Never Retreat, Never Surrender

Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: March 20, 2007 | Publication: Portfolioweekly.com | Author: Gregory Epps
Publication/Article Link:http://www.portfolioweekly.com/Pages/InfoPage.php/iID/2660

They’ve got arms and abs of steel. They live for combat, laugh at death, and hope only for victory, or a "glorious death" in service of King and country.

300, directed by Zach Snyder and based on the comic novel by Frank Miller (Sin City), follows the ferocious Spartans of ancient Greece in their finest hour.

In 480 B.C., the Greek city-states are on the verge of civil war, still ruled in part by superstition. With Persians practically at the gate, King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) is ready to support and defend his homeland, yet he must defer to the wishes of the Ephors, a mystical group of oracle-readers who hold Sparta in a tyrannical grip.

I don’t think the Ephors were really disease-ridden creeps, but 300 often takes poetic license, and often by adding monstrous visions of corrupted humanity. According to the records of Herodotus, the Ephors compromised with Leonidas, whereas 300 shows Leonidas acting on his own.

The warrior-king tells oily politician Theron (Dominic West), that he and his 300 are just "going for a walk." But it won’t be long before he’s telling his men that, "Tonight we dine in Hell!"

Some of this made-for-action sounding dialogue actually comes from Herodotus, as when Leonida’s wife, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) brags that Spartan women are, "The only women who give birth to real men."

In 300’s version of history, Gorgo (Headey) speaks this line to a Persian emissary who’s about to find out that no messenger is safe when he shows up carrying the crowned skulls of deposed Greek kings.

Lena Headey is strong in the role of Gorgo, but when the Queen gets involved with the duplicitous Theron, the cliché-ridden subplot becomes an opportunity for one speech too many, and the weak point in the phalanx of this macho epic.

A somber Gerard Butler is also effective as Leonidas, but 300 is more about style than character. Its outstanding digital cinematography (by Larry Fong) combines live action, creative costuming and virtual backgrounds, bringing evocative comic-cell imagery to Frank Miller’s archly dramatic compositions.

Having directed a Dawn of the Dead remake of which even George A. Romero approves, Zack Snyder again proves his worth, recreating Frank Miller’s stylized realization of the battle of Thermopylae for the big screen.

At those "Hot Gates," 300 scarlet-cloaked Spartans and their allies briefly held back the might of the Persian Empire, inspiring Greece to unite and become the progenitor of Western civilization.

Based on Frank Miller’s "historical mythology", we see the child Leonidas (Tyler Nietzel) in the opening, surviving his passage to manhood by fighting a wolf in a narrow rock crevice. The scene’s clumsy foreshadowing is easily forgiven in light of eye-popping cinematography.

Likewise, the Spartan betrayer, Ephialtes (Andrew Teirnan), is digitized and fictionalized as a grotesquely warped hunchback and would-be warrior who is spared the fate usually given to Spartan infants born with birth defects.

The Persian "God-King," Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) is portrayed as a 12-foot tall giant trimmed in gold and jewels, an enigmatic, androgynous tyrant who wants nothing less than the world kneeling at his feet.

Further fantasy-additions to the story include a disturbing gallery of freaks and monsters from the harems to the battlefields and to the execution block, where a giant with bony blades for arms separates heads from bodies. But historical relevance always plays second fiddle to spear-thrusts and lopping limbs in 300.

This film is deliberately, artistically crafted frame by frame, and built for pure entertainment. Be a Spartan, and show up just for the thrill of a good fight and a glorious death.