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Movie Review: 300

Category: 300 Reviews
Article Date: March 1, 2007 | Publication: Pegasus News | Author: John P. Meyer

Posted by: stagewomanjen

Welcome to the next big (movie) thing.

With the release of 300, Zack Snyder's über-stylish cinematic rendering of Frank Miller & Lynn Varley's graphic novel about the battle of Thermopylae (kind of a Greek version of the Alamo, only with fewer clothes), we're probably looking at the biggest box office draw since The Matrix Reloaded.

Why use that film as a benchmark? Well, because it's currently (at #23 - D'OH!) the title-holder for highest-grossing box office draw with an R rating. And 300 is going to trample that sunglass-wearing patent leather pretender under the heels of its well-worn sandals.

What makes me think this? One simple reason: 300 delivers on the outrageous promise of its preview trailer, which has been captivating audiences in theaters for several months now. (At a recent showing of some lesser film, I actually saw people who had gotten up to head out to the lobby stop and sit back down, watching in fascination when the 300 trailer began to play - it's that kind of stunning.)

Judging by the film, Spartan boys lead a difficult childhood (if they actually make it that far - there's a rigorous weeding-out process conducted shortly after birth, following which the weeds grow no further). When they're barely old enough to think about shaving, they're hauled out into the wilderness with their juvie buds and instructed to beat each other pulpy - not sure of the exact rules here, but it approximates this sort of thing, and it's a killing-optional event depending upon... well... whether or not they decide to kill each other, I guess.

Oh, and of course by this time they're training like big dogs with swords and spears and shields - they train and train and train until the only thing left for them to do is go out and kick some poor bastard enemy country's ass. Enter about a million invading Persians soldiers.

For this movie to work, the audience must believe that the gaggle of loinclothed actors led by Gerard Butler (as King Leonidas) really could use their superior tactics and fighting skills to outmaneuver (by, ironically, staying in one place) and out-fight (for as long as their strength holds out) an opposing force which so vastly outnumbers them that if you used the old solar system comparison scenario to get a handle on the respective size of their forces, the Spartans would line up from here to the house next door while the Persian line would stretch to Potawatomi, New Jersey. (And Potawatomi is welcome to them, believe you me.)

The point is that we DO believe these badass Spartan blokes could make mincemeat of the Persian crew because they (the Spartan blokes) are TONED AS HELL! Talk about your washboard abs and tree-trunk thighs and all the rest of the Schwarzenegger oeuvre - these guys got it covered. (Well, mostly uncovered, actually: they fight wearing little more than the aforementioned loincloths and flowing red capes, which help considerably to brighten the otherwise subdued earth-tone color palette of the piece.) Plus, they all seem to have remarkably healthy dentition, of a pearly white character that suggests the frequent use of Crest Whitestrips. Top it all off with one of these downright EVIL-looking metal helmets, and when our heroic defenders sneer at the puling offers of leniency delivered by Xerxes' ill-fated emissaries, we know they're going to stand their ground - until standing is no longer an option. I mean, to them, this is just another day at the office.

The battle sequences which anchor the film are make-or-break in terms of whether the production succeeds on the visceral level it's targeting, and from the first spear thrust there's no question: it's duck and cover time for audience members with faint sensibilities, because blood flows freely and limbs be flyin'. The fighting and killing are operatic in the tradition of Peckihpah and the legion of directors he influenced; the slow-mo sequences are masterfully punctuated and staged, using computer imaging technology that Sam would have killed (maybe literally) to get his hands on.

In one of the early holding actions against the Persian hordes, Leonidas and his men stage a counterattack against a beaten-down wave of attackers who've no doubt become used to opponents dismayed by their overwhelming superior numbers. The Spartan chaps know, however, that total numbers are meaningless in the strategic arrangement of the battlefield as they've devised it, where only the number of soldiers directly in front of them can engage. So they skewer and chop from behind their shields until their foes falter and begin having second thoughts about this whole overwhelming numbers boon, and it's at this point that the Spartans surge forward to dole out murderous punishment. ("Bad Persians - BAD!") The action occurs in a staggered series of slow and real-time motion sequences, counterpointing the improbable grace of battle with its accelerated train-wreck chaos.

Back in Sparta, meanwhile, a pre-Hellenistic version of Snidely Whiplash (in the form of Dominic West, as the sneering Councilman Theron) confronts Leonidas' comely wife, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) with an offer she'd better not refuse if she wants his support in council chambers, where the fate of her husband hangs on a vote to send reinforcing troops into the battle. What I want to know is, how'd this guy ever make it through the training regimen of his adolescence, where duty and honor are hammered home with a vigor equal to that expended on small arms drill?

Returning to the subject of loincloths, I should point out in the interest of fairness that Spartan women go around equally unencumbered by surplus clothing items, strapping on the bare minimum silky whites required to shield their naughty bits from balmy Mediterranean breezes. And then there's the exotic dancing oracle babe, who in the course of a concerted bout of oracling sometimes lets things slip a bit further.

Performance-wise, while little shading is demanded of the players given the iconic nature of their roles, much is, in fact, delivered: Gerard Butler's Leonidas rings equally true as a fierce, growling leader of men and a loving, sympathetic husband and father. Lena Headey balances graceful statesmanship with, variously, abandoned sensuality and backed-into-a-corner desperation. Of particular note is the performance of Rodrigo Santoro as Persian god-king Xerxes: his booming voice, withering stare and towering, androgynous presence command the screen whenever he occupies it. He is truly an enemy for the ages.

As those who've seen the trailer already know, the scoring (by Tyler Bates) contributes immensely to the drama and emotion that carry the film. And when seasoned film critics all around you start sniffling under cover of cinematic darkness, you know the emotion is translating successfully.

I don't typically number-rate movies, but I'm giving this one a 300, because all its parts work together to produce a seamless entertainment experience of Olympian proportions.

FINDERS KEEPERS: "My arm!" - Persian emissary to King Leonidas. "It's not yours anymore." - Leonidas to emissary.

DISPATCHES FROM THE FRONT: "No prisoners - no mercy - a good start."

DIFFERENT STROKES: "I have filled my heart with hate." - Spartan Captain after a particularly bad day. "Good." - King Leonidas to Spartan Captain.



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