egan) and Athens’ commander Themistocles (Sir Ralph Richardson) agree the attack will be a perfect opportunity to bring the country together to defend itself against this horde who will turn them all into slaves if successful. But Sparta is in the midst of a celebration honoring the gods, and the city fathers refuse to allow the army to participate until after the festival. Knowing the Persians are already on the way, Leonidas takes his honor guard of three hundred men to defend the only path to Greece at Thermopylae hoping that with Themistocles guarding his flank at the sea and the additional troops promised later, he can hold off the overwhelming force at their doorstep.
The Production Rating: 3/5
In trying to be all things to all moviegoers, screenwriter George St. George tries to offer both some thrilling battle scenes for the male patrons along with a sappy love story subplot for the ladies involving Diane Baker’s Ellas and Barry Coe’s Pylon in scenes that take the viewer completely away from the life and death struggles of the film’s main narrative. (The writer and director Rudolph Maté also take every opportunity to work women into the film with Xerxes’ wife Artemisa (Anne Wakefield) in several scenes and Leonidas’ wife Gorgo (Anna Synodinou) also present along with an array of alluring dancing girls who entertain Xerxes in the evening, all of whom seem out of place and unnecessary). The characters and conflict take a longer than usual period of time to set up, so that when the first face-off between the opposing forces finally occurs, the film has less than forty minutes left to run. Maté does a pretty fair job showing the clever ways this tiny band of men thwart the Persians in three different attacks (different elevated camera angles might have provided even better vantage points, however) though the remainder of the film isn’t directed in a particularly distinguished way. Still the courage and sacrifice of these valiant warriors never ceases to move and inspire. The film does manage to celebrate their valor despite all of the other interruptions and distractions writer St. George has added to the story.
Geographically, the accents are all over the place among members of the cast, so there is no commonality in speech patterns. With a rugged, commanding actor like Richard Egan, his American accent doesn’t pose much of a problem as the courageous king of Sparta though both Barry Coe and Diane Baker as the Spartan lovebirds seem to have wandered into ancient Greece from a Malibu beach party, both actors being terribly miscast and somewhat embarrassing. Ralph Richardson also does a first-rate job as the brainy, calculating Themistocles of Athens, and David Farrar as the confounded Xerxes gets to act blustery and flustered alternately to nice effect. The two queens of the film acted by Anne Wakefield (Persia) and Anna Synodinou (Sparta) are neither very convincing, and both seem rather stiff and uncomfortable in their regal robes. Much better are Laurence Naismith as a Spartan leader who refuses to allow the festival to be disrupted, Ivan Triesault as a Spartan who stands at the right hand of Xerxes and advises him of his countrymen’s courage and conviction, and Donald Houston as Leonidas’ daring right-hand man.
The film’s 2.35:1 Cinemascope theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The transfer is wonderfully clean and free from any age-related artifacts. Sharpness is generally excellent, and color is reliably solid with reds being particularly vivid without any blooming. Flesh tones appear quite natural. Black levels are fine, and contrast is admirably consistent. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound mix is fine and fairly typical for its era even if one misses all of the missed opportunities a more enveloping surround track might have offered. Dialogue is always easily understood, and sound effects and the bold music of Manos Hadjidakis never interfere with making everything that’s being said discernible.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Theatrical Trailers (2:37, SD): the original theatrical trailer in both English and Spanish is offered in separate entries.
Special Features Rating: 1.5/5
TV Spot Ads (1:38, SD): three separate TV ads can be watched individually or together.
The 300 Spartans is certainly no classic, but it manages to tell the true story of heroism in the face of certain annihilation with a decent amount of honor and celebration. The Blu-ray release is an excellent representation of this oft-forgotten 1962 film.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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