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This war is heaven

Category: 300 Reviews
Article Date: March 9, 2007 | Publication: Calgary Sun (Alberta) | Author: BRUCE KIRKLAND
Source: http://www.calgarysun.com/

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Technically dazzling Spartan battle saga 300 a visceral feast for the senses

Zack Snyder's 300 is an ultra-modern movie about an ancient battle, a vanished culture and a rigorous code of conduct that only an insane man would adopt in contemporary times.

That violent intersection -- of slick new digital technology and the elusive rites of antiquity -- has resulted in the first unique cinematic experience of the year. 300 is a savage spectacle of scope and bravado.

Geared to adults and based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, it tells a mythological version of a true story.

In 480 B.C., 300 Spartan warriors marshalled at the Gates of Hell to defend their nearby city state from an invasion force of one million Persians.

Their strategy was brilliant and simple: Force the Persians into a narrow gorge between two cliffs, meaning the Spartans could not easily be dislodged, run over or surrounded. Of course, that also meant the defenders had to be fierce, disciplined, well-organized and each willing to submit to what they called "a beautiful death."

Arguably, you could make the case that the Battle of Thermopylae, with Spartan King Leonidas aligned against Persian god-King Xerxes, changed the course of Western civilization.

But you are not thinking about that when bathed in blood and thrilling to the event. As a film, 300 is smashing entertainment more than it is accurate history. Prepare for an assault of violence, heroism, duplicity, action, surprising humour, sensuous interludes and startling moments of agonizing pathos.

In short, 300 provides the qualities that Rudolph Mate's 1962 movie, The 300 Spartans, lacked when it also did battle at Thermopylae. That plodding sword-and-sandal epic, with Richard Egan as Leonidas, was wooden. It creaked and it groaned under the weight of pomposity.

Yet the movie inspired artist-writer Miller. Of course, he was only five years and and impressionable. Years later, in 1998, he published his version as an adult comic book. Now, after a seven-year production ordeal typical of projects that do not hew to Hollywood formula, it is a film by co-writer (with Kurt Johnstad and Michael B. Gordon) and director Zack Snyder.

The technical side is dazzling, especially for a film with a relatively modest $63-million budget that was shot in Montreal to take advantage of tax credits and boutique-shop special effects houses.

Smart decision. Except for one scene, the enterprise was executed on sound stages. Like the ground-breaking Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, all the environments -- indoors and out -- were created through digital diddling. The artistry is staggeringly beautiful, except for the cheesy attempt to show a storm swamping the Persian navy. But, with scenery and weather, rampaging rhinos, bellowing elephants, bizarro mutants, hordes of archers, masses of both Spartans and Persians both alive and dead, and the gigantic persona of Xerces, the special effects are marvellous.

This technique also allowed freedom to Snyder (known for his deliciously diabolical re-make of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead) to play with tone, mood and stylistic flourishes. Like Miller's Sin City, which morphed into Robert Rodriguez's noir film, 300 is a surreal film dreamscape with live action humans at its core.

WARRIOR MACHINE

They are well cast, starting with Gerard Butler as Leonidas. Like all the main players, he physically trained into a magnificent human warrior machine.

You haven't seen this many buff bodies on one screen, maybe ever (women audibly gasp as mostly naked men with washboard tummies march off to war -- and it's also homoerotic).

There is also eye candy for the straight guys in the audience: Lena Headey as Spartan Queen Gorgo (some viewers may want to be Gorgonized, even at the risk of impalment on a Spartan sword).

Others in key roles include Rodrigo Santoro (from Lost) as the exotic Xerxes and David Wenham (from The Lord of the Rings) who plays Dilios, a warrior and the storyteller-narrator.

This clever twist allows the entire saga to be given a Spartan propaganda spin.

Real war is hell, but this version is heaven, in a mythological heroic sense. It is an experience, not literal history.

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300

1 Hour, 55 Minutes

Starring: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro

Director: Zack Snyder

Sun Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5

 


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