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Stylized '300' strips graphic Greek battle to epic core

Category: 300 Reviews
Article Date: March 7, 2007 | Publication: Gannett News Service | Author: JACK GARNER

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Summary: 300 (R) Three Stars (Good)

A violent, highly stylized graphic-novel variation of the Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartan warriors made a legendary "last stand" against 10,000 Persians. Gerald Butler stars in Zack Snyder's adaptation of the popular Frank MIller graphic novel. Warner Bros., 117 minutes.

An ancient Greek battle may seem an unlikely topic for a comic book, but only to those who haven't followed the growth and development of the medium into something darker and more complex, written for older readers, and called "graphic novels."

One of the most popular graphic novels of recent vintage is "300," the story of battle at a mountain pass in central Greece in 480 B.C., between a mere 300 Spartan warriors and an invading army of some 10,000 Persians. Ultimately, the Battle of Thermopylae entered military lore as one of the greatest "last stands" in history, resulting in a mythic rallying cry for Greeks not unlike our "Remember the Alamo."

As directed by Zack Snyder, "300" adheres visually to the heightened graphic style found in the illustrations of Frank Miller, who was also responsible for "Sin City" (which was adapted to a similarly stylized film last year).

Thus, "300" employs fantastic, digitally enhanced backgrounds and exaggerated, larger-than-life characters. Actors are filmed for "300," but they then become elements in a fevered graphic design. Perhaps elephants and rhinos were employed at Thermopylae, but I doubt they were ever as big as they appear in this film. A humble hunchback ends up looking like a giant troll. And, either Gerard Butler and the other actors in "300" spent hours in the weight room, or the computers piled muscles on top of muscles.

Butler (of "Dear Frankie" and "The Phantom of the Opera" film) plays King Leonidas, who opts to defend Sparta with only 300 hand-picked warriors after dissension at home makes it impossible to mount a larger army. As we're shown in a prelude, Sparta is home to an intensely war-like culture, where boys are only allowed to live if they manifest strength, and are then taken early from their mothers to be groomed strictly as warriors. Spartan women are taught to say to their departing warrior husbands, "with your shield or on it," which means they can only return victorious or dead.

It was hard to get my head around such a mentality, and the film's violence is relentless and graphic (if you'll excuse the pun). Nonetheless, the story is told with respectable adherence to the known facts, and presents a riveting and uniquely stylized portrait of a very bloody age.

Rated R, with much graphic gore.


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