'300': Full-bore gore

Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: March 9, 2007 | Publication: Toronto Star | Author: Peter Howell
Publication/Article Link:http://www.thestar.com/article/189962

A full-bore gore, total-immersion and visually thrilling battle experience that's not for the faint hearted

All you sissies and pantywaists, out of the theatre. This means you, Skippy, cowering in the corner with your man purse and your granola bar.

The Spartan warrior movie 300 is not for the meek, despite its visual virtues and high thrill quotient. It's a total-immersion battle experience for eaters of red meat, worshippers of the male physique and lovers of extreme violence.

That last qualifier is crucial. If you wince at the sight of skewered bodies and decapitated skulls, then your money is better spent on a repeat screening of An Inconvenient Truth.

This is the kind of film where the dead bodies really are stacked like cordwood, and then pushed in a heap on top of people who are about to become dead bodies. "Pile those Persians higher," someone commands.

The manly dudes in 300 run around nearly naked, their swords constantly at the ready.

They tell one another to have a good breakfast "because tonight we dine in hell." How those meals are connected, I'll never know. But if you're wondering what hell's cafeteria has on the menu, wonder no more. It's human kebabs.

In bringing Frank Miller's graphic novel about the ancient Battle of Thermopylae to the screen, Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead remake) has demonstrated the kind of fidelity that could earn him an eternity ring, were such girly-man behaviour tolerated. Miller's violence has been graphically rendered.

The special effects are impressive, combining artistic vision with the blood-and-guts reality of warfare. It's more colourful than Sin City, Miller's other cinematic adaptation, because the desaturated reds of the painterly production design match the flowing blood.

The visuals are strong enough to sustain the anemic plot this is Spartan in more ways than one and dialogue that verges on the risible.

And it's a weirdly schizophrenic affair. The acres of rippling beefcake on display make this arguably the most homoerotic film ever released to the mainstream. If there's not a 300 float in this year's Pride parade, then someone deserves a Spartan spanking.

Yet the film manages to also be homophobic. Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler, newly buff and convincingly bombastic) expresses his contempt for non-combative Athenians by dismissing them as "philosophers and boy lovers."

What's really unsettling is the gratuitous gore. Such as a post-battle scene where Leonidas munches on an apple while standing in a field of dead Persians, while his men go about crushing the skulls of fallen invaders who might still be breathing.

The movie is based on historical fact, something that could surprise anyone who understandably views 300 as simply a fanboy's wet dream, complete with dream sequences of semi-nude goddesses.

The Battle of Thermopylae is one of the most famous showdowns of antiquity. A small but brave army of Spartans the 300 of the title and other Greeks banded together against the multitudes of Persia's invaders. In more recent times, we'd think of the siege of the Alamo, Custer's Last Stand or the Japanese defence of Iwo Jima.

It's the year 480 B.C., and Leonidas is offered a Hobson's choice by the advancing armies of Persian Emperor Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro): surrender Sparta and become slaves or stand fast and be slaughtered.

Leonidas chooses a third option: fight back, and hold the barbarians long enough so that Greece can properly marshal its forces. The king has no trouble rounding up 299 brave fellow Spartans to join him, but he gets no support from the scabby soothsayers and sexy oracles who live in the nearby hilltops like Dr. Seuss characters. Leonidas is told to hold his fire until after the celebration of an annual harvest festival.

He also faces resistance from a swinish politician Theron (Dominic West), who views Leonidas as a competitor not just for Spartan power, but also for the affections of Gorgo (Lena Headey), Leonidas's loyal wife and queen.

The Spartan king has reason beyond the "live free or die" ethos to disobey the oracles and to confront the Emperor Xerxes. The Persian leader looks like an escapee from a carnival, with more piercings than Moby Dick. Xerxes commands a menagerie of homicidal freaks that include rampaging rhinos and elephants and a dim giant. He's more clown than dictator.

Leonidas does have one ace up his sleeve: if he and his men can draw the Persians towards the narrow seaside mountain passage known as "the gates of hell," they might be able to literally put the squeeze on them.

"There is no room for softness, not in Sparta," Leonidas says. He's not kidding.

Don't worry about missing a single severed head or impaled torso. Director Snyder frequently switches to slow-mo to savour every appalling act. And he's not above incorporating a Crucifixion image at the end to drive home his point about the nobility of going to war to defend your nation, a subtext that will make this popular entertainment for Conservatives and Republicans everywhere.

It's most definitely a Spartan movie, yet it's really all about wretched excess.