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THIS! IS! .. Well, It's Moriarty's Review Of 300, Actually...

Category: 300 Reviews
Article Date: March 9, 2007 | Publication: Ain't It Cool News | Author: Moriarty
Source: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/31823

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... but I am tempted to bellow the headline just on general principle after seeing the film. Itís sort of infectious, that peculiar brand of hyper-volume bravado that Gerard Butler brings to his role as Leonidas, king of Sparta. This entire movie deserves the prefix ďhyperĒ no matter what youíre talking about. Hyper-real. Hyper-stylized. Hyper-macho. Hyper-action. Itís basically two hours of money shots strung together.

And Iím not saying thatís a bad thing.

If you feel like taking a trip through all the various reviews of 300 that have shown up so far, youíre going to notice something. Itís sort of hilarious that Snyder hid an image of Rorshach in that extended trailer of 300, because I think what heís made with this film is a political rorshach test. People are going to project a lot of their own personal politics onto this one, and youíll hear people explain how it means this or it means that, and youíll read both outrage and smug satisfaction.

I donít think Snyder made a political film, though. I think Frank Miller is an undeniably political writer, but I donít think that had much to do with Snyderís decision to make the film. I think what really attracted him to the material is exactly what attracts me to this film: the image. This is a celebration of film as a visual art form, first and foremost, and Snyder has made something stunningly beautiful, a poem of war, a movie drunk on the potential of cinema to bring to life the impossible. Working with Kurt Johnstad and Michael Gordon as co-screenwriters, Snyderís crafted a largely-faithful adaptation of the text of Millerís work. There are a few invented scenes, mostly concerned with Queen Gorgo (Lena Heady), left behind when King Leonidas takes his faithful band of 300 Spartans to face impossible odds in an effort to turn back the vast Persian army, poised to destroy their city. I donít mind the new material (mainly because I really like Dominic West and think he should work more), but I donít think it really improves the film either. No matter, though. In the end, the reason to see this film is because of the way Snyder handles the battle sequences, and this is where he proves himself as a major talent.

Iím a picky bitch when it comes to action scenes on film. Geography and clarity are the two things that are most important to me in an action sequence, and Snyderís got a great feel for both. In a film where many of the major characters look alike while in battle, it would be easy for this to become confusing, jumbled, frantic instead of kinetic. But Snyderís got a steady hand and a great eye, and he transforms Millerís static images into something fluid and beautiful. Iím amazed at how violent the film is. Normally, films where characters use swords end up pissing me off because Hollywood always seems determined to shy away from actually showing anybody use those swords. Not Snyder. He paints the screen red, and heís not afraid to send limbs and heads and other body parts flying. Each of the major set pieces work for me, and I found myself laughing and applauding some of the most outrageous moments. Snyder makes you feel the action. This isnít just a bunch of pretty pictures flashing by. Itís an immersive experience, especially if you see it in IMAX.

I do think the filmís dialogue tends to be tough-guy ping-pong, with everyone speaking in perfect little badass sound bites, but thatís a minor quibble. In scene after scene, Snyder plunges you headfirst into this world heís created wholecloth, and by about ten minutes in, youíll know whether or not youíre up for the ride. I lost myself in the coffee-colored skies, the almost dream-like use of time as Snyder bends and stretches the rules of time and space. Some people might have a problem with a historical epic that features creatures and mutants and the rest of the flourishes that Snyder piles on, but the film isnít meant to be taken literally. This is a campfire story, something spoken to rile up the Spartan army to go to war. You could easily label the movie ďpropaganda,Ē but youíd be giving it more heft than I think it actually has. 300 is absolutely straightforward, a tragedy disguised as a sword-and-sandals epic, and I applaud it as a work of visual art. His cinematographer, Larry Fong, should end up in constant demand after his work here. He takes this thing created entirely on greenscreen stages, and he makes it feel like a film shot in an organic world. Maybe not ours, but someplace real. Iím always pleased when I see something try to push the medium in some new direction, and 300 is the logical extension of films like SIN CITY and SKY CAPTAIN, one of the most successful examples yet of how much control these tools give filmmakers over the very nature of reality in their films.

Iíve given Gerard Butler a lot of shit over the years in reviews Iíve written here, and much of that was in reaction to the near-constant assertations by various producers and directors about how he was always on the verge of stardom. Now, finally having been given the right role, it looks like stardom is finally going to find him, and he deserves it. He tears into his lead role, and he makes you believe that Leonidas really could talk 300 of the finest soldiers in all of Sparta into following him to certain death. Lena Headey does the best with her role that anyone could, but itís a thankless role. Far more interesting is Xerxes, leader of the Perisan forces Rodrigo Santoro (best known to most genre audiences as Take A Shit Guy from LOST), who comes close to stealing the film during his brief time onscreen. Heís designed as a giant superfreak, and when we see his royal tent, itís just as freaky as youíd expect.

I know this may seem like a brief review, at least by my standards, but 300 isnít a film that demands an in-depth conversation. Itís not an intellectual experience. It's a purely visceral one. It's one of those films where words just plain come up short. This is a film that you have to see in a theater in order to appreciate the impact, the louder the better, a film that would work just as well silent as it does with sound. Itís pure cinema, and although I donít agree that itís all surface and no style, as many critics have said so far, but in this case, the surface is so magnificent, so engrossing, and so exciting that this surface is enough.

 


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