On the field of this battle, war is swell

Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: March 9, 2007 | Publication: Newsday (New York) | Author: GENE SEYMOUR
Publication/Article Link:http://www.newsday.com/

With lots of gory effects, '300' is a faint-by-numbers tale

(2 1/2 STARS) 300 (R). Digital effects, sweaty pectorals and cheesy grandiloquence are welded together for this delirious retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae in which a small, doughty band of Spartans battled wave upon wave of Persian forces. Adapted from Frank Miller's graphic novel. 1:46 (violence, sexual situations, nudity). At area theaters.

One hears of allegedly serious minds grappling over what the "politics" of "300" are. Bloggers, pundits and others with too much time on their hands have spent the weeks leading to the opening of this revved-up and outlandish retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae arguing over which present-day parallel best fits the ancient combatants.

For the moment, we'll bite: Are the 300 Spartans, led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), correlatives for freedom-loving Americans holding the line against Middle East terror as personified here by the massive Persian army? Or are the nation-gobbling Persians, led by King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), analogous to what some believe to be imperialistic Americans?

If "300" carried any intellectual heft (if, in other words, it was scrupulous with historic details), one could see the point of thrashing these provocative notions to their metaphoric nubs. But this movie in no way pretends to be a replication of historical events. It is, instead, a willed hallucination of ancient history goosed with mutant warriors, rhinos outfitted like Sherman tanks and a King Xerxes who's dolled up with enough glittering threads and glossy makeup to make every David Bowie wanna-be from the mid-1970s chew his knuckles in fuming envy.

Put bluntly, the movie's just too darned silly to withstand any ideological theorizing. And "silly" is invoked here, more or less, with affection.

This unapologetically gory ripsnorter is adapted with what looks to be obsessive faithfulness from a graphic novel by Frank Miller, whose "Sin City" was, like "300," transformed into a blood-caked movie with live actors, digitally enhanced backdrops and ornate visual effects.

Directed by Zach Snyder, who surprised moviegoers three years ago with his witty, energetic remake of "Dawn of the Dead," "300" has tons of energy, if precious little wit. Even a layer of self-mocking irony would be a welcome counterpoint to the head-pounding din of war whoops, screams of agony, slashing metal and declamatory growls. It's thick on many levels, but it never feels too heavy.

The visual pacing and flourishes are reminiscent of "The Matrix." But they also seem intended to mimic the sensation of reading a graphic novel. As a Spartan warrior, for instance, is about to hurl his spear at one of the faceless marauders, he is frozen in space to allow a viewer to absorb the sleek, grimy, muscular image the way kids linger on a comic-book picture of Spider-Man throwing a haymaker. However one feels about such tactics, one can't deny that Snyder and others behind "300" know who they're making this movie for.

The acting ... well, that's hard to assess in a movie where every other line, even from the women, offers some variation of "Prepare for glory!" and "Spartans never surrender, never retreat!" Such blowhard riffing owes more to the heavy-metal songs than to dramatic texts - and that's likely how it's intended to come across. With that said, everybody shouts out and riffs with appropriate enthusiasm, even if they had to say their lines in front of blank backgrounds.