Saturday, December 5, 2009

300

I get to things really late. So it took me two years. Well, 300 [2007] was pretty much what I was expecting and that's a good thing. I finally took time to kick back for yet another sword and slaughter epic that was in my queue from Watchmen Director Zack Snyder.

This painterly, graphic novel-style epic about 300 Spartans taking on the mass armies of Persia is pretty much all that. There aren't much in the way of surprises, but it is truly a two hour piece of visual candy. The muted tone of browns and blacks are offset by bucket loads of red on film in the form of Spartan attire and, you guessed it, blood. It's very much in keeping with the graphic novel by Frank Miller on which the film is based.

The visual flair and finesse on film comes by way of beautifully choreographed and edited fight sequences when Snyder moves the camera in and out, cuts from fast to slow motion. His camera and edits create a truly nifty, faithful feast for the eyes. It's like the book has come to life. This is what most who have enjoyed the film or even loved the film have responded to.

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300 lacks the kind of character development found in such epic battlefield classics as Braveheart [1995] by Director Mel Gibson. That film clocked in at nearly three hours and had time to breathe and develop that side of the picture. Snyder runs an efficient piece at nearly two hours. It's a lean, mean, lion of a movie. It also doesn't pretend to be more than an interesting visual experience with enough dialogue from Miller's book to tell the fateful story. In that, it's a terrific action movie that does just that, moves. This one does. The film is a bit like battle poetry or a painting come to life. The gore is comic book-like and there are a handful of fantasy-styled elements by way of the monsters, creatures or deformed characters that populated the graphic novel. It's as if the tale told by the great storytellers of the day with a flair for exaggeration have come to life. Take for example the god-king Xerses who towers over Leonidas in the film to emphasize a point handed down through history. Like any epic retold over time there is an emphasis on the dramatic here as well. There's even narration in the picture to lend it this quality. This is great subject material for analysis [See Extras below]. 300 is very much Snyder's interpretation of an event that has been interpreted fairly or not by many over the centuries.

The ending should be no surprise so prepare for glory. 300 captures the bloody fate of 300 Spartans in the Battle of Thermopylae. Raised from birth as warriors, the fearless Spartans, led by King Leonidas, faced down hordes of Persian armies. This is a representation of the second Persian invasion led by Xerses as a response to the first victory by the Greeks. Greek city-states pulled together, led by Sparta, to fend off the Persian invasion. Persia is better known today essentially as Iran. Unfortunately the outcome for Persia was victory. What do you expect? There were 300 warriors against a tidal wave. America could learn a little something from Spartan courage nowadays, and I'm not referring to those serving in the military.

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Women have notably toppled empires. I believe there may be more than a hint of truth to that old saying. It's worth mentioning too, Composer Tyler Bates lends a real hand to the atmosphere of the film with his complementary score. There a mix of tenderness and rock and roll. The sound effects are also critical and truly fused within the details of a given moment.

As I mentioned, the film is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel. His influence and inspiration was drawn from the 1962 film The 300 Spartans [1962]. It's too bad there isn't much in the way of character here, but it's almost entirely a visual exercise and in that it is a splendid looking picture. I've not read the graphic novel, but I've skimmed it while in the local Barnes & Noble. The characters, the frames, the battle sequences in the film are extracted straight from the book. Much of it can be found in that book. Zack Snyder is already developing a reputation, in his short film career, for painstakingly utilizing the images from the graphic novels for his adaptations. He remains faithful in their execution to the big screen. He gets an A for effort there. He applies his vision like a paintbrush to his own medium. It's a testament to Frank Miller's vision too, because his face is up there on the screen too. Like Sin City [2005; directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller] or the film The Spirit [2008; written and directed by Frank Miller] there is indeed a certain painterly trademark, noirish look to the adaptations of his work or the works he touches.

So enjoy it for what it is. Character is fairly non-existent despite Gerard Butler's convincing King Leonidas [convincing as tough kings go, as I've never met Leonidas] and an incredibly sexy Queen Gorgo played by Lena Headey of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles [2008; I think she may have been the best part of that series]. She gets hot and sweaty in this film and slightly naked. [Throat clearing]. As I mentioned, the character development just isn't there, but the battle that is 300 is striking in its execution thanks to Snyder if you enjoy graphic novels. [Cough] Lena Headey is hot, sweaty and slightly naked.

300: A-

Blu-Ray Extras:
The 300: Fact Of Fiction? There is a terrific segment featuring a number of professors, historians, Frank Miller, Zack Snyder dissecting the interpretation of this historical event through this film. You won't learn the same detail from this disc as you would intensive research on the subject through a proper library, but much can be discovered here. These DVDs today offer a plethora of information. A young kid could really come up with a terrific book report based on these discs. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be good if the bibliography cited the 300 DVD as its only source material. Who Were The Spartans? The Warriors Of 300. I think watching these documentaries really gives greater understanding to what is at work on the screen from a historical and mythological perspective. When finished you will be sorry to hear those who discard the film as pointless or less substantive than it really is. You'll be inspired not only by the film, but by the information here on the Spartans. It was a truly interesting period and culture. The aforementioned segments in black are my personal favorites of the bunch. Other notable installments include: Preparing For Battle: The Original Test Footage, Frank Miller Tapes, and Making Of 300.

And the greatest thing about why the story endures, despite the odds, 300 heroic men stood for what was right. They stood with bravery by principle with no chance for victory and in defeat became legend inspiring the generations. The greatest thing about the film, like the book, this is pure artwork brought to life.

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