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300 triumphs against all odds

Category: 300 Reviews
Article Date: March 9, 2007 | Publication: The Vancouver Province | Author: Glen Schaefer
Source: http://www.canada.com/theprovince/index.html

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Sure, there's no plot. But half-naked beefcakes in battle is high-octane fun

300

Warning: 18A: Explicit violence. 117minutes

Grade: B+

Take the nine-odd hours of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, edit out most of the story, the getting-lost-in-the-swamps, the interminable elf meetings and the soulful hobbit eye contact.

You'd be left with the manly battle stuff. Throw in a couple of hot babes and you'd have something close to 300, which weighs in crisply at just under two hours.

The movie, based on Sin City writer Frank Miller's graphic novel and directed by Zack Snyder (the gripping Dawn of the Dead remake), purports to be about the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. But 300 is about ancient Greek history only in the way that Star Wars was a documentary on the manned space program.

This is high-octane, computer-generated fantasy for an audience of guys whose signature battle move is fighting for the TV remote.

A cast of bare-chested, strapping specimens, led by Gerard Butler as Spartan King Leonidas, were filmed on soundstages against green-screen backgrounds. Digital technology added cliffs, rocks, ocean and thousands of opponents, as well as elephants, charging rhinoceroses and mutant giants with lobster claws for hands.

The result is like a 1950s Kirk Douglas Viking movie on a combination peyote-steroid bender. There is a time for complicated character drama, and a time for impaling, beheading and bestial roars. 300 is just the thing for that second time, a world where "may you live forever" is a curse and "tonight we dine in Hell" is meant to be a good thing.

Butler shakes off all that boo-hoo Phantom of the Opera angst as Leonidas. By way of backstory, the warlike Spartans tossed their scrawnier newborn boys off a cliff, and smacked the beefier ones around so that they grew up to be remorseless warriors. At about 12 years old, Leonidas went out to the wilds alone and slew a huge wolf. Cue a manly operatic choir.

Can I just say that I twisted my ankle when I was 12? No manly choirs sang, but it hurt like the dickens.

The adult Leonidas has fathered a son with hot Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey). This being Sparta, she never begins a domestic conversation by saying, "We have to talk."

No, when Leonidas heads off with a paltry 300 men to do battle with tens of thousands of Persians, Gorgo tells him to come back "with his shield or on it," as in, dead on it.

Leonidas would have taken more men, but the priests and their oracle wouldn't assent to Sparta going to war. Said priests are a group of inbred, poxy old geezers, and their oracle is a young woman who writhes and gyrates while her diaphanous garments fall away.

Much of 300 involves surprisingly imaginative beheadings, limb-severings and skewerings, set to a soundtrack of heavy-metal guitar crunch. That's intercut with the intrigue back home in Sparta as Queen Gorgo haggles with dodgy councillors over whether to send more men to back up the king.

Butler's rough humour gives his Leonidas some flesh and grit amid all those CGI effects. Chomping on an apple as his men skewer the Persian wounded during a battlefield break, he agrees to meet with Persian King Xerxes: "There's no reason we can't be civil."

Xerxes is really tall, but wears more eyeliner than both Mary-Kate and Ashley on a club-crawl. And he maintains a harem of beautiful but creepy skanks.

What does it all mean? Is it a subtly racist allegory of superior Europeans fending off hordes of Asians? Or is the better-financed, technologically superior Persian force meant to stand in for the folly of today's western forces, mired in places like Iraq or Afghanistan?

300's comic-book violence doesn't have that kind of depth, and you can't even see "subtle" from here -- scratch this movie and you hit green screen. Sometimes a way-cool digital beheading is just a way-cool digital beheading.

gschaefer@png.canwest.com

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WHAT OTHER CRITICS SAY . . .

300 is the Citizen Kane of cinematic graphic novels.

- Richard Roeper, Ebert & Roeper

A full-blooded, testosterone-spiked shot glass that you down in one ferocious sitting. It's epic and thrilling and arty, in that childish-macho-Sin City fashion, a Gladiator for the comic-book set.

- Roger Moore, The Orlando Sentinel

A blustery, bombastic, visually arresting account of the Battle of Thermopylae as channelled through the rabid imagination of graphic novelist Frank Miller.

- Todd McCarthy, Variety

The first must-see movie of 2007.

- David Foucher, EDGE Boston

300 is about as subtle as a spear through the head. But it's also shamelessly entertaining.

- Chris Vognar, The Dallas Morning News

 


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