Flick Chick: 300, Beyond the Gates

Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: March 17, 2007 | Publication: The Culture Beat | Author: Cher Smith
Publication/Article Link:http://www.theculturebeat.com/?p=362

Two reviews for the price of one. Both excellent although wildly different. The message of both, though, is that there is meaning and purpose that transcends mortal existence.

300
Directed by Zack Snyder

While we live in a time that seems to scream of narcissism, and the phrase “what’s in it for me?” is the cry of the masses, there is something inside us that longs for a grand purpose. We celebrate those who live beyond themselves, those who realize that some things are worth dying for. And in those moments, we touch transcendence, and we, too, want to live so fully that dying is a small concern.

Hollywood loves to tell these kinds of stories. From Ben Hur to the more recent Braveheart, Gladiator and Troy, transcendent stories combined with hard-hitting action capture the audience’s imagination and dreams of glory and honor. Add now to that list 300, directed by Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead).

Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel, 300 tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. The Persian King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) has invaded Greece and demands that Sparta surrender. Yes, they will live as slaves, but they will live. The king of Sparta, King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), rallies 300 of Sparta’s best men to fight the Persians. It could be laughable, as the Persian army is over 100,000 strong, but King Leonidas knows the truth of what General John Stark said in the 1800s, “Live free or die; death is not the worst of evils.” Leonidas knows the training and discipline his soldiers have undergone all their lives, and he knows that his warriors are ready to live and die for Sparta. The two armies meet at the mountain pass of Thermopylae and engage in battle for three days. In the end, all the Spartans are dead, but they have achieved what they wanted: glory on the battlefield, honor and respect throughout history, and freedom for their country.

In telling the story of 300, Snyder has captured the graphic novel on film, creating incredible visuals and art direction. The battles are bloody and over the top (there’s more than one decapitation), but the violence is so stylized that the visceral impact (the queasy factor) isn’t as strong as something like, say, Saving Private Ryan. The film borrows liberally from Ridley Scott with slow-motion blood spatters (although more red than Scott’s black). No matter. It also borrows from every other film in the heroic-epic genre. It’s a blurry line between paying homage and being derivative. However, there are certain scenes, certain speeches that fans of the genre (not to mention of the graphic novel) are going to demand. This movie delivers, and each scene is like a little package offered to comic art lovers.

The actors play their parts well. When we see Gerard Butler as Leonidas for the first time, there’s no doubt that he could inspire and lead 300 men into battle. His humor is evident in a taunting dialogue with Xerxes as is his devotion to his men. Lena Heady as Queen Gorgo is convincing as a strong-willed Spartan woman. When her husband is leaving for battle, she doesn’t weep or beg him to stay. No, she is a woman of Sparta, and her words to him reflect the training in strength that all Spartans go through: “Come back with your shield or on it.” Other performances of note are David Wenham as Dilios, the narrator of the story, and a marvelous Vincent Regan as the army’s Captain.

King Leonidas states, “We Spartans have descended from Hercules himself. Taught never to retreat, never to surrender. Taught that death in the battlefield is the greatest glory he could achieve in his life. Spartans: the finest soldiers the world has ever known.” The people of Sparta knew that life had a grand purpose and knew that some beliefs are worth dying for. According to the cheers in the audience, a lot of us in this narcissistic age want to believe that too.