Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: March 9, 2007 | Publication: Journalstar.com | Author: L. Kent Wolgamott
Thanks to Huskerfan Geri for finding this review!
“300” is a movie about the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC in which 300 Spartans led by their king fought to the death against Xerxes and his massive Persian army. That sounds more like the basis for a ’60s swords-and-sandals epic than for one of the most anticipated films of 2007. But there’s more to “300” than ancient history.
The film isn’t based on some dusty academic account of the battle, which was the turning point in the Greek effort to repel the Persian invasion. Instead, it comes from Frank Miller’s graphic novel, “300,” in which he merged his research on the Spartans into the legendary style that produced “Sin City” and “The Dark Knight Returns.”
Transferring Miller’s mythic book to the screen, co-writer/director Zack Snyder created a “look” that resembled graphic novels by “crushing” the color saturation of the film and placing the actors against virtual backgrounds. That, and the powerful narrative of Miller’s story, makes “300” as up to date as any movie and the best picture of the first three months of 2007. For those who didn’t take ancient history or don’t remember, Sparta was a Greek city/state known for its fierce warriors who were taught to endure pain and suffering and fight together no matter the odds. Their leader in 480 BC was King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), a charismatic warrior who survived the training to become a powerful military chieftain.
The power behind the throne, to invoke an appropriate cliche, was Gorgo (Lena Headey), Leonidas’ wife, a strong, fiery character as prepared to sacrifice for Sparta as her husband.
That becomes clear when emissaries for Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), the self proclaimed “God-King” of Persia (now Iran) turn up in Sparta and demand that the city surrender its independence to Xerxes or face ruin at the hands of its amassed army. Leonidas responds by killing the emissaries.
But that doesn’t mean Sparta is willing to fight. Led by treacherous politician Theron (Dominic West), the Spartan Council refuses to authorize war until Leonidas visits the Oracle, a young woman who gives her vision to some very creepy old men called Ephors. They say Sparta cannot fight during the Carneia celebration of the moon. Leonidas knows that if he waits until the celebration is over, his city is doomed.
Defying the authorities, he takes 300 of his best men and marches off to meet Xerxes’ hordes. But he has a plan to hold off the massive Persian army and its elephants, archers, magic practitioners and elite killers.
That sets the stage for some stirring battle sequences that are as inspiring as they are brilliantly choreographed. And it is the inspiration, not the fighting itself, that makes “300” function as a real film rather than just an exercise in technical execution.
The battle scenes are pivotal and had to work for the movie to be effective. But in order for it to connect, you have to care about the characters and Sparta and what will happen if Xerxes succeeds. The storytelling of “300” generates just that kind of attachment, drawing you into the ancient society and turning Leonidas from an obscure historical figure into a modern hero.
Butler, last seen as the title character in “The Phantom of the Opera,” is near perfect, creating a larger-than-life but still very human character. Headey is equally as impressive as Gorgo, and the two villains are almost instantly hateable.
With the impressive look of the film and its stirring action scenes, “300” is gripping from start to finish. It’s also another indicator that graphic novels are pointing the way to at least a share of the future of movies. As long as those adaptations are as good as “300,” I say bring them on.