And all the King's mean

Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: March 21, 2007 | Publication: The Silhouette | Author: Zac Roe
Publication/Article Link:http://www.thesil.ca/article.pl?sid=07/03/21/2149241&mode=thread

Zack Snyder's screen adaptation of Frank Miller's 300 is a high octane, testosterone driven tour de force that just may be the best action flick you'll ever see. It makes every other war epic that's come before it look like the latest release from Disney—that is, of course, only if you discount the film's rather uninteresting, and mostly irrelevant second half. Why the filmmakers thought they'd pay lip service to such trite conventions as plot, character development, and (dare I say it) relevance is beyond me. 300 isn't a thinking man's film, and shouldn't pretend to be—shame on them for thinking they could pull one over on us. After all, with so much bloodshed and mayhem, who needs plot and character development? So pass é .

Heralded by more than the usual bandwagon of fanfare, 300 was greatly anticipated by film buffs and war lords alike. One the one hand, Snyder ( Dawn Of The Dead ) shot the entire film (save for one scene) on a soundstage in Montreal behind green and blue screens. In fact, much of what is seen on screen are CGI visual effects—and believe it or not, it looks quite amazing. On the other hand, the sheer magnitude of physical fitness demanded of almost all of the actors is literally astounding. The amount of chiseled, ripped, and ridiculously gargantuan muscle is down right frightening, but undeniably impressive.

As for historical accuracy, do yourself a favour and just fuggeddahboudit. Snyder's adaptation is pulled from a graphic novel, and stays true to its source, making little (if any) attempt at realism—think Braveheart on PCP. Loosely based on the legendary Battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.E.), 300 follows 300 Spartan warriors who are lead by Leonidas, their Spartan king, into battle against Persian king Xerxes' million-man army. Xerxes, being the awful guy he is, demands Spartan submission, devotion, and loyalty. Trouble is, Leonnidas replies with the ancient equivalent of “bite me,” and since them be fightin' words, all manner of war-like chaos ensues.

Where 300 succeeds is in its choreography, stunt work, and pure physical prowess. Indeed, many of the battle scenes are quite stunning, and are performed with such grace (almost ballet-like) that it becomes nigh near impossible to deny Snyder's seemingly inherent skill behind the camera. He maintains a steady hand and a good eye throughout the film, but these scenes in particular are quite literally breathtaking and steal the show.

On the acting front, Gerard Butler and Lena Headey as King Leonidas and his queen, Gorgo, respectively, work well together and apart, and are well cast in their roles as the film's leads. The queen adds a softer touch to Leonidas, who would otherwise be quite callous and cold, and Headey ( The Cave ) successfully captures the ferocity, passion, and sexuality that her character demands. Similarly, Butler ( The Phantom Of The Opera ) is as powerful, commanding, and darkly comical as a Spartan king should be, but is as equally convincing in his several more dramatic scenes. The rest of the cast, including David Whenham, Rodrigo Santoro, and Dominic West, are equally skilled, and deliver fine performances all around.

But after the first hour, this blood-speckled battle cruiser loses steam, and while it continues to chug along at a modest pace, its second half is simply no match for the first. Part of the problem is the film's rather unnecessary subplot (taken from the Spartan legend itself, but unnecessary nonetheless). However, the film suffers more than anything else from Snyder's child-like eagerness to show us all of his best tricks as fast as he possible can. As such, we see everything worth seeing well before the film's finale: the equivalent of an uppercut followed by a shove—it's just better the other way around.

There's also the issue of the film's sketchy racial and sexual representations. Some may question the motives behind The Good vs. The Bad being transposed as the masculine, white, and strongly heterosexual vs. the androgynous, dark-skinned, disfigured, and sexually promiscuous. Mind you, Snyder is quick to point out that 300 is not a political, social, or racial commentary on current world affairs. “Whenever I could,” he explains, “I tried to remind the audience: ‘Hello, that's not you! Wake up! It's fun to be with the Spartans, but you're not a Spartan.'” Despite these supposed reminders, Snyder's depiction of the Spartans and of the Persians remains questionable and somewhat troubling.

With that in mind, 300 is best left for those who can make the necessary mental disconnect and separate fiction from reality. There's a lot to like here, both visually and stylistically, and despite its several flaws, Snyder has delivered a high-quality action flick. Fans of other Frank Miller adaptations (particularly Robert Rodriguez's highly stylized Sin City ) will surely devour everything in sight—blood, gristle, and all. As for everyone else, feel free to enjoy the ride, but leave those thinking caps off.

Grade: B