Monday 29 October 2007

300 (2007)

Monday 29 October 2007
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad & Michael B. Gordon (based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller)

Cast: Gerard Butler (King Leonidas), Lena Headey (Queen Gorgo), David Wenham (Dilios), Dominic West (Theron), Michael Fassbender (Stelios), Vincent Regan (Captain Artemis), Rodrigo Santoro (King Xerxes), Andrew Tiernan (Ephialtes), Andrew Pleavin (Daxos), Tom Wisdom (Astinos), Giovani Cimmino (Pleistarchos), Stephen McHattie (The Loyalist), Peter Mensah (Persian Messenger), Kelly Craig (Oracle Girl), Tyler Neitzel (Young Leonidas) & Robert Maillet (Giant)

A Spartan King leads 300 warriors against an invading Persian King's million-strong army, in the Battle Of Thermopylae...

Director Zack Snyder, who performed a miracle in remaking zombie classic Dawn Of The Dead successfully in 2004, turns his hand to adaptation with 300, a period action film based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller.

Utilizing the greenscreen technology used to bring Miller's Sin City to vivid life back in 2005, 300 is a fictionalized retelling of a real historical event: The Battle Of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans fended off 250,000 Persians for 3 days in 480 B.C.

But historical accuracy wasn't foremost on Miller's mind, or on Snyder's mind now – as they both neglect to mention the titular 300 actually fought alongside other Greeks, totaling nearer 5,000 men. But no matter; this is a bold and brash exaggeration of truth, intended to entertain and astonish with sequences of bravura action, beautiful effects and heart-pumping machismo.

Gerard Butler makes for a strong, exciting presence as King Leonidas, growling in a Scottish brogue through a beard as thick as his biceps. As the Spartan King he's pure Alpha Male, treated as the pinnacle of manhood with a rippling torso, determined attitude, unflinching bravery, tactical knowledge and extreme loyalty to his land and its people.

Butler's surrounded by other he-men, although only Lord Of The Rings' David Wenham really stands out as Dilios, primarily because of his distinctive voice, which finds him serving double duties as the film's narrator.

The only other characters of any note are: antagonist King Xerxes, the Persian God-King, played by an unrecognizable Rodrigo Santoro from Lost, given the baritone voice of Ra from Stargate; Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo, leading the political aspect of the film back in Sparta while her husband's away; and Andrew Tiernan as Ephialtes, a hunchback who turns traitor...

300 is simple stuff, but beautifully realized. Historians will be cringing at the countless errors -- bare-chested Spartans will be the least of their concerns once the giant war-elephants turn up! – but it all exists in a twisted, comic-book world. A more accurate historical film would be just as exciting and, probably, more satisfying as a result -- but I don't think it would be quite as striking.

Make no mistake about it, 300 is one of the more visually accomplished films in quite some time – eclipsing Sin City in what can be achieved with a group of actors standing around in green studios. Yes, you can tell this isn't taking place on location in the real world... but watching characters moving through a graphic painting is captivating in itself.

However, for all its undoubted ability to entertain and sometimes enthrall, 300 is basically a bit of a jumble. Once the novelty of the film's style wears thin, you're left with a succession of battles that rarely involve you in the action. Everything is ultimately a bit too distancing and stylized, so it's more like watching the linking scenes of a video-game... not a proper movie. The appearance of various "monsters" to spice things up, once another identical horde of Persians have been wiped out, seems to prove this.

Overall, you'll get exactly what you want from 300: male models in red capes slaughtering foreigners and the occasional monster, in the style of a blood-spattered comic-book. It's like watching someone else play a video-game -- great fun while it lasts, but unlikely to stick in your memory for many days afterwards. It has no chance of becoming a classic in its genre, but technically it's a great achievement.

Warner Brothers
Budget: $60 million
117 minutes