'300': Exiled In Guyville
Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: March 9, 2007 | Publication: MTV Movie News | Author: Kurt Loder
Zack Snyder raises Frank Miller's brutalist comic-book aesthetic to a bloody new level. Also: The attack of 'The Host.'
Robert Rodriguez's "Sin City" was an eye-frying accomplishment — the movie lifted Frank Miller's stark noir fantasy world straight off the comic-book page and deposited it directly onto the screen. Zack Snyder's film version of "300" — Miller's 1998 graphic-novel recreation of the bloody battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. — surpasses that already considerable feat. Snyder's movie improves upon Miller's celebrated graphics. Here, the shadows seem denser, the colors more radically concentrated, and every image throbs with drama — even the steely, shifting skies are troubled and turbulent. The picture marks a new peak in digital visualization — you feel you're truly in another world. The film's concerns, like those of Miller's book, are narrow: It wants only to submerge you in a sea of heroic brutality. It does just that one thing, but it does it with feverish expertise.
The story concerns the invasion of ancient Greece by an enormous army, a quarter-million-men strong, under the command of the Persian god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). Several thousand Greeks, few of them seasoned soldiers, hasten to the narrow mountain pass at Thermopylae, hoping to obtain from the cramped terrain a tactical advantage over the enemy's sheer numbers. For two days they manage to repel the invaders. On the third day, a treacherous shepherd betrays the Greeks' position, and as the Persians begin to surround them, the leader of the defenders' most battle-hardened contingent, the Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), dispatches the bulk of the Greek forces to return home to mount further defenses, while he and his 300 men remain at Thermopylae to fight on against impossible odds, to a guaranteed death.
Snyder has wisely watered the testosterone in which Miller's story is marinated with some less-ferocious diversions. He cuts away from the battle occasionally to return to Sparta, where Leonidas' wife, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), struggles to foil the traitorous machinations of a duplicitous councilman named Theron (Dominic West). There's also some wonderfully lurid debauchery in a harem, and a visit to a mountaintop where a group of hideous degenerate priests contemplate the erotic writhings of a beautiful young Oracle. (One of them stoops to lick her head with his diseased tongue — nice.) Apart from those moments, though, the movie is all blood and guts and raging spectacle. Spears rip through chests, heads fly off of necks, and gouts of blood spurt through the air. There's a tree filled with arrow-pierced corpses and a wall of bodies stacked 15 feet high, waiting to be pushed over onto unsuspecting Persians. The hyper-stylish mayhem is virtually nonstop.
There are also some indelible images, chief among them the nine-foot-tall Xerxes himself, who is carried into battle on a platform, complete with throne, by a detachment of "Immortals" — an extra-vicious breed of soldiers in eerie silver masks and black turbans. With his shaved chest and plucked brows, and his baubles, bangles and nose rings, Xerxes exudes a sexual presence that's too deliriously campy to qualify as ambiguous, and he brings a giddy twinge to every scene he's in. Equally memorable is his monstrous executioner, a flesh-mountain of a man whose forearms have been honed into blades. And there's a phenomenal extended sequence in which Xerxes' invading fleet of ships is swallowed up by the sea, which ranks pretty high in the history of cinematic naval imagery.
It's great that there's so much to watch in "300," because there's not a lot to think about. The story seeks to elucidate a single idea: that some things are worth not only fighting for, but dying for; that selfless heroism is a core value of human civilization. It's hard to argue with this, although occasionally you might long for a little elaboration, if not nuance. But then another severed noggin goes flying by, and the thought passes.