Sparta battles Persia in ripping graphic epic ‘300’
Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: March 9, 2007 | Publication: Worcester Telegram & Gazette | Author: Daniel M. Kimmel
THREE OUT OF FOUR STARS
Frank Miller has retained a modicum of control over how his graphic novels (don’t call them “comic books”) are brought to the screen, whether by holding out for the best offer and participating in the production. “Sin City” (2005) was a visually stunning piece of pulp fiction. Now comes “300” which creates a completely different visual style in telling the story of the Battle of Thermopylae.
Those not up on ancient military history needn’t worry. The film quickly brings us up to speed. It’s the age of the Persian Empire, and Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) — the god-emperor of what will one day be Iran — is conquering most of the known world. The Greek city-state of Sparta declines to be so ruled, even though their king, Leonidas (Gerard Butler), is promised great wealth and power if only he will kneel to Xerxes.
Denied the authority to put the full Spartan army into battle by a corrupt religious leadership being paid off by the Persians, Xerxes leads 300 loyal and elite troops on an excursion. They just so happen to set up camp at a narrow pass that the Persian forces, many times their number, will have to traverse. Here they will make their stand.
Nearly everything you see on screen, save for the people, costumes and props, are computer constructs, or small sets that have been otherwise digitally enhanced. The result is quite incredible. Director Zack Snyder, whose first film was the surprisingly decent remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” has created a world that looks both frighteningly real and fantastically unworldly. Though based on history, the film is more like historical fantasy. Apart from factual liberties, the movie suggests not only Miller’s graphic novel, but the equally compelling fantasy art of Frank Frazetta.
The violence is vivid but stylized, echoing the strategy but not the technique of “Sin City.” Blood flows, limbs are hacked, bodies are pierced by sword and arrow. This is war, and many people will die. Yet it is done in such a way that we can appreciate the horror of war without the film turning into an exploitation flick. This isn’t “Saw” or “Hostel” set in antiquity.
Complementing the visuals is an intelligent script by Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Michael B. Gordon. Leonidas is not merely a warrior. He is a leader fighting for a cause. We see that Sparta is a warrior society, where weak infants are killed, and children are taught to fight from an early age. However, in this telling, what Sparta stands for is freedom. Leonidas will not become a vassal to Xerxes no matter how richly he is to be rewarded. Sparta will bow to no foreign power.
As the story plays out, it becomes obvious that the 300 are doomed, but the question remains whether their fight will inspire others to resist the Persian conquest. “300” becomes a stirring battle cry for liberty and a rousing fantasy adventure of heroes facing the longest of odds. As was “Sin City,” it’s an original.