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David Padrusch
Writing Credits:
Matt Koed, David Padrusch

The legendary battle of Thermopylae is still acknowledged today for its brilliant military maneuvers and the well-trained and fearless soldiers who fought to the death. The History Channel® presents a detailed account of this legendary battle, examining the events leading up to the conflict, the tactical expertise that allowed the outnumbered Greeks to stall their mighty foes, and the bloody encounter itself. Find out how an army of a few hundred men overcame impossible odds and witness the conflict that altered the course of Western civilization.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.78:1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 91 min.
Price: $19.95
Release Date: 7/31/2007

• None


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Last Stand Of The 300 (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 20, 2007)

When a hit movie based on historical events appears, we inevitably get a rash of related programs. In the wake of 300’s blockbuster success, we get a History Channel production called Last Stand of the 300. This takes us back to 480 BC to examine the Battle of Thermopylae.

King Xerxes rules the Persian Empire and its massive fighting force. Xerxes plans an invasion of Greece. This takes his army to Thermopylae, the pass where the Greeks plan to stage their resistance. Though outnumbered about 50 to one, the Greeks use strategies to better even the odds. Led by Spartan King Leonidas, he takes his soldiers against the Persians. We also see the part played by the Greek navy and other aspects of the legendary battles along with history that teaches us about the Spartan society.

Stand uses a variety of techniques to tell its tale. We see dramatic reenactments of events, all shot to resemble 300, of course. We also get narration, computer-generated illustrations, and interviews. The participants include Empires at War author Dr. Richard A. Gabriel, Saint Anselm College assistant professor Dr. Matthew Gonzales, archaeologist Dr. David George, Gates of Fire author Steven Pressfield, lecturer in classics Dr. Linda Rulman, and Western Connecticut State University Chair of Hellenic Studies Dr. Guy MacLean Rogers.

Good things first: Stand tells the tale of its subject very well. It gets into the important sides of the battles and backs them up with solid information. We don’t just discover notes about the events themselves. Instead, Stand digs into background elements to flesh out the topics.

This means a lot of useful subtext. We hear about the lifelong training endured by Spartan boys as well as biographies for participants like Xerxes and Leonidas. Stand offers a broad view of the issues and throws out enough information and depth to make this a rich examination.

The various participants all certainly seem to know their stuff. Though they’re mostly the usual gang of middle-aged white men, they bring enthusiasm to their comments and make sure that the “talking head” bits aren’t dull. They add lots of good details and do so in a positive manner.

On the negative side, the presentation of Stand leaves a lot to be desired. While I appreciate the desire to avoid a stiff collection of “talking head” shots, Stand makes a mistake and goes too far in the other direction. This becomes a rather hyperactive production that assaults us with multimedia elements, many of which attempt to emulate the visuals of 300.

The biggest annoyance comes from the producers’ refusal to let any moment pass without lots of audio. Music and effects attack us at all times and become awfully distracting. They usually remain in the background, so they don’t prevent us from hearing the necessary information. However, their constant presence means that they get on our nerves.

Those aspects of Stand contribute to the program’s aggressive nature. I get the feeling that those behind the documentary feel they need to take an approach as over the top as the movie 300 to maintain our interest. That’s not true, and the approach actively detracts from the information. The whole thing comes across as so overwrought and excessively dramatic that it takes away from the facts.

The frequent use of historical reenactments is more of a mixed bag. On one hand, I like the attempts to “bring history to life” with these visual elements, as they present a more involving visual representation of the material. Again, it’s good that Stand doesn’t stick us with a bland style.

However, the quality of the reenactments seems less than stellar. The actors come across as hammy and broad, so their scenes often generate more laughs than drama. The quality of the computer visuals also appears pretty low rent. Obviously I don’t expect feature film quality CGI from a cable documentary, but the flaws of the graphics make them a distraction. Their simplicity means that they can be a little goofy.

These problems make Last Stand of the 300 something of a mixed bag, but I come away from it with a positive impression. I think it needs to rein in its visual and auditory excesses, as they detract more than they help. However, the show offers a fine examination of its subjects and gives us a solid overview. We learn a lot in this consistently interesting program.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio C+/ Bonus F

Last Stand of the 300 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Due to its videotaped origins and lack of anamorphic enhancement, Stand offered an erratic presentation, but it generally seemed satisfactory.

Since most of the movie focused on close-ups, the majority of the came across as fairly well-defined. However, shots that broadened out from there seemed less solid. Some of the wider images presented moderately weak delineation and clarity. I noticed examples of light jaggies, shimmering and edge enhancement. Other than some video artifacting in low-light shots, the image seemed free from source defects.

Colors generally looked somewhat heavy. The show often went with stylized tones that favored one hue per scene. Sometimes blues or greens would dominate, but reds were the most frequent images. The colors weren’t distracting, but they lacked much firmness. Black levels were a little thin but usually seemed acceptably deep. Low-light images were a bit iffier, as they usually looked somewhat dense. The visuals of Stand were mediocre but acceptable.

As for the Dolby Surround 2.0 audio of Last Stand of the 300, it presented a surprisingly active affair. Music showed pretty good stereo imaging, and the somewhat hyperactive mix added a fair amount of effects from the sides and surrounds. These tended to be somewhat vague in terms of definition, as they acted more to spice up the show’s feel and not depict particular events. We got elements like thunder and lightning to attempt drama. This meant the effects didn’t usually show great localization, but they broadened the mix in a decent manner.

Audio quality was fine. Speech was the most important element, and the interviews and narration always sounded natural and concise. Music was ever present but stayed in the background. Within those parameters, the score seemed lively and clear. Effects showed decent range and offered reasonable accuracy. This wasn’t a killer mix, but it seemed fine for what it attempted.

No extras appear on the DVD. I guess that makes sense since this is the kind of program we’d usually find as a supplement on a movie release, but it still would’ve been nice to find something additional here.

After the cartoony excess of 300, the factual examination in Last Stand of the 300 proves valuable. Due to a hyperactive visual and auditory style, the documentary occasionally loses effectiveness, but the quality of the information on display makes it worthwhile. The DVD offers average picture and good audio but lacks any extras. With an MSRP of $19.95, Stand is a little pricey for what it offers, but it’s a good program that at least deserves a rental.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6363 Stars Number of Votes: 22
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