A New Age: A Review Of 300
Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: March 19, 2007 | Publication: MiamiPoetryReview.com | Author: Mitchell Warren
300, the new epic adventure film by Zack Snyder and Frank Miller, merits comparisons to Orson Welles' 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane. This statement is not to suggest that Snyder's film is a "great" film, or comparable to any classic piece of cinema. However, 300 is a landmark film and one that will change the way Hollywood adventures flicks are made.
300 is based on the comic book novel by Frank Miller (who also served as an executive producer), which was based on the historical Battle of Thermopylae, taking place in 480 B.C. between the King Of Sparta, Leonidas, with an alliance of Greek city-states and the Persian army led by King Xerxes. At the mountain pass of Thermopylae, though greatly outnumbered, the Greeks were able to hold off the Persian army for three days, in an outrageous ratio of 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians and some slave soldiers to over 100,000 Persians.
There is where the debate begins; is 300 a grotesque and reckless historical revision or does it contain true facts re-imagined in surreal and kinetic fashion? From what I have read about the Battle of Thermopylae, while some minor facts are obviously distorted for cinematic effect (So Xerxes was Prince's great ancestor?) the heart of the story is historically accurate. Historically speaking, especially since ancient history is not explicitly detailed and the Greeks mythologized much of their literature anyway, 300 is about as accurate a story as was Schindler's List, Finding Neverland, or The Pursuit Of Happyness. Yes, there were some liberties taken but the cinema has a history of whitewashing heroes and demonizing villains beyond the facts. Hollywood also has a bad habit of adding fictionalized subplots involving sex--but what's an excessively violent film without gratuitous sex?
The other controversy surrounding 300 stems from the fact that Iran recently stated that it finds the movie offensive to Persians. Frankly, that criticism is ludicrous. 300 is a stylized film that takes place in B.C. Era--it has no relevance at all to contemporary Iran, and certainly no allusions to the Bush-Iraq war from what I can see. (Unless the strange Goat-man character was supposed to symbolize Saddam Hussein?) If 300 had been called "2300 A.D." and the Persians were cast as violent and sexually androgynous characters then the film would have earned this controversy. However, in 480 B.C. all of mankind was ferocious, domineering, unpleasant and probably sexually curious to boot. (After all, homosexuality didn't "exist" in the political sense back then) Whatever the criticisms are for 300, in the arena of stereotyping or cultural insensitivity, they are politically motivated; the film itself is not.
In fact, 300 is so artistically driven that it can be accused of having too little of an opinion in favor of more supercharged, ADD style cinematography. The movie is a shot-for-shot, live-action remake of Frank Miller's graphic novel, and adds only a few extra scenes beyond the images that comic book fans have already tattooed into their minds. The cinematography is the real issue here and the primary reason why 300 will change the face of contemporary Hollywood. While 300 looks epic and promises to give audiences exciting, surreal and innovative imagery, there is no great achievement in technical cinematography here--not comparable to other war movies. That is because much of what you see in the film is not shot on location but is created by CGI visual effects technology. Not only is CGI responsible for the giant rhinoceros, but it also fills the sky with dark ominous clouds, creates a cast of 5000 from just 50 actors, and is responsible for creating most of the excessive gore on screen. A moviegoer does get the feeling that he is witnessing a new age of film making when the shoddily filmed but brilliantly edited final cut plays.
Director Zack Snyder created this epic for a minimal budget of $60 million dollars and impressed studio heads who were still reeling from the epic failures that were Troy and Alexander. Without expensive on location filming, and without an all star cast, using only modern visual effects technology, Snyder promised the film would be a modest 30 million dollar hit. By now, the film has grossed over $100 domestically, broken records for a March movie opening (not to mention very high for an R rated movie opening) with $70 million in its first week.
300 is certainly not a flawless film, as many critics have complained of the film's style over its substance. But can you truly complain about such an epic minded arcade-fantasy while extolling the virtues of Star Wars, Lord Of The Rings or Gladiator? I believe the only reason 300 is so loathed in the critical community is because of the unpretentiousness of the film's creators. If this much can be done with a minimal budget, what director Snyder calls a "goofy little $60 million dollar movie," that doesn't bode well for the 200 million dollar Hollywood visionary. (Remember when James Cameron won universal acclaim for going madly over budget?)
Most of these action-adventure films are not cinematic meditations on story line or dialogue but are violent operas, live-action comic books, and should be judged on their brutality and innovation in violence, or at least for the illusion of spectacle that is cast. In these respects 300 can match spears and shields with the best of them. It's more visually stunning than Lord Of The Rings, more viciously imagined than Apocalypto, and far more satisfying in every respect than the slow and bulky Gladiator.
More important than 300's individual glories however, is the film's blasphemous ambitions. This movie will influence studio producers to think smaller and gain larger profit, and inspire student filmmakers to dream big--without having to try too hard. Zach Snyder's previous claim to fame before he shoved violent dinosaur Mel Gibson out of the limelight? Dawn Of The Dead, as well as some commercials.
Whereas Orson Welles' Citizen Kane showed the industry that practically any type of story could be written and become an artistic success, 300 shows Hollywood that any type of movie could be filmed and become an unexpected blockbuster. Leonidas said it best, "A new age has come, an age of freedom." 300 may well give Hollywood the freedom to make any kind of movie for a smaller budget, all the while infringing upon the rights of money-gobbling, movie-making mavericks. I don't think Orson Welles ever envisioned cinematic freedom becoming so complex. Grade: B+