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Category: 300 Reviews
Article Date: March 9, 2007 | Publication: New York Daily News | Author: Jack Mathews
Source: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/movies/story/503602p-424758c.html

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Blood-spattered ancient Greek epic '300' is a cut above

300 Stylized adaptation of Frank Miller's violent graphic novel about the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae. With Gerard Butler, Lena Headey. Director: Zack Snyder (1:57). R: Graphic battle sequences, sexuality and nudity. Area theaters.

Over lunch with an old college friend the other day, I was saying that a critic's job is to rationalize his or her response to a film. You can be moved by a story, a performance or by the power of the images themselves. But you do have to be moved.

Then, while digesting our Stage Deli sandwiches, we watched Zack Snyder's adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel "300," and I had a case in point.

This fantasized dramatization of the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 hard-bodied, highly disciplined Spartan soldiers made a valiant stand against a million Persians, didn't move me with its story or by any of its performances. But it's impossible not to be moved by its nearly nonstop visual assault.

"300," with its gold hues and computer-generated images, is not nearly as interesting to look at as Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's 2005 adaptation of Miller's "Sin City." But when it comes to bloody action, there is a lot more of it.

However many Persians met their deaths from a Spartan blade during that three-day battle, it feels as if we see every slice and dice.

The problem for me is that a little combat violence goes a long way, and a little stylized violence goes even further. After a while, the hand-to-hand fighting - with lopped-off heads rolling and blood splattering - morphs into a noisy cartoon.

"300" makes no claims of historical accuracy. Miller took the legend of Thermopylae and turned it into a myth along the lines of the Trojan War. There are no gods intruding here, but there are mystics and monsters and scar-faced hordes that would seem at home in Tolkien's Middle-earth.

And the rivals - Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and Persian King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) - are larger than life.

The R rating promises some sex and nudity, and that's where Lena Headey comes in as Sparta's beautiful Queen Gorgo (I hope Leonidas had a pet name for her). She and the king do some strenuous canoodling before he's off to fight the Persians, and when he's gone, she has to deal with Theron (Dominic West), Leonidas' powerful rival in the Greek assembly.

When the queen tries to enlist Theron's help in sending the full Spartan army to help Leonidas, he demands sexual favors and then rats her out to the assembly as a whore. The event that follows may be the source of the phrase "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."

There has been some Internet chatter that actually leached onto the pages of The New York Times about parallels between Thermopylae and the Iraq war - whether George Bush is more like Xerxes, who wanted to rule the world, or Leonidas, an idealist fighting for freedom.

The filmmakers deny any intentional parallels, and I couldn't find one. Dick Cheney may be a bit like Xerxes and Bush a bit like Leonidas. But the Greek and Persian kings liked to fight; Bush and Cheney just like to watch.

 


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