300 Delights with Cast, Fails with Script
Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: March 13, 2007 | Publication: The Trinity Tripod | Author: Katy Nolin
Zach Snyder's 300, long awaited by Classics nerds (like myself), teenage boys, and gay porn stars alike, finally made its debut this weekend and it lived up to its pre-release hype, smashing the competition in true Spartan form. Adapted from Frank Miller's 1998 graphic novel and loosely (very loosely) based on Herodotus' account of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.E., the film earned a whopping $70 million in its first weekend, sending its puny competitors Wild Hogs and Norbit running for the hills like the Athenian "philosophers and boy lovers" they truly are. The film delivers a one-two punch with its deliciously violent battle scenes and a few killer one-liners, but it fails to win the war with its cliche script, overdone graphics, and underdeveloped plot.
The film begins quite anticlimactically, as a voiceover describes Sparta's love of fit, healthy children, its violent hatred for all those deemed unworthy, and the childhood of King Leonidas, raised in the Spartan ethos of violence, courage, and honor. At the age of seven, like all other Spartan boys, Leonidas is unceremoniously booted from his home and sent to the wilderness to find himself and his warlike spirit. The scrawny youth returns years later as a sexy, svelte adult (played by Gerard Butler), whose world is threatened by the invasion of the Persians, a luxurious, Eastern culture led by the King-God Xerxes (Love Actually's Rodrigo Santoro in drag). Accompanied by 299 fearless warriors, including the bard warrior Dilios (David Wenham), the bloodthirsty Captain (Vincent Regan), and the wisecracking Stelios (Michael Fassbender), he leaves his queen, Gorgo (Lena Headey), to hold the massive Persian army at bay - an easy task for Spartans, of course.
Xerxes, a flamboyant, blinged-out giant, attempts to dissuade Leonidas from his valiant task, as does the crippled Spartan reject Ephialtes (played tragically well by Andy Tiernan), but, as history tells us, the Spartans refuse to give up their honor, and keep true to their promise to fight to death against masked ninjas, exotic creatures, and mythological monsters. Back in Sparta, as the war rages on, Gorgo must fight against the perverted and skeevy politician Theron (Dominic West) to get military support for her husband from Sparta's elders.
Butler comes off a strong performance in The Phantom of the Opera, where he starred as the masked evil protagonist. He also appeared as Angelina Jolie's love interest in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: the Cradle of Life and as the kick-ass warrior Beowulf in Beowulf and Grendel. West is a more familiar face from his roles in Mona Lisa Smile and Chicago, and Wenham should be recognizable to the Tolkien fans for his role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Headey truly shines in her role, mainly because she is the only female with actual speaking lines and her only competition is a drugged oracle and disfigured Persian prostitutes, and she tries valiantly to bring a deeper intellectual and emotional aspect to the film. Her feminine character seems quite out of place in this ode to all things masculine, and her storyline seems underdeveloped and not thought out enough.
Snyder, known mainly for his film Dawn of the Dead, remains true to Miller's original graphic novel and translates the story visually to film quite well. Unlike Robert Rodriguez's version of Miller's Sin City, which came off as a bad combination of film noir and a kid with too many crayons and no sense of coloring, Snyder makes a film that is easy to follow, nice to look at (for more than one reason), and that tells a good, motivating, not to mention slightly educational, story. The two hours definitely go by quickly, and it is difficult not to cheer along with the rest of the audience.
Aesthetically, this film definitely goes in an anti-Spartan direction, delving into the deep end of the visual and special effects pool. 90 percent of the film was shot in front of blue or green screen, and, though this is painfully obvious throughout as actors stick out from the background like pop up books, it does make for some really nifty shots. Larry Fong's cinematography is, for the first 20 minutes at least, truly astounding, but by the end of the first hour it becomes a little stifling and expected. Paired with Tyler Bates' lyrical and stirring soundtrack, though, many of the most dramatic and emotional shots strike a deep chord and succeed in affecting the pathos of the audience.
For all of the film's visual strengths, however, the abysmal script takes everything down several notches. Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, and Michael Gordon remain extremely faithful to Miller's graphic novel format in both the film's appearance and its writing, and while this works visually to an extent, the script fails miserably, seeming more like a willy-nilly compilation of battle cliches, inspirational speaker's montages, and over thought, unrealistic comments. The voiceover at the end of the film in particular gave me a terrible case of the corny chills, and I found it difficult to keep from giggling at the sheer banality of the stilted words. Fassbender's character is given the one decent line in the film, so keep your ears open for good, rare zingers.
Many critics are finding deeper meanings in the film, observing that it has a certain effeminate East versus masculine West aspect that should make viewers in the Middle East uncomfortable. Others see in it shades of the conflict between homoeroticism and homophobia, an understandable reading considering Santoro's drag costume, the overwhelming male comradery, and the many sexual innuendos. Both interpretations can be argued, but the main point of the film is not to examine societal conflicts but to celebrate heroism.
300 was undoubtedly an underdog for studio analysts. Despite its R rating and having a B list star (albeit an attractive, talented one) as its most notable actor, 300 garnered the best March release to date, beating Ice Age: The Meltdown's $68 million last year. After The Matrix Reloaded and The Passion of the Christ (with $91.8 million and $83.8 million respectively), it is the third best opening weekend for an R rated movie ever, not adjusted for inflation. With its success so far and its buzz factor among the 18-25 demographic, it should continue to top the box office for several weeks and many are predicting that it will be the biggest hit of the year.
For all the men (and gore-loving gals) out there though, this film is a must-see. For the rest, even the most squeamish amongst you, this film is a must, if only to see all those hot, hot men parading around in their sexy spankies and oiled, chiseled 12-packs.