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"300" Tackles Epic Battle of Spartans, Persians

Category: 300 Reviews
Article Date: March 14, 2007 | Publication: The Free Times | Author: James Scott

Posted by: stagewomanjen

One of the Most Important Films in Years, Reviewer Says

For those wondering, director Zack Snyder’s 300 isn’t a remake of the 1960 sword n’ sandals epic The 300 Spartans. The trendy word is “reimagining,” except that it’s also filtered through the eye of comic-book writer Frank Miller. Oh, excuse me — “comic book” is just as archaic a term as “remake;” I should have said “graphic novel.”

Nevertheless, the previous film, Miller’s comic and Snyder’s new movie all recount how 300 badass Spartans, led by the ferocious King Leonidas, defended the narrow pass of Thermopylae against the invading Persians long enough to allow the rest of the city-states to set aside their differences and organize against the Asian hordes. Leonidas and his men knew they were going to die, but their resistance bought time for Greece and cost the Persians as many as 10,000 of their troops. Of course, there were really about 7,000 other Greeks until the last day of the battle when Leonidas ordered them to withdraw, leaving him with roughly 1,200 men to face the 300,000 Persians.

There’s a reason why we still make movies 2,400 years later: Had the Spartans not done what they did, the Persians would have prevailed and everything would be very different. It’s no accident that Leonidas’s sacrifice still defines heroism for Western civilization.

But there’s so much more to the story than I ever suspected. For example, I thought Greece always looked like it does in travel brochures, but came to find out that ancient Hellas was always overcast and everything from stone to horsehide was copper-colored. Silly me, thinking The Bronze Age referred to what they made their stuff out of. And I labored under the misconception that the Spartan hoplites charged into battle wearing 70 pounds of bronze armor, but did you know that all they really wore were leather Speedos? I’d always assumed King Xerxes was just your average pampered autocrat, when in reality he was a nine-foot tall pierced transsexual who rumbled like Darth Vader and had giant elephants and armored rhinos in his arsenal.

See, there’s always more you can learn about history, at least according to Snyder (Dawn of the Dead, 2004 version), who successfully preserves the basic facts and, more importantly, the feeling behind the facts. It’s a tough sell to render ancient heroes palatable to modern audiences. How do you get contemporary people to cheer for a guy who, when he’s not dismembering Persians, is throwing sickly babies over the cliff? Or takes the surviving boys from their parents at age 7 so they can be taught how to decapitate someone more efficiently?

Well, you take all your male leads — including Gerard Butler (The Phantom of the Opera), outstanding as Leonidas — and slavedrive them until they’re so buff they make everyone else in Hollywood look like sissy boys and then you parade ‘em around 96 percent naked for two hours. Now, women who otherwise would rather sit home and watch Pride and Prejudice for the 19th time will happily accompany their boyfriends and husbands (sorry, Mr. Darcy), even if most of those muscle-bound limbs end up getting hacked off.

300 is 99 percent shot against bluescreen on a stage in Montreal, and that is the source of its coppery color scheme: Everything other than the actors and a few props is completely computer-generated; even the shadows and color balance on the actors is tweaked. The effect weaves an incredibly rich visual tapestry, allowing the director unprecedented control over his art. And make no mistake, 300 is one of the most important and coherent works of art produced for the screen in a decade, like Phidias himself had just hewn it out of marble.
But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. My goal in film, as entertainment and as enlightenment, is to be transported from the here and now to the there and then. I look at Ridley Scott’s Gladiator and know that’s as close as I’ll ever get to Imperial Rome, but I look at 300 and I’m not in ancient Greece. It feels more like some geek’s next-gen Pentium chip.


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