Manly saga of war is bloody good stuff
Directed by Zach Snyder
Cast: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham
Like 2005’s Sin City, 300 is based on a graphic novel by comic book icon Frank Miller. Like Sin City, 300 replicates Miller’s original work nearly panel-for-panel. Like Sin City, 300 is shot in a highly stylized manner, utilizing greenscreens/bluescreens and digitally fabricating the backgrounds on computer. Like Sin City, 300 distills extraordinary violence and blunt sexuality into a man-sized shot of cinematic adrenaline. In other words: Whoa!
The film is loosely based on the true story of 300 Spartan warriors who bravely fended off the whole of King Xerxes’ Persian army round about the 5th century B.C. This epic clash, known as the Battle of Thermopylae, previously served as the inspiration for the 1962 historical action flick The 300 Spartans. Unlike that film, Miller’s graphic novel and the film that it has inspired aren’t all that hung up on historical accuracy. Everything about this film is hyperbolic in the extreme. Blood doesn’t flow; it explodes like a car bomb. Soldiers don’t kill; they mow down entire regiments of enemies. Heroes bulge with oiled six-pack abs while villains sport demonic faces and stand 10 feet tall. Costumes would be considered over-the-top at the West Hollywood Halloween parade. This is Greek history as run through the World of Warcraft engine.
Occasionally, all this unreality makes 300 hard to swallow with a straight face. To his credit, writer/director Zach Snyder (still hot off his credible Dawn of the Dead remake) doesn’t ask his audience to believe in any of this, he simply asks them to revel in the excessiveness of it. That part is easy enough. 300 looks cooler than any film since, well, Sin City. Bathed in monochromatic sepia tone and shot in an often fetishistic slo-mo, the film is stark and mesmerizing. Despite its zip-zoom camera work and ultra high-tech design, it isn’t all that hard to draw comparisons with the samurai sagas of Akira Kurosawa. The man who gave us such martial classics as The Seven Samurai and Ran knew how to compose a battle scene in a captivatingly Spartan (no pun intended) style. Snyder may not know his Greek history, but he seems to know his film history.
The actors do well with the film’s frequently melodramatic lines and seem quite comfortable drenched in fake blood. Gerard Butler (The Phantom of the Opera) is commanding as King Leonidas, our royal man of action. Contributing equally manly support are Dominic West (“The Wire”), David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) and Michael Fassbender (“Hex”). Though confined to a smaller role, arguing politics while the men man the front line, Lena Headey (The Brothers Grimm) cuts a powerful figure as Queen Gorgo.
Of course, if you’re going to see 300, you had better be in it for the action. The simple storyline consists of little more than a single extended battle sequence. Wave after wave of colorfully attired, bizarrely armed troops attack our Spartan heroes. Wave after wave are repelled in a curtain of gore. Will our heroes win, or perish gloriously on the field of honor? Either way, there are going to be a lot of artfully severed limbs to contend with. Admittedly, there are moments when the violence in 300 threatens to become monotonous; but endless visual surprises and a couple small narrative kinks keep the film from descending into total videogame repetitiveness. Let me repeat, however: If you aren’t keen on seeing a whole lot of people get killed, there isn’t much here to keep your attention. This is war, people--real, manly, hyper-violent, get-your-hands-dirty, get-your-head-lopped-off war. Enjoy.