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Into the Valley of Film Rode '300'

Category: 300 News
Article Date: March 4, 2007 | Publication: New York Daily News | Author: Joe Strike

Posted by: DaisyMay

Frank Miller has had more luck in Hollywood than your average comic book or (as they're known nowadays) graphic novel writer/artist, whose works usually lose their snap by the time they reach the big screen.

His 1980s reimagining of Batman as an obsessed "Dark Knight" overpowered memories of TV's campy "Caped Crusader" and set the stage for Tim Burton's "Batman" film. And in 2005, when Robert Rodriguez partnered with Miller to film his hard-boiled graphic novel "Sin City," the pair rewrote Hollywood's comic book rule book: Instead of retelling Miller's grim and gritty story in the "real world," "Sin City's" shadowy black-and-white universe was transposed onscreen, making audiences feel as if they had journeyed into the graphic novel itself.

Director Zack Snyder has done something similar in bringing Miller's "300," opening Friday, to the screen. In images taken directly from the graphic novel and expanded on by Snyder, the film recounts the legendary 480 B.C. battle of Thermopylae and the doomed efforts of a handful of Spartan warriors to hold off a massive invading army.

Snyder re-created the late '90s novel's high-contrast, copper-and-gold color scheme by shooting his performers against a blue screen, then compositing the extensively processed footage into computer-generated environments. "There are very few 'non-effects' shots in the movie," Snyder says. "Even the ones not counted as effects are still heavily manipulated - you wouldn't recognize them from their original state."

"It feels wonderful. It's a terrific vindication of what I hoped was true all along," says Miller. "I've always wanted to see a more comfortable relationship between comic books and movies. What I didn't expect was that the two media have stopped dating and they've gotten married."

Miller, 50, has never been bashful about putting the "graphic" in graphic novel, with bone-snapping set pieces, dismemberment and violent death - not to mention doomed, self-sacrificing heroes - a constant in his stories. If black and white can be bloody red, some of his books find the way to do it. This new work is built on a fascination that goes back to a 5-year-old Miller watching "The 300 Spartans," a 1962 movie inspired by the same historic battle.

"It was a story where all the heroes were killed at the end, and I had to wrestle with that for a long time," says Miller. "To have them all die because it was the right thing to do and for the greater good of society - it changed my whole view of what a hero was."

Hard-action fans may be less interested in history lessons and more taken by "300's" profusion of spearings, decapitations and splattering blood. Even so, Miller and Snyder's stylized approach may make the images easier to take for audience members unaccustomed to blood-and-guts filmmaking. "I didn't shoot any blood on set," Snyder points out. "It was all done digitally. If you look carefully, it never lands on the ground but vaporizes in the air. I treated it like a paint stroke, an explosion of energy. When I did [the 2004 remake of] 'Dawn of the Dead,' I had to wear a raincoat all the time," or be splashed by the spurting of fake blood.

Neither man says he's through with comics yet. Next up for Snyder is the long-anticipated - and always on the verge of collapsing - movie of the "Watchmen" graphic novel. And Miller will soon reteam with Rodriguez for a "Sin City" sequel, followed by a solo shot at Will Eisner's legendary crimefighter the Spirit.

Those heroes have faced many perils on their own, but with Snyder and Miller watching their backs, being the stars of second-rate films is unlikely to be one of them.


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