My Review of '300' (blog)

Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: May 30, 2007 | Publication: | Author: Joel Vetsch (aka Jet Set)
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Do Not Miss.

'300' is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name, and while taking some artistic license, the story is based on the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. in Greece, between the Spartans and the Persians. Many of you (myself included) are probably not involved in the graphic novel world, but may recognize Frank Miller as the one who wrote the graphic novel Sin City, which was made into a hit film in 2005.
As a massive army of Persians, led by the megalomaniacal Xerxes, nears Sparta, Xerxes sends an emissary asking for the submission of the city-state to his will. Xerxes is a self-declared god and wants to conquer the world. In a show of defiance, the Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) kills the messenger, inciting the anger of the so-called "divine leader", Xerxes.
In preparation for defense of the country, King Leonidas consults the Greek council, which has been infected with political opportunism. They do not want to fight but instead negotiate. To make matters worse, the local oracle, which he is forced to seek permission from, consists of a young drugged woman, held by corrupt priests that do not allow the release of the full army to battle the Persians.
King Leonidas, a true Spartan, cannot take this assault lying down and rallies together 300 Spartans to take on the impossible task of putting themselves at odds with 250,000 plus of the Persian army. It is interesting to note the definition of the word Spartan in the dictionary states that they are "rigorously self-disciplined… courageous in the face of pain, danger, or adversity."
King Leonidas takes his army of 300 professional soldiers, to fight off the advancing Persian army, choosing a strategically advantageous position in a narrow mountain canyon 12 meters wide, a corridor set in the steep cliffs off the Aegean Sea that the Persians would have to pass through. This place is referenced in the movie as "the Hot Gates" (the literal translation of "Thermopylae"), where the large army trained to fight on Asia's open plains, cannot take advantage of their full numbers, giving an advantage to the Spartans. The hope for reinforcements is always there, but they stand their ground with no certainty of any relief, until death if need be. These Spartans possess courage, practice self sacrifice, and have camaraderie, so they are not fighting as an individual but as a unit for a common purpose – their country.
Back home King Leonidas' equally strong wife, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), navigates the home front perils of crooked politicians and backstabbing. This story is decently wedged in, giving females in the audience more of a reason to see this film (besides the shirtless men with muscular superhuman abs on display throughout most of the film). As the Queen's husband fights the foreign invaders, she struggles to get the backing at home to send the entire army and keep Greece free. The scene in the film's beginning when the King and her part ways is fascinating, with the Queen handling his leaving to almost certain death with a real stoic strength and resilience. She knows to spend a moment on sorrow would be a tax on her energy which she must save for the fight ahead.
The famed Battle of Thermopylae, the focus of this film, is said to have inspired all of Greece to band together against the Persians, and help usher in the world's first democracy.
"It's a place where great and glorious things happened," Frank Miller describes. "We are talking about the crucible, the epicenter of the battle for everything that we have, for everything that is Western civilization. There's a reason why we are as free as we are, and a lot of it begins with the story of 300 young men holding a very narrow pass long enough to inspire the rest of Greece."
The texture of the film is not meant to create the reality of the historical event, but to make the bare essentials of the story explode on screen in an entertaining fashion. This is not history verbatim, rather an artist's interpretation on those actual events. So you have fiendish monsters, and tinted landscapes that are so beautifully designed with CGI your jaw drops as if seeing a large painting suddenly come to life right before your eyes.
'300' does stay away from being campy, because of the display of real grit and conviction in each actor. The glory of Greek stories such as The Iliad, which seem far fetched, is suddenly mounted up on the wall of your local cinema screen on a glorious widescreen canvas! This is the stuff of legends, one of the most famous rallying stories in history, of a stubborn group of fierce warriors who engage a massive army, at the expense of their lives.
You are so effectively thrown into this world Frank Miller created, that you almost want to reach for your shield as a spear flies through the air, pick up a fallen comrade, and bare your own sword against the oncoming enemy. The fast and slow motion camera effects warp reality, adding an enjoyable twist to the film.
The film was shot in 60 days on three small sets. Ten visual effects vendors contributed to the film spread over three continents. The script demanded that most of the male cast spend the majority of their screen time bare-chested, so in order to adequately present themselves as the most well-trained and marshaled fighting force of the time, the entire principal cast underwent a rigorous and varied training regime for 6 weeks prior to shooting. If you watch the behind the scenes of the film, you can see that the exaggerated physically fit physiques of the actors playing the Spartans were not digitally enhanced – that is all real.
'300' is the most thrilling visual cinematic experience of the year. Do not miss this one.