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Preview: 300

Category: 300 News
Article Date: November 9, 2006 | Publication: IGN | Author: Todd Gilchrist
Source: http://movies.ign.com

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Director Zack Snyder previews a collection of clips from his incendiary adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel.

November 9, 2006 - In advance of the March 2007 release of the Frank Miller adaptation 300, Warner Brothers Pictures previewed footage from the film in Los Angeles and offered a Q & A with Miller and director Zack Snyder (Dawn Of the Dead). Snyder introduced a collection of scenes from the film and explained the basic plot, which follows King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his 300 bodyguards as they defend Sparta from the Persian armies of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro).

The first scene Snyder showed was from the film's opening, which provides background for Leonidas and demonstrates his lifelong training and development as the King of Sparta. Removed from his mother's care at age seven, Leonidas is almost literally bred to be a warrior, training with adult soldiers and eventually being cast into the wild to hunt for sustenance. After defeating a wild and decidedly ferocious wolf, Leonidas ascends the throne and takes over as ruler of Sparta. But when an emissary from Xerxes' kingdom arrives to offer peace -- with the unfortunate condition of subservience to the self-proclaimed god-king -- Leonidas sends a clear message that neither he nor his people will bow before a tyrant.

Much like Snyder's earlier work on Dawn of the Dead, the direction is muscular and dramatic: He transforms these expository sequences into absolutely invigorating entertainment, showing how the boy becomes a man and demonstrating in just a few scenes that Leonidas is a powerful and proud ruler of Sparta. Borrowing liberally from writer Frank Miller's source material, Snyder really creates a believable world in the film and yet never attempts to approximate "reality" -- an endeavor that felled such recent period epics as Troy and Alexander.

Additionally, the cinematography maintains a passing resemblance to the halcyon imagery of Ridley Scott's Gladiator, but in a more painterly way: The characters, creatures and locations are completely stylized, but feel completely tangible. The film uses some of the same technology employed to bring Sin City to life, but takes it further by adding color and texture that this film's predecessor did not have.

In the second sequence, Leonidas struggles to decide what to do after visiting the Spartan elders, who instruct him not to fight against Xerxes. Joining his queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) in their bed, she comforts him and wisely instructs him to think not as a king or Spartan but as a free man. They make love and Leonidas is renewed in his determination to save Sparta from Xerxes' rule. Following this, Leonidas and his men travel to the narrow canyon of Thermopylae which becomes their holding ground in the battle against Xerxes' men. The Spartans survey a vast expanse of ocean where Persian ships weigh anchor in anticipation of the battle, and thrill at the sight of a storm that destroys many of their adversaries before they reach the battleground.

Pruriently speaking, the sex scene is seriously hot, which is an appealing departure from the chasteness of most recent movies. That said, it also is constructed very much like the rest of the film in that it captures the visceral momentum and raw emotion of the moment rather than trying to document it in any particularly realistic way -- which is probably why it works so well. This scene transitions nicely into one in which Leonidas and Xerxes meet, since it shows the film's more meditative side. After Leonidas refuses Xerxes' generous but condescending offer to be his standard bearer and commanding officer, the two men square off in a battle of wills; though Xerxes towers over Leonidas, he challenges the god-king and insists that he will defend Sparta and its sons to the death.

The impact of these scenes detached from the context of the completed film undermines their intensity slightly, much like special effects shots from action movies not yet seen in their entirety. But Snyder's authoritative understanding of this material -- taking it seriously rather than elevating the melodrama or offering an ironic counterpoint in the acting -- reveals the touch of a filmmaker on par with some of today's absolute best. While he is still largely an interpretive director -- helming material written by others instead of creating it himself -- he understands the right approach to keeping the story compelling and believable, no matter how absurd or strange its underpinnings may seem.

Snyder also introduced several battle sequences which fully reveal Leonidas' strength (not to mention the director's incredibly distinctive visual style). In the first, the Spartans form a phalanx against the first wave of Xerxes' soldiers. They deflect their adversaries' sword and spear attacks, then retaliate with their own weapons. In one magnificent shot, Leonidas strikes back at the oncoming solders; the camera captures every gorgeous and gory detail (in shifting speeds, no less) as he takes out one opponent after another. And finally, during a battle with Xerxes' most feared soldiers, known as "The Immortals," Leonidas saves one of his men from almost certain death, only to find his own life in mortal peril. (Unfortunately, they didn't show us what happens, so we can't spoil it even if we wanted to.)

Like the Lord of the Rings trilogy or the original Matrix, Snyder's adaptation is the kind of movie that seems poised for almost instant canonization: visually stunning, forcefully dramatic and beautifully acted, this is the sort of cinema that makes fanboys and film snobs alike foam at the mouth. Best of all, there seems to be precious little of the exclusive, cult-following atmosphere that waylaid projects like Snakes On a Plane from becoming crossover successes. So suffice it to say that it remains to be seen whether the finished film fulfills the promise of these incredible clips, but ultimately, the only disappointing thing about the 300 footage shown was the fact that we won't be able to see the rest of it for almost four months.

 


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