300 Reasons Why Spartans Rule - Eyes-on With the Film
Category: 300 News | Posted by: DaisyMay
Article Date: February 24, 2007 | Publication: Ace Bongos' X Box Blog | Author: Acey
Given that Master Chief is classed by the United Nations Space Command as a SPARTAN-II Supersoldier, it's pretty obvious that the inhabitants of the ancient Greek city-state that he draw his name from must have been pretty nails. But just how hard were the people of Sparta? They examined all their children at birth, dumping those showing any tiny weakness or defect off a cliff. The surviving male children were raised from then on to be warriors - trained in the art of combat as soon as they could stand and abandoned into the wilderness as young teenagers. If they made it back they became Spartan soldiers.
And, on a small cliff-side pass called the Hot Gates, 300 Spartan warriors formed up under the leadership of their king, Leonidas, to repel the might of the million-strong invading Persian army. For three days they were battered by wave after wave of Persian attack, and for three days their strategic position and superior military skill helped them to hold firm. Inevitably they were overwhelmed - but not before the rest of Greece, still divided into disparate city states, was inspired by their sacrifice to unite against the Persians.
This epic and bloody story was retold in Frank Miller's graphic novel 300. If you don't know graphic novels or comics, Miller is the guy who created Sin City and has worked on a ridiculous amount of other comic books including Batman and a whole range of Marvel titles. Now the 300 graphic novel has been turned into a movie, directed by the Dawn of the Dead remake director Zack Snyder, and I was lucky enough to go along and see it last week.
If you've read the 300 graphic novel then you'll understand what the movie looks like. Snyder (who was at the showing and took questions) is very open about the fact he based the film solely on the graphic novel - frame-by-frame in many cases - and he has done an amazing job of transferring Miller's visual style onto celluloid. The film was shot almost entirely against green screens on soundstages, and it does take a while to get used to the strange juxtaposition of live actors and such bold, in-your-face backgrounds. But the overall effect is amazing, removing the film from the kind of glossy real-world settings that Troy and Alexander suffered from and giving it a mythical ambience befitting such an epic story (which, of course, while based on true events has undoubtedly been inflated by the writings of history).
And anyway, 300 isn't about telling true stories, or making political comments, or trying to accurately convey an ancient event. It's a balls-out, iron-sharp action flick that's tighter than the abs exposed by the minimal armour the Spartan warriors rock. There are moments where the film exposes some of the hypocrisy of ancient Greece (the diseased and corrupt religious elders for example, lusting after the Oracle - not so much the word of the Gods made flesh as an 'intoxicated adolescent', according to the frustrated Spartan King Leonidas), but essentially 300 is a blood-spattered rock-and-roll riff on just how hard the Spartan warriors were.
I was impressed at how Snyder openly admitted this fact, deflecting some of the 'intellectual' cinematic questions from the gathered film journos with honest answers. Why was the (copious) blood digital, and why did it seem to evaporate on screen, asked one hack. Because it was easier to control and cheaper, replied Snyder. Another dropped some self-aggrandising facts about the original Ben-Hur movie before asking how difficult it was to shoot the whole movie in front of green screens. Fine, said Snyder - the actors are still acting. And when confronted by questions about the political meaning of the film, Snyder mentioned how several journalists had claimed to have worked out his 'message' - but as a self-proclaimed "action movie head", Snyder suggested that the most important message in the film is that it looks cool and makes you feel cool.
And that's fine by me. The dialogue, ripped straight from the comic book (and the comic book dialogue in turn apparently ripped from historical writings from the period) is sharp and just on the cool side of camp, with enough tongue-in-cheek moments and razor-sharp soundbites to keep the tempo up. But it's the combat sequences that really make 300 crackle, spurting as much adrenaline as Persian blood. Sitting somewhere between The Matrix's hyper-choreographed fight scenes and Gladiator's brutal brawls, the combat sequences repeatedly do things that make you think, "Christ, that was awesome..."
And Snyder, drawing on Miller's vision of the Persian hordes, hasn't held back on bringing the varied ranks of the army to life. The first wave of attackers are little more than spear-fodder to the highly-trained Spartans, but they're soon reinforced by grenade-throwing heretics, armoured elephants and rhinos, superhuman mutants and the Persian king Xerxes' personal guard, the katana-wielding Immortals. Speaking of the Xerxes, he's as brilliant a creation as his troops, an eight-foot tall giant who towers over King Leonidas and truly embodies his percieved status as a God.
As the numerous battle sequences roll in, and the varied troops of the Persian forces crash against the shields of the 300 Spartans, I figured out why 300 is going to be adored by people who play videogames. Like The Matrix, it seems to have been inspired by the way games portray combat and gets ridiculously close to the feeling you get when you're holding a joypad in your hand and pulling off killer combat moves against innumerable enemies. Even the film's storyline is set up like a game. Think about it - an outnumbered group of near-superhuman warriors up against a single enemy with insane resources, faced with a range of opponent types who each demand a different strategy to defeat them. How many times have you played that game?
Because of the no-nonsense combat scenes, the amazing visual style, the streamlined storyline and the sheer sense that you're watching something intensely cool, I absolutely loved 300. It may not have the same kind of sentimental emotional resonance that Gladiator had,
but the relentless action means that every second of the film drips with excitement. Do you know what? I'm not going to write anything more. Watch the trailer. If you don't think it looks cool from that then - like the discarded babies at the foot of the cliff outside Sparta - you're not destined to join the ranks of the 300.
300 opens in cinemas across Europe on March 23. You can check out the film's official website at www.300themovie.com. For the record, there is a 300 videogame coming out called 300: March to Glory, but it will only be available on the PSP.