New to DVD - 300

Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: July 31, 2007 | Publication: | Author: The Big Picture
Publication/Article Link:

Audacious, bold and possibly something completely original, 300 might be the first film in decades that display no specific external influence from its own medium. Almost a copy and paste job of the baroque aesthetics and nihilism that separate graphic novels from mere comic books, 300 doesnít have much in common with gladiator films, with war movies or with movies that cannot exist without a landscape created on a computer in a digital effects lab.

And yet it is all of these things, a glorious experiment of cinematic boundaries that reaches for glory, grabs it clumsily and nearly chokes the life out of it.

The Greek city-state of Sparta has been known throughout history as an ultra-militaristic society that trained its strongest male children at age seven to fight alongside the rest of the army. The strongest were chosen because the weakest were left for dead on Mt. Taygetos shortly after birth.

By 480 BC, Leonidas (Gerard Butler) had risen to be king of Sparta, leader of its government and military; he ruled both the same way. In this filmic depiction, Leonidas has all the political tact of a linebacker suffering from acute roid rage. He is the hero of most of Spartan folklore and is the undisputed alpha male of Frank Millerís graphic novel on which the film is based.

When the Persian armies of Xerxes invade Greece, Sparta, predictably, does not roll over. Facing insurmountable odds against hundreds of thousands of Xerxesís forces, Leonidas assembles 300 men to stave off the marauding Persians in what the textbooks all call The Battle of Thermopylae.

Director Zack Snyder (the recent Dawn of the Dead remake) is less interested with the story or character development than he is creating a visual palette and a succession of action sequences unlike anything seen before. On that point, his success is nearly infallible. There just isnít another movie anywhere in the annals of cinema that looks like this or moves with such operatic violence. The colors tell much of the story: Steely grays and bloody crimsons contrast one another against shirtless soldiers whose skin tones make them appear to be shaped out of clay.

The battle sequences are carefully cacophonous. Itís so overwhelming you wonder how many choreographed slayings were left on the cutting room floor. Thousands upon thousands of actors engage in brutal swordfights, and it becomes apparent sooner than later that the real battle in 300 is not between Persians and Spartans, but blood and testosterone.

Snyder wisely sets a narrow focus for his story, almost never straying from the legend of Leonidas and the Spartan code of honor and discipline for much of the first hour. But there are, regrettably, other distracting, unnecessary tenets of the story that creep in.

Admittedly, it is probably wise from time to time to stagger more serene episodes among the massive amounts of bloodshed, which, like the previous breathtaking Frank Miller adaptation, Sin City, is almost too cartoonish for its own good. Less visually assaulting scenes of backstabbing intersperse the battle sequences, as Spartan politicians ponder the next steps after the battle is over. But these scenes stunt the filmís powerful momentum to a crawl.

Of course, criticizing the less scintillating plot points of a movie that looks this fantastic is a bit like blaming the beautiful and popular prom queen for never having to lift a finger to get what she wants. There is no mistaking that Zack Snyder has made a revolutionary motion picture. The litmus of that statement is that the only things that donít work are the most traditional aspects of movie making: The bandaging together of a sub-par sub-plot and the management of the actors. But 300 is a soaring achievement of imagination and a declaration of the future of filmmaking.

And it is so guttural and overzealously macho that 300 makes Gladiator look like Steel Magnolias.