Heavily marketed with digitally glowing trailers in dramatic slow motion, is the latest of writer Frank Miller‘s graphic novels to become a film. Like Robert Rodriguez did with his adaptation of Miller’s graphic novel “Sin City”, so does director Zack Snyder turn to virtual stages and generous digital effects to transfer the drawn page of the comic into live action. For the most part, the setting and characters of Miller’s work transfer well and while the film does suffer from more than a touch of self-indulgence, the method of delivery works well for the stylized, hyper-reality of this historical retelling.
Based upon the actual historical Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., “300” tells the story from the perspective of Greek King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) who leads his three hundred Spartans against the Persian army numbering in the millions. Commanding the Persian army is Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), decked out in jewellery and piercings, digitally giant-sized and given a suitably imposing voice. In the city of Sparta, Lenonidas’ wife Queen Gorgo (Lena Headley) attempts to rally the city’s loyalists (personified by Stephen McHattie) to aid her husband’s brave Spartans, but must contend with the machinations of the underhanded Theron (Dominic West).
Narrated throughout with the voice of Dilios (David Wenham), the script wastes no time in setting the characters of “300.” The Spartans are shown as the fiercest warriors that ever lived and Leonidas’ upbringing is told with a montage of battles and solitary survival until he grows into a man. The story then begins with Persian emissaries demanding the surrender of Sparta and the Greeks. Naturally, King Leonidas refuses to surrender his city and the war begins. The film adaptation of “300” resembles more than a little “Lord of the Rings” and “Gladiator”, using plentiful digital grading like the former and a score like that of the latter. However, “300” is clearly an action epic and spends more time in battle than on any other element of the story. Featuring numerous bloody brawls and countless vicious deaths, “300” is a strong action film and stays well within the genre.
Some very well choreographed and exciting battles give a good account of “300,” leaving not a fan unsatisfied. Zack Snyder directs his actors well in one brutal conflict after another as the Spartans fight with spear and shield, sword and fist against hordes of enemies. Blood flows freely and limbs fly aplenty, much of which is shown in either slow motion or speed ramped to give a sense of gravity and inertia. The technique can feel excessive at times, but with so much excitement put into each scene, it’s hard to ignore the visceral thrills to be had. Upping the ante for every battle, “300” takes a step even beyond the mythical and into the magical when the Spartans oppose increasingly non-human enemies more properly categorized as monsters than even the most bestial human.
Aside from the action, “300” includes some minor stories linked to the battle of Thermopylae. King Leonidis rejects a disfigured wannabe warrior named Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan in heavy costume and makeup) who, upon feeling shunned, turns to the seductive court of Xerxes which offers the poor soul women and riches to betray the Spartans. Back in Sparta, Queen Gorgo tries her best to convince the Greeks to send aid to her husband. Neither story is all that compelling, but they do allow Snyder the chance to breakup the battles of the film and feature a bit of fan service typical of the action genre.
There can be no mistake that “300” is very over-the-top with both the use of dialogue and the attempts at drama. Sometimes these elements can make the film feel forced while at other times it’s hard to go wrong with a little yelling in the face of a thousand bloodthirsty soldiers. The film functions best as an epic action piece with numerous exciting examples of ancient combat, a formula that works given the large portion of the script devoted to these scenes. The acting ranges from moving to somewhat flat, but most of the actors never break character and even deliver some truly entertaining dialogue at key moments. If there can be a major fault leveled at the film, it’s taking itself ever so seriously and falling just short of the ambitiousness of the production.
This movie is a must-see on the big screen! Of course, you’re likely to liken this film to Gladiator, and other such movies, but “300” director Zack Snyder has delivered genius that’s worth the overpriced admission ticket.
In short, Scot actor Gerard Butler gives a strong performance as Leonidas, King of Sparta, waging an unavoidable war against a malevolent Persia bound for a grisly takeover at whatever cost. Be sure to keep an eye out for Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes – the former model’s transformation into the giant effeminate Persian ruler “who fancies himself a lord” makes him just about unrecognizable.
What makes “300” work is the way in which the relationships between the characters are represented. There is no presupposing your understanding of the intensity the King feels toward his Queen (played by British actress Lena Headley). Neither is there any assumption made about his devotion to his people and their land. The king’s love and loyalty to queen and country are understood for reasons that aren’t ‘just because’ they are his wife and country. They got this flick right because they make you fall in love with his wife and country. You’ll find yourself caring about the characters and, in turn, caring about what they care about.
What’s moving is that from every which way you experience “300”, from the ambient sounds, the scrarily beautiful lighting, and/or the captivating cinematography, the emotion of the unfolding story is expressed in ways that doesn’t take the audience’s empathy for the main players for granted. You will identify with them… but only once you’ve experienced the journey with them. And experience it you will to the point that one can even understand the choices they make and the actions they take, as if they could have been your very own. Personally, I was surprised that I could even want these fierce Spartans to go to war. Let it be known that I am a pacifist of the worst kind (the kind who wishes ill-karma onto those who’ve done me wrong… from an albeit safe distance), and yet strangely, I found myself rooting for these underdogs. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that once I got used to it, the war gore became not only bearable, but somehow…disturbingly stunning?
“300” depicts a tale with an unusual perspective of war. This film is truly a creative demonstration of how brute force and cunning strategy can make for an unexpected, but no less exceptional, combination of brains and brawn.