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Not Much Underneath Epic Film 300's Flashy Exterior

Category: 300 Reviews
Article Date: April 4, 2007 | Publication: | Author: PAUL BASCOPE and ANDREA FERNANDEZ

Posted by: stagewomanjen

There are not many new movies that are as much fun to watch as Zach Snyder's (who directed the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead) new film, 300. Adapted from Frank Miller's graphic novel, which combines a classic narrative with jaw-dropping visuals, 300 is a unique movie experience setting a new visual standard for modern movie making. 300 tells the story about the last stand of this small number of Spartan warriors against thousands of Persians during the battle of Thermopylae. Borrowing from the visual style of Miller's graphic novel, the movie features standard comic sensationalism. The plot is overshadowed by the settings, props and costuming which all took center stage for their defined and exaggerated style.

300' is centered on the King of Sparta Leonidas (Gerald Butler) who is raised according to Spartan ideals of honor, bravery and glory. When a messenger from Persia arrives in Sparta with the heads of conquered kings demanding submission to the Persian god king Xerxes in the form of an offering of earth and water, Leonidas answers by kicking the messenger and his escorts down a well. Consequences for his actions don't worry Leonidas because the Spartan idea of glory is to die in battle, but due to the Olympic Games being held and an ancient and fickle group of elders, Leonidas is prohibited from using the full force of the Spartan army against the Persians' retaliation.

Leonidas' relationship with his wife allows us to look at the heart beating below the pounds of muscle. Butler excellently shows just enough strength, tenderness and presence to pull off a great Leonidas. He inspires hope in his allies and has enough intensity to strike fear in the hearts of his enemies. Leonidas decides to enlist 300 soldiers, all who have sons to carry on their family names, to fight the oncoming Persians by his side. Declaring them his personal guard, Leonidas prepares a defense that will eliminate the size advantage of his opponent.

Overall the plot is simple and doesn't require much dialogue, which consists of a few lines from classical sources placed out of context. 300 is certainly not weighed down with too much history and military jargon. The lines are delivered with immense seriousness and feeling.

The weaponry is one of the most important and accurate parts of the film. The shields in particular sport the famous decoration of hoplite armies, the Greek character lambda. This symbol not only stood for the first letter on the geographical area of Lacedaemon where Sparta was located, but represented the ideal structure of society in the Spartan mind as a pyramid with two kings at the very tip. The resemblance of lambda to a spear point doesn't go unnoticed either. The only problems with the visual portrayal of the Spartans is that, like any movie, they are made to look uber-sexy in leather briefs and bare chests, rather than the more realistic cuirass tops or thigh length skirts.

The creators of 300 filled the film with many bewildering props. 300 depicts a few regiments of the Achaemenid (Persian) army in ninja-like costumes. King Xerxes, just as in the graphic novel, is shown as an androgynous Goliath garbed in chains and rings, "fancying himself a god," in order to heighten the hyper masculinity and humanity of King Leonidas.

Many critics tore 300 to shreds for portraying the Persians as slaves. Touraj Daryaee, associate professor of ancient history at California State University, demythologizes Frank Miller's Sparta by emphasizing that they were not "freedom loving" in the modern sense of the word. Rather it was the Persians who tolerated the diversity within their empire, allowing the various people who lived under them to carry out their traditional way of life before the Achaemenidian takeover. In 300 we hear the "we are the mothers of men" [Plutarch] quote, out of context, as if it applies to Persian ideas about the low status of women, who in actually had more progressive roles than the Spartans..

Snyder has made every action that crosses the screen in 300 awe-inspiring. Every scene, figure and motion is carefully choreographed and articulated. The musical score and sound effects only serve to enhance every action. The contrast in one scene between a Nubian Persian, adorned in gold, and the dull honey coloring of his pupils is stressed so he looks like a shadow with eyes staring back at you from the screen. The impenetrable wall made up of hundreds of dead bodies was one of the best spectacles of the film. The cinematography shoots the Spartans as masterfully combating Persians, focusing on each bulging muscle and weapon thrust, by utilizing zoom, changes in speed and focus.

Like a vivid oil painting come to life, the color palette of 300 is mostly sepia-toned, ochres, burgundies and ultramarines. In terms of violence, 300 is much like Sin City with its comic style violence. This style of killing keeps 300 fresh and entertaining. Slow motion is employed by Snyder, but it isn't tiresome like oh so many Matrix imitations. Using just enough to create ambiance and epic scope, Snyder has taken an old piece of history and made it a modern legend.

The film is a combination of an ancient epic tale, comic graphic style and ground breaking filming techniques. Be warned, 300 should not be taken as a historical film but rather a graphic novel movie loosely based on the events at Thermopylae. If you like to be entertained and visually bewildered, 300 is the must-see of the season.


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