Movie review: Even with flaws, ‘300’ is fun

Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: April 16, 2007 | Publication: The Santa Maria Times | Author: Neil Nisperos
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What better R-rated cinematic fodder than the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta, a culture dedicated to the mastery of warfare and the maxim of “better to die than surrender”?

The new period picture “300” examines the battle of Thermopylae, a famous last stand that pitted 300 Spartans against the might of the Persian Empire at a strategic pass in 480 B.C. If you’re familiar with the Alamo or the Battle of the Little Bighorn, then you get the basic idea.

The brave fight emboldened the Greek states to join together in pushing back a Persian advance into the Grecian peninsula and the whole of ancient Europe.

Director Zack Snyder, who helmed 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead,” brings an audacious visual panache to the proceedings, but the film lacks the richness and depth that can come through quality scripting and fully developed characters.

The cinematography of “300,” however, is nice to look at, with graininess and sepia tones all compensating for the artificiality of the film’s computer generated trickery. Snyder makes a conscious effort to replicate Frank Miller’s visceral and visual aesthetic on film, in the manner of director Rodriguez’s “Sin City,” and the results are beautiful to behold.

But the movie isn’t perfect. The fault here lies in how antagonists play in the movie.

Instead of being imposing or menacing, the villainous Persian Emperor Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro from “Lost”) is comical and annoying. He’s got about the same credibility as the final game level boss Bowser on Super Mario Brothers.


Xerxes follows an assortment of other one-dimensional Persians who never provide an interesting match for our Spartan heroes to fight.

The movie even provides us with the obligatory elite ninja force that no self-respecting cinematic bloodbath could do without. Xerxes’ best fighters are called “The Immortals,” but they come on like wave after wave of soulless video game clich/s. In reality, the Persian army was quite human, but the movie plays them off as if they were supernatural zombie mutants.

Still, when you get your audience hissing and rooting during a nicely staged slow-motion battle sequence, the film is doing its job, even if its more Saturday morning cartoon then truly meaningful storytelling.

Actor Gerard Butler’s King Leonidas is easily the most interesting and compelling character of the picture. Butler has a good presence and channels a lot of the loss and hunger for glory you find in Russell Crowe’s “Maximus” character.

Miller was reportedly inspired to create “300” from his childhood experience of watching a the 1962 film “The 300 Spartans,” which concerned Thermopylae. The “300” graphic novel was initially released nearly a decade ago. The panels of graphic novels, or comic books, are a lot like the story-board art filmmakers devise to map out a sequence before they film it.

Naturally, the shot construction of the movie pretty much follows that of the graphic novel’s art panels, which makes for some really visually arresting sequences. Each shot has a nice composition to it — like watching Greek statues come to life and doing battle Japanese anime-style with globules of blood splattering in slow motion every which way as heads roll and limbs fly.

If only the bad guys were more fully developed and the film’s lackluster musical score was handled with the memorable bravado of James Horner (“Braveheart”) or Hans Zimmer (“Gladiator”), it would have been icing on the cake.

We’ve seen this sort of historical spectacle before, in the stop-motion films of Ray Harryhausen, and other films filled with the depth and emotional resonance that can come from quality dialogue, acting and production.

Academy Award Best Pictures “Braveheart” and “Gladiator,” and the more recent “Apocalypto,” are good examples of films that possess what I call the total package of action filmmaking; the gold standard being director Ed Zwick’s “Glory” where the characters actually succeed in earning that which the movie is named after.

Snyder’s “300” doesn’t achieve the same sublime cinematic heights (i.e. glory) as those battle-hardened films, but it’s still a fun, albeit flawed, popcorn movie.