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300

Category: 300 Reviews
Article Date: February 15, 2007 | Publication: Emmanual Levy | Author: Reviewed by R. Voss
Source: http://emanuellevy.com/article.php?articleID=4724

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B+
Berlin Film Fest 2007 (World Premiere)--Inspired by the work of the graphic novelist Frank Miller (the creator of “Sin City”), "300” is not just a tale about the ferocious Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 Spartans fought to death against a massive Persian army; the film itself is ferocious and assaultive in every sense of these terms.

The text offers a perfect follow-up for co-writer and director Zack Snyder, who made a strong impression with his 2004 debut, “Dawn of the Dead," and with this movie lets his vivid imagination run wilder.

The new film is as visionary as the (mostly) black-and-white "Sin City," which was co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and Miller, but it's also more engaging and entertaining; some critics felt that the 2004 neo-noir pulp fiction was dull--despite the visual pizzazz. In contrast, Snyder's "300" translates colorfully Miller’s graphic novel of the ancient historic tale by combining inventive live action with virtual backgrounds.

Epic is scale and visual effects, “300” is a thrilling adventure about passion, courage, freedom and sacrifice, embodied by the Spartan warriors who fought one of the greatest battles in history. As such, the picture should be especially popular among teenagers and young viewers.

Snyder's "300" redeems the bad taste created by Rudolph Mate's 1962 "The 300 Spartans," which, though shot on location and starring Richard Egan, Ralph Richradson, and Diane Baker, depicted the heroic battle in a schematic Hollywood way.

As written and directed, "300" is more steeped in mythology than in history--by intent. The movie carries to an extreme the notion of Spartan as an enigmatic culture. Taught never to retreat or to surrender, the Spartans are depicted as the "perfect" warriors. They are unique in being a battle culture, dedicated to warfare, while embracing a rigid code of honor of what it means to be Spartan.

The Spartans create a phalanx in which each warrior’s shield protects the man next to him. It’s an awesome sight to behold for the masses of Persians--as well as for us viewers. Though the Spartans face insurmountable odds in terms of the enemy's numbers, they define themselves by sacrifice and are willing to die for freedom; they consider it a "beautiful death."

Miller first encountered the Spartans when he saw the 1962 film “300 Spartans” as a kid. To illustrate "300," Miller synthesized his research-—which took him to Thermopylae—-with the trademark style brought to such graphic works as "Sin City" and "The Dark Knight Returns." Miller pared the Spartans’ uniform (half his body weight in uniform and weapons) down to its most essential and symbolic features. He then peppered the story of the historic 480 B.C. battle with both prior and subsequent clashes between Xerxes and the Greeks.

Snyder follows Miller's approach in taking an actual event and turning it into mythology. "300" is not a linear historical drama, nor is it meant to be historically accurate. Existing in a hyper-real world, it unfolds as a feverish dream of an inspirational fable, full of passion, politics, and brutality. In streamlining the characters, Synder retells Miller's saga not as an ancient tale (sort of "once upon a time..."), but as a classic and eternal one.

In the graphic work "300," which became a best seller and won Miller numerous industry awards, the prose goes hand in hand with the drawings; they are much more than just illustrations. Showing love and appreciation for the material, Snyder is committed to preserving the integrity of the text as well as the imagery--perhaps too much so. As visually commanding as "300" is, the film overstays its welcome by at least 15 minutes (running time is 117 minutes, most of which are visually intense and violent).

Snyder worked on the adaptation with Kurt Johnstad, infusing the story with additional motifs and roles that go beyond Michael B. Gordon's earlier draft. Every frame in his movie counts as a visual effect: The landscapes, the battles, the action, and architecture.
Snyder manipulates the color balance by crushing the black contents of the image and enhancing the color saturation to change the contrast ratio of the film.

Gerard Butler ("Phantom of the Opera") is well cast as the charismatic Spartan leader Leonidas. A feared and revered military king of the Greek city-state of Sparta, he rules with the guidance and support of his queen, Gorgo (Lena Headey). Leonidas and Gorgo watch each other’s backs. She is a great contributor to his strategic thinking, and they seem to enjoy both emotional and intellectual partnership, one obvioulsy tained by a contemporary perspective.

Under Leonidas's regime, Spartans are taught the values of endurance and fearlessness, and to have no mercy for their opponents. A steeliness of character dominates their culture, from the way the boys are trained to the way the women must surrender their children in the name of warfare. A strict code of honor and duty is ingrained in them; it affects how they breathe, act, and interact in their everyday lives.

Lena Headey possesses an innate grace that's essential to the role of Gorgo, which is not a prominent figure in Miller’s tale. Gorgo has already lost her husband, but admitting that would be too much, so she fights with her heart in the political arena.

A messenger rides into town with a warning that the army of a thousand conquered nations is marching towards Sparta. Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) has brought the ancient world to its knees through audacity. Rich, arrogant, and unstable megalomaniac, he's a self-proclaimed God-King. His ambition for glory and victory is unlimited, but underneath, he’s weak and insecure. An enigmatic figure covered with exotic jewels, Xerxes is carried on a golden throne by slaves.

Leonidas reacts to the Persians threat by killing the messengers, but the politicians of Sparta do not want to fight. Theron (Dominic West) represents a new kind of Spartan, more interested in power negotiating than fighting for freedom. Theron is not an honest politician, and his duality is reflected in his being a treacherous appeaser of the Persians."

The Spartan Council sends Leonidas to consult the Oracle—a young woman corralled by Ephors, ancient men who interpret her signs. The council doesn’t want to have a battle, thus using the Carneia celebration of the moon as an excuse not to go to war.

Dilios, a Spartan warrior and storyteller (played by David Wenham, an Australian actor best known for “Lord of the Rings” trilogy) is the key to Snyder's resolution as to how to bring Miller’s unique voice as a storyteller. Having a narrator who tell the story allows Frank Miller’s fantastic world to come to life. Dilios's voice provides the poetic flux of the movie; his version of events would become the narrative that future generations will pass along. D ilios is a guy who knows how not to ruin a good story with the truth. He’s going to make it bigger where it needs to be bigger, and do whatever it takes to motivate and excite the Spartans.

The trio leading the 300 Spartans consists of Leonidas, Dilios, and an enigmatic warrior named the Captain (Vincent Regan), one of the most intense of the 300 Spartans. The Captain brings with him to battle his eldest son, Astinos (Tom Wisdom), thus making a great sacrifice because it’s seen as a suicide mission. There are only 300 Spartans against a million soldiers of the Persian Empire. He's extremely faithful to his king, and he’s prepared to sacrifice all that he has—his life as well as his son’s--for the ideal of freedom. Astinos and Stelios (Michael Fassbender) represent the enthusiasm of the young and spontaneous Spartan warriors.

Xerxes’s army represents a worthy adversary. Xerxes has willed into being an exotic and extraordinary force comprised of physical oddities, brute strength, wild African animals, magic practitioners, and his elite guard, called the Immortals. They Immortals are skilled and scary, fierce-looking masked warriors.

Leonidas is the opposite of Xerxes, who sits up in his high tower, bribing, seducing, and killing his men to achieve victory. There’s a great line when Xerxes says, "How can you ever stand against me when I would gladly kill any one of my men for victory?" And Leonidas says, "And I would die for any one of mine."

Leonidas’s plan is to use Greece's geography against the Persians, leading his 300 to the Hot Gates of Thermopylae—a narrow corridor between two towering rocks on the cliffs of the Adriatic, which the Persians will have to pass. But it is not invulnerable, as Leonidas learns from a deformed onlooker, Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan), who tells him of a hidden goat path behind the rocks. A sad character, Ephialtes was outcast from Sparta at birth, but all he wants now is to be a Spartan.

The whole movie builds up to the battle, when the horizon darkens with the awesome sight of Xerxes’s forces. Leonidas knows that his 300 men can’t defeat the Persian army. Indeed, the act itself holds more power than the sum of the 300 warriors’ arrows. In fact, Leonidas intends them to die, knowing there’s no chance of survival.

Director Snyder wanted the men to look believable, to mesh together as the fighting machine the Spartan guard is rumored to be. To physically prepare them for the rigors of the fight sequences, Snyder enlisted the expertise of Mark Twight, a former world record-holding professional mountain climber, and vet stunt coordinator Damon Caro.

A handsome film, with many viusally arresting images, "300" benefits from the gifted crew behind the camera: director of photography Larry Fong, production designer James Bissell, editor William Hoy, costume designer Michael Wilkinson, visual effects supervisor Chris Watts, and composer Tyler Bates.

End Note

Concurrently with the film’s showings in conventional theaters, “300: The IMAX Experience” will be released in IMAX theatres worldwide. IMAX theatres will allow audiences to experience the Spartans’ fight for freedom on some of the world’s largest screens, surrounded by state-of-the-art digital surround sound

 


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