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Molon Labe

Category: 300 News
Article Date: March 14, 2007 | Publication: Multilingua - A Modern Day Warrior -- Mean, Mean Stride | Author: Phantompang

Posted by: DaisyMay

300 is a fantastic movie. Spoilers abound
I had my doubts, to be honest. Reviews were apparently mixed, but the ones I actually read gave it not good, but excellent reviews. (On that note: FIRST magazine’s review of Pan’s Labyrinth gave it five out of five and deemed it “perfect”.) Most of the stuff you see in the trailer doesn’t make that much sense, although it’s visually stunning. And most of it appeared in the first half of the movie, in my impression.

My advice is not to go in with any expectations. This movie, like many adaptations, must be taken on its own terms. For me, not having read 300 and not being familiar with graphic novels in general, this had to take place on two levels. I knew Dilios (David Wenham) was narrating but I wondered how he could narrate if he was one of the 300 and none survived Thermopylae, and for some reason I was expecting Herodotus (the historian who chronicled Thermopylae, among other things) to make a narrative appearance. I knew the historical Leonidas went to see an oracle who told him a Spartan king would have to die in its defence but 300’s oracle, after its extravagant display of oracleship, said no such thing. After these two semi-surprises early on, I got the point: this movie (and the graphic novel) is not meant to be historically accurate; just sit back and enjoy the bloody (x1000) thing.

As a note on that, before I go on, I might as well talk about the fact that Leonidas (Gerry Gerry Gerry Butler) was the last Spartan to fall. Many things change in adaptations and I’ll assume this is taken from the graphic novel, but I have to say that was one of two extremely dramatic, filmic moments, “as only celluloid can deliver”. Historically, of course, Leonidas fell in the middle of the battle, the Spartans fiercely defended his body and upon claiming the body, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro, who looks kind of weird but is fantastic in this role) cut off his head and crucified the body. Historically in film, a lot of things are changed in adaptations for dramatic effect: Faramir taking the hobbits to Osgiliath, the chandelier crashing near the end of Act Two instead of at the end of Act One, Marie dying at the beginning of the Bourne Supremacy (still don’t know what that was for). Sometimes they’re effective, sometimes they’re not. This change is not merely effective, it is the single moment that renders the movie epic.

The other intensely dramatic moment is the reversal of Gorgo (Lena Headey) and Theron’s positions at the council. Like any other smart-aleck moviegoer, I saw Theron’s betrayal coming, cursed at him for a bit (I can hear a voice in my head going “f***face”) and expected the council meeting to be interrupted by Dilios’s return, salvaging Gorgo’s case. I really did not see Gorgo’s fantastic response coming, and it was so perfectly delievered by
Lena Headey, so well served by the camera and more importantly, the moment in the context of all other moments was perfectly held. It would have become a joke if they bullet-timed it like most of the battles at Thermopylae itself. I shall not spoil this moment because no matter what I say about it, nothing beats the real thing.

The acting is fantastic. Gerry Butler is an excellent choice - he has the most expressive eyes ever. He spends a good part of the film under a helmet, and the Spartans are famed for being men of few words so this is important.

I took forever hunting down this picture. I knew it existed and I still feel the same every time I see it. Look at those eyes and tell me he can’t act.

an eternity of this before your eyes

Because the helmets in 300 obscure the face so much, a large part of the performance comes through the eyes, and he delivers over and above anything you might have expected. Might I add that when I say there was no weak link in the ensemble, I don’t mean “none of them were bad”, I mean “all of them were damned good”. Rodrigo Santoro takes megalomania to a whole new level, underlined with the dignity of a self-important king, so that his inaction communicates as much intent as his action - after all, he believes himself a god, and if I were to go on, I would have to go through every member of the cast. Just watch the film - the performances alone are worth it. This is even more amazing considering virtually the entire film was shot on blue and green screen. Method some more, lah.

The dialogue is suitably laconic, but I think that was from the graphic novel. The laconic dialogue translates especially well to film. They speak a lot less than in an average film, so every word really counts, and every word, in typically laconic fashion, means ten more. And of course, famous Spartan quotes such as “come and get them”, “then we shall fight in the shade”, “eat well, for tonight we dine in Hades”, “because only we give birth to real men” and “with it or on it” (can’t remember whether this was actually said, but it was definitely implied) are given appropriate treatment in the film.
Technically, the film is flawless. Blue and green screen, cinematography, editing especially. I suppose the graphic novel influence is an acquired taste because I took some time to get used to it. But critically, the film makes me want to read the graphic novel - you can interpret this two ways. After watching V for Vendetta, I didn’t feel the urge to read the graphic novel because I felt the movie stood on its own. For 300, the film isn’t even adapted from the graphic novel, it practically is a moving graphic novel. That might make it seem like it doesn’t stand on its own, but remember, 300 is a shot-for-shot (or shot-for-frame) adaptation of the graphic novel, and that makes it impossible to separate the two in any case. The second thing, of course, is that it draws attention to the historical accuracy and fidelity of the account - this I see as wholly a good thing. After watching the Fellowship of the Ring, it finally occurred to be that the Lord of the Rings might be worth reading. The Bourne Identity and Supremacy are great films, but they don’t give me that feeling. 300 provides that epic feeling that makes you want to go back and find out more about what happened at Thermopylae and in the Greco-Persian wars, and it is exactly that - that this battle and its people are remembered almost 2500 years later - that makes you want to dig deeper.
Was there anything bad about the movie? Yes, Gerry Butler’s stupid beard. Other than that, unless you’re Ling, no. Go watch it.


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