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Numerical Superiority

Category: 300 News
Article Date: February 27, 2007 | Publication: | Author: Ferdie Villar

Posted by: DaisyMay

Like many of the characters involved in Warner Bros.' "300," the Scottish actor Gerard Butler was on a quest for something. He was looking for a substantial film role that challenged him. The task began with his action figure role in "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" and continued with his musical title role in the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera."

He has found that dream role in King Leonidas, the wild-eyed, fate-driven leader of the ancient warrior people, the Spartans.

Leonidas, like all Spartans, known as the ultimate soldiers of the Old World, sought an honorable death on the battlefield. He sought that death as part of the 300 Spartans pitted against the countless hordes of the Persian Empire at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC.

Oversized form
That true-to-life last stand—the definite last stand—is immortalized in "300," a movie directed by Zack Snyder, based on Miller's 1998 comic book series of the same title. Though it was only a 98-page graphic novel, "300" is oversized and maximizes its widescreen nature to show just how brutal and big the battle between the Spartans and the Persians was.

Led by Leonidas, a band of devoted warriors take their positions at the Hot Gates, knowing they may never come back, determined to save Sparta from subjugation by Persia, an ancient superpower led by the self-styled god-king Xerxes (Brazilian Rodrigo Santoro).

It is essentially the tale of a few standing against the many. It is also a tale of seeking something bigger, grander. Like a cinematic equivalent of the fabled Golden Fleece, computer-generated imagery (CGI) can herald great adventure, making possible fantastic epics such as the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, as well as serve as a harbinger of trouble, saturating the public with pointless, noisy, rubbery phalanxes of action movies.

Bloody ballet
But in "300," CGI has been harnessed to create what may be the ultimate sword-and-sandals war movie. It feels like most of the movie unfolds in slow motion, with each death painstakingly choreographed. It is the spilling of blood as ballet: Snyder finds every available way of depicting death as being both necessary and meaningful, very much in keeping with the Spartans' wartime ethos.

The evocation of the heroic icons (sun, fields of grain) recalls Riddley Scott's "Gladiator," even as the killing grounds are full of grotesque detail—and vivid violence. As poetic and dynamic as they are, these battle scenes are not for children.

Snyder, in the meantime, is on a quest to evolve ever since he left behind a lucrative career in music videos for movies. From the seizure-inducing speed demons of his "Dawn of the Dead" remake, he now injects a noble ferocity to the Spartans. He also empowers the evolution of composer Tyler Bates ("City of Ghosts"), who melds elements of heavy metal and Wagnerian sturm und drang in the martial score, and cinematographer Larry Fong (TV's "Lost").

Precious cargo
For his part, Miller seems to be on a most remarkable cinematic odyssey with his trademark comic books as precious cargo. Like many of his determined if faintly quixotic protagonists, Miller is seeking the perfect translation of comic books into cinema. His first stab at the target was co-directing "Sin City" with Robert Rodriguez ("Desperado").

While a single movie couldn't contain the atmosphere and ambiguity of Basin City's doomed denizens, the movie literally looked like Miller's panels brought to life. With "300," save for a few chinks, Miller has come closer to that goal than anyone else. One wonders what he'll come up with now that "Ronin," his take on Japanese warriors, is due for its own big-screen penetration in 2009.

The devotion to the book is astounding. The dialogue is lifted verbatim. It feels like Snyder used the novel's pages as storyboards.

Costume designer Michael Wilkinson ("Babel") fleshes out the characters, making them uncanny three-dimensional facsimiles of the figures on the comic book pages.

The screenplay from Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Michael B. Gordon also shadows the novel's plot, save for one wrinkle. To give Headey's Gorgo more to do, the screenwriters added a subplot that has Leonidas' wife Queen Gorgo (a fierce Lena Headey) facing off with traitorous lawmaker Theron ("The Forgotten's" Dominic West) in front of the Spartan Council. The subplot, while entertaining, seems a bit heavy-handed.

There are razor-sharp performances all around, particularly from Butler. His Leonidas seemed hewn from the rock of the Hot Gates, and he carries himself with a proud vigor that seems both royal and ruthless. Also notable are David Wenham (Faramir from the "Lord of the Rings") as the storytelling Spartan Dilios, who becomes the anguished narrator; Santoro, who will make you believe that Xerxes really was a god-king; and Andrew Tiernan ("The Pianist"), who is transformed into the conflicted hunchback Ephialtes.

In the end, the viewer is left with a lushly constructed ode to battlefield glory, a thinking man's action movie with a videogamer's craving for bloody bells and wartorn whistles, a comic-book movie that transcends the tag. We all know how "300" ends. But like the fate of the Spartans itself, what a glorious end it is.

Warner Bros.' "300" opens in Metro Manila theaters on March 7.


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