Pecs and violence

Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: March 25, 2007 | Publication: The Sunday Herald | Author: Demetrios Matheou
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Thanks to Dragon Slayer for the article!

Take the most fearsome fighters in history, give them the best abs of all time and get Zack ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ Snyder to direct. In 300, the blood is spilled in slow motion and the bodies are piled high. Demetrios Matheou reports:

IMAGINE GLADIATOR told in the comicbook style of Sin City, and you'll have a good idea of 300, one of the most idiosyncratic films of 2007. This is a swords-and-big-nappies epic, featuring buckets of machismo and gore. Real actors are immersed in a computer-generated"virtual"landscape,and watching it is a little like remembering a dream, or a nightmare, depending on your inclination.

ZackSnyder,whodirectedthe recent, creditable Dawn Of The Dead remake, begins the film with a prologue introducing - and, to his mind, extolling - the Spartan way of life. According to Frank Miller, on whose acclaimed graphic novel the film is based, the Spartans were a "battle culture, absolutely dedicated to warfare". A male child born with frailities or deformities is fed to the vultures; if he passes muster, he is trained to fight, and kill, as soon as he can walk. We witness one small boy beating another to a pulp as a key part of his coming of age. If this is how the Spartans treatedtheirkidsthey deserved to be obliterated, which looks like their fate.

The story is based on theactualbattleof Thermopylae, in 480BC, when King Leonidas stood beforeKingXerxes's massive Persian army withjustasmall bandofSpartans; knowing they would die, but hoping their courageous example wouldencourage the rest of Greece to defend itself against Xerxes'sworldconquest.It'san honourable notion, perhaps,saving Western civilisation and all that, but I can't say I spent the film rooting for them.

advertisementWhat follows, though, is an imaginative interpretation of the story, bolstered by cutting-edge special effects.HavingkilledXerxes's messenger, alienated his politicians and accepted that he won't have his full army at his disposal, Leonidas (Gerard Butler) goes AWOL with his 300 volunteers to fight the Persians anyway. His plan: to meet them at the HotGates,anarrow passwhichformsa bottleneck where the hundreds of thousands will count for nothing againsthissupersoldiers.Oncein place,forLeonidas and Snyder alike, it is simply a case of "bring it on".

There are few subplots: the efforts of Leonidas'sequally fearsome wife Gorgo (LenaHeadey)to bring the politicians back on board; the occasional sparring matches between the Spartan king and the Persian "god-king", an effete, gold-clad poseur; the revenge of a hunchbacked Spartan, who escaped the cull at birth and is desperate to fight, but whom Leonidas rejects even when faced with such outrageous odds; and some homoerotic bonding between the Spartan forces who, in the manner of men not comfortable in their sexuality, spend too much time gay-bashing elsewhere.

One can't help wondering whether Butler and his fellow Spartans have had their six-packs touched up in post-production,orsimplyworkedout harder than anyone else in the history of cinema. There are some impossible torsos on display - and the sight of them glistening beneath the Spartan-issue red cloaks is a fine one; as is the operatic spectacle of them spearing and shielding their way through the Persian hordes.

The battle sequences, involving a greatdealofslow-motionblood spilling, are well-choreographed, and areaccompaniedbysomewell-conceived images: particularly the construction of a solid wall of dead bodies. "Pile those Persians high!" cries Leonidas, with a glint in his eye. Butler has some lines that James Bond would be proud of, investing his character with a little humour, as well as psychological shading. His best moment is when he casually chomps on an apple while watching his men kill off the survivors of the latest skirmish, then leaves them to meet up with Xerxes. "There's no reason we can't be civil, is there?"

Thefilm'scontradictionsare reflected in the aural experience: on the one hand we have the Australian actor David Wenham narrating the tale with such commendably grave oratory that he could be reading The Iliad; on the other, the soundtrack - a sort of Valkyrie club mix - could leave you with a resounding headache. The film is impressively executed, but shallow, and fascistic. I would have liked it to have more flesh and blood, as opposed to mere muscle.

300 is out now.