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This is Sparta

Category: 300 News
Article Date: March 1, 2007 | Publication: The Marquette Tribune | Author: Rob Ebert

Posted by: DaisyMay

'300' looks to break new (battle) ground in cinema

If you've seen the trailer for "300," it needs little introduction. Its one-of-kind-look (all the backgrounds are jaw-dropping CGIs) coupled with the sheer size and ferocity of the battle scenes have given the project a deafening buzz.

Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller (who also drew "Sin City"), "300" was filmed over a grueling 60-day period in a Vancouver studio.

The revered artist was intimately involved with the project. During a conference call with the Tribune, director Zach Snyder said that when they first met, Miller pretty much wanted to see "if I was going to screw up his book or not." But Miller also understood that it was Snyder's project, and that Snyder would remain true to Miller's work.

The story is based on a historical battle between 300 Spartans defending their homeland and way of life from an invading army of 1 million Persians.

But the term "based on" is key here, even though Snyder did his research. Those looking for action-packed battles instead of a History Channel lesson will be pleased: Every time Snyder faced a historical inaccuracy, he asked, "Is the truth cooler than what Frank did?" The answer? Always a resounding "no."

Besides directorial duties, Snyder is also one of the three people credited on the script.

"I have so much respect for the graphic novel," Snyder said. "I didn't want it to be Hollywood-ized. I wanted the audience to have the experience I had (reading) the novel."

This concept also carried over into the casting.

"With a graphic novel, people should look like the drawings," Snyder said. "I don't go 'who's the flavor of the week, let's make the King Leonidas.' "

Snyder felt that star Gerard Butler was able to become Leonidas. Otherwise, the cast consists of lesser-known actors.

"We wanted the movie to be the star," Snyder said. "I didn't want the US Magazine aesthetic to wander into the movie and take you out of it."

Although the movie's the star, nobody will be able to walk away without commenting on those Spartans. And here's a secret: Those muscles you're seeing aren't special effects.

"The muscles are real, absolutely," Butler said. "I don't want anyone thinking they came from anywhere else."

Butler said he trained six hours a day for seven months, and that between shooting scenes, he would go off and lift some more.

It all had to do with capturing the essence of the viscous Leonidas.

"I was very focused on the graphic novel," Butler said. "If you look at that ... it's almost monstrous and animal-like. (The Spartans) are exceptionally brutal, an absolute lack of compassion. In the end it makes them more heroic: They're completely unapologetic for their stance and their way of living."

On-set, Butler found himself identifying with the Spartan ethic and believing in his power.

"I personally felt like I could take on a million people - and I wanted to," he said. "The testosterone was flying. You're there."

At its core, "300" is essentially a swords-and-sandals epic. But where similar films like "Troy" and "Alexander" have failed in the eyes of critics and audiences, Snyder believes his film will excel.

"You're talking about a movie that tries to re-invent that genre," he said. "Those movies paved the way for me to get at it from a different angle.

"Without going outside, we were able to get the look from the book. When you went outside and shot against a rock, you got a look that was very similar to 'Troy' or 'Alexander.' "

Working on the indoor set, with everything in blue and made of fiberglass, presented an array of challenges.

Snyder summed it up this way:

"Making a movie's hard," he said. "Making a movie entirely on blue screen with lots of blue screen in 60 days - frickin' hard.

"It's a big part of the reality of filming. We're not out in a field, it is not dirty, dusty and cold - so you have to imagine all those things."

But the cast took those conditions and ran with them, according to the director.

"I credit my actors with their ability to transport themselves to ancient Sparta," Snyder said. "They can sell the reality of the performance."

There is no doubt a lot will be said of "300." It breaks ground in artistic style, how graphic novels are portrayed on the screen, and there is sure to be debate over the highly-stylized and brutal violence found on the screen.

Yet with everything being said about "300," Butler summed up the essence of it quite simply.

"We basically kick ass, kick ass and kick ass," he said. "That's the cool thing, to be a warrior and to be ultimately tough. Heroes normally have to play fair."

Info Box:

"300" opens in theaters and IMAX nationwide March 9.

Directed by: Zach Snyder ("Dawn of the Dead")

Starring: Gerard Butler ("Phantom of the Opera") Lena Headey ("The Brothers Grimm") David Wenham ("Lord of the Rings") Dominic West ("The Forgotten")


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