A more intense shot of testosterone you will not find in any film. Equal parts bravado, guts and glory, "300" is simply the most exciting film to come out this year - or in several. Criticized for its violence and gore, fans of Miller's graphic novels will find that violence and gore to be as beautifully depicted on the screen as in the print version. A highly hyped CGI affair the cast could easily have been overcome by the sheer impressiveness of the physical production. To his credit director Zack Snyder is blessed with and uses a cast every bit equal to the challenge of competing with Miller's dark fantastic take of the Spartan's greatest story.
Gerard Butler (Phantom of the Opera, Dear Frankie, etc.) adds yet another impressive and wildly different character to his arsenal of screen roles. As Leonidas, King of Sparta, Butler is, from his pigtail to his muscled, sandled feet, every inch a king; a true leader of men. His passion and intensity is matched by a splendid performance by Lena Headey as his wife, Queen Gorgo. Though a dutiful wife and a woman in an age when being such was near equal to slave status, she is, in her way, as bold and fearless as her husband/King. Dominic West is properly evil and oily as the traitor Theron and he's as nasty and duplicitous a villain as one can hope for. Rodrigo Santoro as a larger-than-life Xerxes is both comical and fearfully creepy equal parts drag queen and wanna be god. Behind all the glitzy piercings and bling, he is little more than self-inflated egotistical child.
While there is blood and gore aplenty, the film also happens to be emotionally satisfying and I found myself with tears welling up in my eyes more than a few times, as well as wanting to raise my fist in the air along with the jacked-up Spartans! While a macho stoicism pervades their attitudes, there are, to be sure, signs of a greater humanity beneath those ripped abs of Sparta's army - and plenty of heart.
Parallels and allegories are already being drawn between today's warring world climate, super power dominations and the world of ancient Greece and the Middle East. While this provides an interesting commentary, I heartily recommend leaving that baggage at home and appreciating "300" on its own and embracing its escapism.
Larry Fong's cinematography ensures that "300" is eye-poppingly glorious from start to finish - a magnificent feast for the eyes while Tyler Bates's score is guaranteed to keep your adrenaline pumping as it matches - frame-for-frame the visual intensity presented on the screen. While critics are divided on this one, audiences are flocking to it and cheering. For good reason, too: "300" is magnificent old-fashioned story telling wed to the very best 21st century filmmaking has to offer. See it!
Frank Miller adaptations are on a roll. First we got "Sin City," and now we have the story of three hundred Spartans who repelled a massive invasion.
And the adaptation of "300" is a stunning one -- literally stunning, since it bombards the viewer with larger-than-life characters, smashing visuals and tight direction. It goes a bit too fast for its own good, but it's a truly epic film that takes the historical war movie to another level -- all the more so because it actually happened.
As the introduction tells us, the Spartans were the ultimate warrior people. Babies were inspected for weakness or faults, and killed if they had any; as they were growing up, they were taught and toughened by a savage regimen. Their only true hope was to "die beautifully" for their land.
A Persian messenger arrives, telling King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) that the god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) wants the Spartans to bow to him. Leonidas' response: shove the Persians into a pit. But before he can go to war, he must consult the corrupt priesthood of Ephors and their beautiful Oracle. She predicts that Sparta will fall and the gods forbid war at the approach of the Carneaian festival -- courtesy of a hefty bribe from a Spartan traitor.
So Leonidas takes out three hundred of his best men, along with their nervy Arcadian allies, and begin trouncing the Persians. But they are being sabotaged, both by a hunchbacked outcast and by a treacherous councilor, whom Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) is battling. And so at Thermopylae, Leonidas prepares for a final battle against the monstrous Persian Army -- knowing that their story of freedom will live on.
This is not a "sensitive" movie where you have any appreciation for the bad guys -- it's a glorification of three hundred soldiers who died for their land and freedom. It just wouldn't work otherwise. It doesn't blindly adore the Spartans -- we see their darker side in their "weed out the weak" policy -- but it does appreciate them. They respect and care about each other, and Leonidas is as kind as he can be even to Ephialtes, the traitor.
And it's done in a manner appropriate to its comic book origins -- grimy, bloody and epic, but with a stylized look that is almost like CGI. The battles are shockingly good, and full of fantasy-ish creations like the monstrous creatures or the silver-masked Immortals. Even a wall of corpses. But we also get some beautiful visuals as well -- roiling seas, sunlit battlefields, Spartan cities, and the drugged Oracle in her white veil.
While the script gets a bit over-the-top at times, it's hard not to be moved by dialogue that can be darkly funny ("It's just an eye. The gods saw fit to grace me with a spare") or stirring ("He did not wish tribute, nor song, or monuments or poems of war and valor. His wish was simple: "Remember us." That was his hope, should any free soul come across that place, in all the countless centuries yet to be").
Butler and Headey are simply great as Leonidas and Gorgo -- they're both strong, passionate and fearless, and they both do a great job in their separate storylines. But the movie is filled with good performances -- David Wenham as the narrator, Dominic West as a disgusting traitor, Santoro as the decadent, arrogant god-king, and many others.
This version contains both the regular and high-def versions, and apparently contains a small wealth of extras -- featurettes about the history of Thermopylae and the 300 Spartans, photo galleries, info on the Spartan culture, commentary, deleted scenes, and info on Frank Miller (who, of course, wrote the original graphic novel). It's sort of the decorative icing on a cake -- not necessary to enjoy the film, but it makes it just a bit better.
"300" is a unique, stirring, stunning movie that pushes the action-movie envelope, and gives a thrilling edge to a real-life story of overwhelming power. A brilliant movie.
As a guy, if this film doesn't get your blood churning and your testosterone pumped up to a deliriously critical level, well, you're either dead inside or you're a Tibetan monk with complete mastery over your cardiovascular and hormonal systems. 300 is a man's man's man's flick and is a muscular love poem which celebrates the ideals of honor, courage, sacrifice, and standing up for your beliefs. Righteous stuff.
Not being much of a history buff, the only famous last stands I can instantly come up with are the Battles of the Alamo, of the Little Big Horn, and of Thermopylae (I guess I could also throw in Game 7 between the Lakers and the Blazers, 2000). Of these, the legendary Battle of Thermopylae is the most dramatic and is the mother of all last stands. I first heard about the Battle of Thermopylae (480BC) and the 300 Spartans way back when I was in high school, and I thought it a nifty story from the very first. A few years ago, I read Frank Miller's graphic novel 300 and enjoyed it tremendously, not caring at all that he altered things here and there as he opted instead to focus on the story's artistry, its sense of grandeur, and its mythological aspects. The filmmakers, make no mistake, take their cue from Mr. Miller. Remnants of historical facts are still somewhat represented under the film's glossy veneer but with some tweaking. You just have to see past the somewhat ridiculous parade of grotesque LORD OF THE RINGS-like creatures which Xerxes and director Zack Snyder send out.
SPOILERS begin now:
The film itself begins with the voiceover detailing the austere Spartan credo as we watch a baby boy quickly transition thru several phases of maturation as he grows into a young man, all the while being instructed and severely tested in the extremely brutal and uncompromising warrior ways of his people. We see him confronting his final test and craftily passing it, thus officially entering the ranks of Spartan soldierhood. This young man is Leonidas, who will become the king of the Greek city-state, Sparta.
We pick up decades later as a Persian emissary pays a visit to King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his proud, beautiful wife and Queen, Gorgo (Lena Headey). The Persian calls for Sparta's submission to Xerxes, the God-King of Persia. After some deliberation, Leonidas's response isn't as much couched in diplomacy as it's couched in a sandal which propels the haughty emissary into a deep pit. Then, against the wishes of a lecherous, inbred group of mystics (who, nevertheless, control the Oracle) and the wishy-washy Spartan council, Leonidas gathers the 300 most capable soldiers in Sparta and, armed with a clever strategic plan, marches away to take on the vast hordes of the Persian invasion. If you've read your Greek history, you know what happens next...
300 is bold in its scope and relentless in its take-no-prisoners attitude. It is a sweeping and sumptuously stark visual feast and would've made Frank Frazetta cream on his canvas. If 300 is based on Frank Miller's work (and it is), then Miller's art has to have been influenced in some ways by the great Frazetta. The film is saturated in mostly monochromatic hues which lend luster and even more drama to the bold crimsons of the Spartans' cloaks and the frequent spatters of blood and guts. I'm not normally a fan of slo-mo sequences, but I have to admit that, this time, the slo-mo-abruptly-segueing-into-fluid-motion (yeah, I think that's the technical term) bits are nicely executed and result in more thrilling battle scenes. The sword/spear fights are so stylized anyway that, after a while, they resemble a form of ballet. But a manly ballet, with hair on it. And, I don't often mention music in relation to films, but composer Tyler Bates truly adds an extra dimension of thrills with his thundering, pulse-pounding score. For sure, I'm gonna own this soundtrack.
Gerard Butler comes into his own here. With his compelling and righteous performance, with towering machismo sweating out of his pores, he out-GLADIATORs Russell Crowe and, by comparison, reduces that silly ponce into a puddle of wussiness. No doubt, you and I'll be directly quoting from Leonidas in days to come: "This...is...SPARTA!" or "Tonight, we dine in Hell!" or (my favorite) "Give them nothing but take from them...everything!" As Leonidas, Butler displays all the innate qualities of leadership necessary to command an elite force like the Spartans, he's very convincing. Yet, his fierce and uncompromising temperament and his joy in battle are tempered by the obvious love and respect he holds for his wife. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, by his ideals and actions, he paved the way for the Greeks eventually routing the Persian masses.
Lena Headey as the beleaguered Queen proves to be a match for Leonidas as she attempts to fight tooth and nail on the homefront to get the council off its collective arses and muster reinforcements for her husband. As Gorgo, Headey works hard to be fierce, dedicated, intelligent, and realistic. The actress is successful as I never doubted for a sec that this resolute woman is a Spartan to the very core. Her main adversary is the virulent Theron (Dominic West), a politician who reeks of underhandedness while holding a certain resemblance to Harry Hamlin. Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro has a showy but crucial part as the towering and deep-voiced King Xerxes.
In the world of sword-and-sandal cinema, 300 quickly separates itself from the likes of TROY and ALEXANDER. I'd place it at the same excellent level as GLADIATOR. The story is unmatchable in its timelessness and resonance, the action is non-stop and visually compelling, the images are oh-so-memorable, and the lead characters are mezmerizing. And, from a mythological standpoint and in terms of cultural impact, the brave yet tragic 300 Spartans strike a chord as no other heroes do as they continue to be a testament to steadfast loyalty and courage in the face of overwhelming odds. "Go tell the Spartans..."
on March 9, 2007
Ah, to be male in Ancient Greece: "300" is a testosterone-driven fantasy in which all men are fearless warriors, driven by the need for battle and bloodshed. War is depicted as gloriously as any geek loner-type could hope for, with every soldier being the epitome of strength, courage, and physical brute force. Emotional bonding, sensitivity, and compassion don't even come into play; these men were trained to be ruthless killing machines, all in the name of preserving the glory of Sparta. This would no doubt be a ridiculous film if the story were presented in a straightforward, mainstream way. But straightforward and mainstream, "300" is not; this is pure, hard-driving escapism, from the frenetic battle sequences to the elaborate special effects to the over the top performances. In this sense, it's absolutely brilliant.
And it gets even better. Every shot, every setting, and every event is accentuated by a look so stylized that it's practically a living duplicate of Frank Miller's original graphic novel. This was achieved through computer-generated imagery, which was responsible for creating most of the film's locations. Bluescreen technology--also utilized for another incredible Miller adaptation, 2005's "Sin City"--made for a majority of the sets, leaving very little for the actors to actually work with. I can only imagine the effort that went into post-production, the endless hours of crafting landscapes, characters, and special effects all with the click of a mouse. The work paid off; the end product is an effectively heightened reinterpretation of reality, a kind of living illustration that transcends any sense of time or place. It's the perfect look for war story of this caliber, something so grandiose and overplayed that you can't get enough.
The plot is fairly simple: it's a retelling of the 480 BC Battle of Thermopylae, in which the Spartans fought against the Persians. King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his army of a mere 300 soldiers are ready to defend their land against the evil King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). This is despite the fact that 1) they don't have the blessing of the gods to go to war, and 2) they will fight against an army of over one million. But this matters not; Spartan males are trained to be warriors at a very early age, essentially the day that they're born (only the largest, strongest newborns are spared; the small, sickly ones are unceremoniously thrown off of a cliff). They are taught the fine art of combat. They are made to take all kinds of physical pain, including lashings. They are conditioned to never retreat, even when facing insurmountable odds. Leonidas successfully survived such rigorous training (his first major battle was against a monstrous wolf with glowing eyes), as did the rest of his men. Now, they are ready for battle.
And after taking position near a beachfront cliff, the Spartans engage in ferocious battle with the Persians. Never on film has war been so much fun to watch. This is probably because each sequence was beautifully photographed; even graphic shots of stabbings, amputations, and decapitations are so artfully constructed that it's hard to accept them as deplorable. The bodies of Persian soldiers are used to construct a blockade of surprising strength. Blood spatters from gaping wounds in dark, unrealistic globules, effectively looking more like spots of ink. There's a moment when arrows fly through the air in numbers so vast, they block the light of the sun. Nearly every shot is drawn out, often going in slow motion to show how carefully choreographed the gratuitous violence is.
The Spartans also fight against the Immortals, an army of ghastly yet fantastical creatures with an appetite for destruction. They were appropriately crafted as one-dimensional barbarians, made more effective because of their appearances; they wear long black robes, and their pale, monstrous faces are hidden behind Tragedy-style silver masks. Where they came from is anyone's guess. I suppose it doesn't really matter, especially since they pave the way for a number of other ghoulish creatures that would give the creations of Clive Barker a run for their money. They--and every aspect of the film, for that matter--make it obvious that the real emphasis is on style instead of story, which under different circumstances would make for a miserable experience. But in this case, it works quite well; while a definite story is being told, it would be of little significance were it not for the special effects.
This isn't to say that the story of "300" is bad. Quite the opposite: despite being simplistic, the story is quite strong, especially when a couple of subplots are factored in. Back in Sparta, Leonidas' wife, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), is up against a corrupt Senate, already bought out by the Persians in order to ensure Sparta's stability. The arrogant and treacherous Theron (Dominic West) is clearly not ready to handle a woman of such strength, especially since she fully supports Leonidas and Sparta's involvement in the war. Because she intends to plead to the Council for the deployment of more soldiers, Theron challenges her authority by exclaiming that her words will fall on deaf ears.
Another subplot involves Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan), a hunchbacked, hideously deformed Spartan who begs to join with Leonidas and fight against the Persians. Leonidas appreciates his passion, but refuses to let him fight; he's unable to lift his shield, and this would only create a weak spot in their defense system. Feeling rejected, Ephialtes personally appeals to Xerxes, who promises a wealth of power, money, and pleasure in exchange for loyalty. This scene takes place in Xerxes' den, in which a throng of misshapen creatures engages in an orgy. Before "300," I never would have believed that any film could include such a scene, or at least a scene that would work in any way, shape, or form. I was wrong; it was a fascinating scene, forcing the viewer to reassess what is beautiful and what is ugly.
The film is narrated by Dilios (David Wenham), a Spartan soldier with a hard-edged masculinity that shines through despite a deceptively soft voice. He recalls Leonidas, Sparta, and the Battle of Thermopylae with eloquence; when considering the heavy-handedness of war, this is no small task. Yet he always gives a perfect delivery, and that only strengthens the appeal of "300." This is in a world all its own, a world dominated by battle cries, sword fights, and bare-chested men that are ripped like bodybuilders. It's all thanks to Frank Miller, whose creative vision has allowed for a truly unique theatrical experience. If he creates another graphic novel, I can't wait for it to be adapted for the big screen.
on March 9, 2007
I will get it out of the way and say that this was not and was not meant to be a historically accurate depiction of Ancient Greece. It was never meant to be even when it was still just an Eisner-Award winning graphic novel from the mind of iconic graphic novelist and artist Frank Miller. With that out of the way I was able to watch and enjoy Zack Snyder's film adaptation on its own terms without the criticism of historical accuracies looming dangerously over my head. 300 deserves the label of being the first event film of 2007. From start to finish, Snyder's film practically screams blockbuster and popcorn and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Frank Miller's 300 was at its time an interesting depiction of one of history's greatest military last stands. Miller already known for hyperstylizing the look and feel of the noir genre with his Sin City graphic novels, takes the same approach with his depiction of King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans taking a final last stand against Persian God-King Xerxes at a narrow mountain pass called Thermopylae (literally meaning Hot Gates in Greek). Zack Snyder took this graphic novel and painstakingly stayed true to the visuals Miller and his colorist wife, Lynn Varley put on paper. Looking back at my memory of some of the panels and images from the graphic novel. Snyder and his crew of art directors, cinematographers and CGI-artists were successful in translating almost every page of the graphic novel onto the screen. Like Robert Rodriguez's adaptation of Miller's Sin City, Zack Snyder's 300 pretty much brings the graphic novel to moving life. This means he stuck to the source material quite literally which limits his own take on the graphic novel. And like Rodriguez Snyder doesn't really put his own signature stamp as a director to the film. It's not too much of criticism since he does a great job of translating Miller's work onto film, but one wonders what sort of personal touches he could've added to the finished look that wasn't lifted from Miller's style and whether it would've changed the overlook look and feel of the film.
The story is quite simple and just takes the basic summary of the historical event itself. Spartan King Leonidas (played with visceral gusto and machismo by Scottish thespian Gerard Butler) makes a decision to go to war and confront the encroaching and fast approaching massive Persian Army led by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) intent on conquering the Hellenic city-states of the Greek Peninsula. Persian ambassadors ride forth to demand oaths of fealty from those city-states ahead of the army's path. Sparta is one such city-state, but different from the rest of its Hellenic brethrens. Sparta has gone down in history as a word synonymous with unbending dedication to a strict, ascetic warrior code. Warfare and battle were what Spartans were born and trained to do from an early age. Weakness and physical imperfections weeded out from the time of birth (the film explains just what happens to male newborns with physical imperfections and deformities). The answer Leonidas gives the Persian delegation could be seen as somewhat extreme, but not contrary to his nation's warrior-culture of never surrendering and seeing death in battle the greatest glory for a Spartan to achieve. From this sequence right up to the end of the film we get to see just how much of a warrior culture the Spartans were in extreme detail.
It's during the prolonged battle scenes between Leonidas' Spartans and Xerxes army which will have everyone chomping at the bit. If you have to see this film for any particular reason outside of watching superbly-trained underdogs slaughtering and endless supply of enemy troops then you will most likely be disappointed by the slower scenes away from Thermopylae. Indeed, this film and its original source material would've worked even better without the extra filler Snyder and his writers added to give the film more depth. I'm all for more emotional depth and characterization in my films but when a movie is all about a bloody and heroic last stand of a few against the many, scenes which slow the story down does more to break the rhythm and tone of a film than add to it. Other than a deeper understanding of the kind of partnership Leonidas had with his Gorgo, his Spartan Queen, most of the subplots added by Snyder and his writers could easily have been left out and still get a kick ass action epic.
It's the action scenes which reall stand out visually. Some people might see the style tricks of speed ramping certain action sequences then slowing it down considerably to show the minute detail of the battle scene as being to gimmicky, but I would disagree and say it actually gives the movie a fable-like quality in its storytelling. One thing I have to say about Zack Snyder as a director (his remake of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead better than what detractors have made it out to be) is that he knows how to film action and with special mention to bloody and gory action. He makes these scenes of dismemberments, decapitations, and disembowlments look like a piece of performance art. These scenes of carnage would be considered extremely gratuitious if it didn't look so computer-enhanced good. Even the way the blood flows, spurts and splashes look like something Jackson Pollock would take interest in. The speed up and slow down of the sequences also gives the fight scenes a certain rhythm that once an audience picks up on will follow it through to the end. This is why the scenes back in Sparta with a duplicitous politician and his powerplay to assume control and power seem such a downer instead of enhancing the sacrifice of Leonidas and his men. Those scenes just feel tacked on and completely superfluous. Luckily, there's not enough of them to slow down the frantic pace developed by the battle itself.
The performances by all actors involved really doesn't require too much criticism or reflection over. Gerard Butler does a great and convincing job as the Spartan King and his conviction in confronting Xerxes and his army with so few seem very believable. It's not a star-making performance but it does show that Butler can add a bit of gravitas to a character and role so basic in characterization. Lena Hedley is radiant as his partner and Queen. Despite the weird sounding name of Gorgo, Hedley plays the strong-minded and equally influential wife to Butler's Leonidas. It's only her scenes back in Sparta as she tries to rally her people to support their king which keeps these slower sequences from fully pulling down the film. Really, the performances are just done good enough to keep the acting from becoming too campy or too serious. It's an action film and with enough action going on in the movie I could forgive the writers (both Miller and the screenwriters) from scrimping on character build up.
All in all, Zack Snyder's film adaptation of Frank Miller's 300 succeeds in bringing the book to moving life. Throughout the run of the film it was hard not to get lost in the beautiful visuals. Whether it was the muted color pallette which puts most of the scenes in an almost sepia-tone look to over-emphasizing certain colors to set a certain mood. From oversaturation of reds in one sequence to one where everything seem to be tinted with the many shades of blues at night. This is what 300 will be best remembered for. It's technical use of CGI to paint the environment in unrealistic but beautiful ways which gives the scenes a 3-dimensional look to them when the actors are superimposed over them. The film really is a painting come to life and it shows once again how computer technology has now afforded directors in making what used to be impossible logistically to something that could be done with the limit being the artist's imagination.
This movie will not win many acting, directing and even screenwriting awards, but it doesn't have to for people to enjoy it. It will entertain and pull its audience into a living and modern retelling of a legend. Whether all that happened on the screen was exactly as it happened in 480 B.C. doesn't matter. What it does show is that through retelling down the years even all the embellishments added to the story of Leonidas and his men doesn't diminish the fact that they did something heroic. For those excited to see 300 I am preaching to the choir. For those who are not quick to fall to the hype given the film I still recommend it for the epic spectacle Snyder and his band of filmmakers have put on the screen.
Before going to see "300" this afternoon I watched the 1962 film "The 300 Spartans." I have a strong affection for the marching music in the film and the shot of Leonidas leading the Spartan phalanx for the last time, plus an enduring sense of injustice at the Persians dispatching the last Spartans by wave after wave of cartoon arrows. I had read Frank Miller's "300" when it was first published in five issues so I knew what to expect. This film is not history: it is art. Granted, we are talking post-modern art, but that still counts as art in a world where computers are as important as cameras when making a movie.
The Battle of Thermopylae was fought in 480 B.C. The Persian army of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) is invading Greece with the largest army the world has ever seen. With the Spartan army prohibited from marching north because of a religious festival, King Leonidas (Gerald Butler in fine form) heads for the natural bottleneck on the main road between Locris and Thessaly with the 300 men of his bodyguard. After three days of battle the Spartans were betrayed by a man named Ephialtes who showed the Persians a mountain path that led behind the Greek lines. While the rest of the Greek soldiers retreated, the 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians were slaughtered to the last man. Simonides composed a famous epigram that was engraved as an epitaph on a commemorative stone placed on top of the burial mound of the Spartans at Thermopylae: "Go, stranger, and tell the Spartans, That we lie here in obedience to their laws."
Miller was inspired by historical events but was not constrained by it in telling his story. In his version Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan) is no longer a poor shepherd but a deformed figure who was born to parents who fled Sparta rather than leave their infant on a rock to die, adding elements of pathos and irony hitherto unseen with regards to the character. Nor is this movie the attempt to faithfully bring Miller's art to life that we saw with "Sin City," which is perfectly fine with me. Besides, director Zack Snyder's film reminded me more of lots of other films, from "Gladiator" to "Hero," more than it did "Sin City." I want to say that what we saw of this type of modern filmmaking in "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" has been refined, but that would be quite an ironic comment to make about such a gory and gritty film. Ultimately, the movie is rather impressionistic in nature, emphasizing graphic images over everything else, which brings us back around again to the idea that "300" is art and not history.
I was quite pleased the overall "300" met my expectations. During the first part of the battle Snyder ("Dawn of the Dead") resorts to the rapid series of cuts that I have come to deplore in contemporary action films because I can never tell what is happening. I understand that a battle is a sea of chaos, but if I cannot tell what is going on I become distracted. I want to see what is happening in order for the scenes to become memorable to me. Fortunately the rest of the movie takes full advantage of slow motion technique we see in the trailers and television spots for the film. In fact, "300" makes better use of slow motion than any film I can remember, mainly because the point is not to prolong the suspense (e.g., the end of the fight in "Rocky II"), but to let you see what is happening (e.g., River's fight scenes in "Serenity"). Think of watching big hits in football in slow motion replay and you get a sense of how Snyder is able to strategically slow down the action to see not only the power but also the grace of the violence.
Looks are everything in this film, so the Spartans fight bare-chested, the better for their muscles to ripple, while the Persians might be the most overdressed warriors in cinematic history (although I admit that I have to wonder where the Spartans were hiding their helmets on the long trip from Sparta to the Hot Gates). "300" is a film that glories in visual excess as the army of Xerxes becomes a computer generated million man march and the pass at Thermopylae exists between towering pillars of rock. This may or may not be the most computer generated figures on the screen at one time in the history of the world, but I have to believe "300" offers the biggest piles of corpses we have ever seen. As if quantity was not enough to overwhelm the Spartans, Leonidas and his men are confronted by a towering Xerxes and a host of monstrous men and animals. The net result may well be the best comic book movie to date, despite the fact the hero is a historical figure and not a superhero.
This adaptation plays up a subplot regarding what is happening back at Sparta while Leonidas and his body guard face annihilation as Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to play politics with Theron (Dominic West), who complains about the legitimacy of the king's actions rather than deal with the reality of a Persian army coming to crush Greece. But it is hard to care about such machinations in the face of the historical record and the fact that the drama is happening at Thermopylae and not back in Sparta. There are notes sounded about saving Greece from the Persians and civilization from the evils of Asian mysticism, but the legacy of the Spartans has nothing to do with their role in the development of democracy. Almost two millennium before the Alamo there was this story of a group of warriors that sacrifice their lives in a battle so that their people could win the war. The story of the 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae is that of the first great last stand.
on July 3, 2007
EDIT: since someone tried to insult me for saying that the picture and sound should be identical, here is a note from Hi-Def Digest:
"Both the BD-50 Blu-ray and HD DVD/DVD combo versions will feature identical 1080p/VC-1 transfers and, in a welcome move from Warner, matching Dolby TrueHD (48kHz/16-bit) 5.1 surround tracks."
Don't let people sway your opinion with their ignorant comments about HD DVD or Blu-Ray. Buy the format that you prefer and be happy with it.
I have both Blu-Ray and HD DVD and find that they are exactly equal in picture quality. In cases like "300," and a few other titles, the HD DVD has more features or unique features, but that doesn't matter to many people. If you read the specifications for the disc and find that you really believe that the extra features make one format or the other more attractive, then you should go with that disc.
The HD DVD version of "300" has some sort of blue screen, no CGI, feature or something... I won't be watching that at any time, as I just don't care about it. For me it just comes down to price. I will buy whichever format has the movie I want at the best price. The Blu-Ray version is $4 cheaper than the HD DVD version right now... if the extra features on the HD DVD are worth $4 or more, buy the HD DVD version. If the extra features on the HD DVD version are not worth $4, buy the Blu-Ray disc.
THE PICTURE AND SOUND SHOULD BE IDENTICAL. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE SHOULD BE THE EXTRAS.
If you only have a player for one format, be happy with that format and leave the other alone. All of you on BOTH sides of this bashing stuff are acting like little children who want to be big bullies and I find it ridiculous. I refuse to pick a side, as I benefit from BOTH sides and purchase contents for BOTH formats.
There are two formats and it is going to stay that way. Universal players will be released soon enough and those of you who don't have players will be able to buy a single player to play all content. That is the solution to this ridiculous bickering; co-existence.
But in a good way!
This is "300", a movie adaptation of a comic book version of a historical event. This movie cannot fairly be critiqued from a single perspective, so I'll look at it from several.
As history: Not as bad as the most vocal critics would have you think, but consider it an inspiration to read about the actual events rather than a history of the events (unlike the old "I, Claudius" series, which had only a couple of historical errors). "300" mentions most of the key events around the battle of Thermopylae. Then the history goes downhill fast. The costumes, the weapons, the armor, the role and nature of the Ephors, the terrain of Greece, the ships, and numerous other elements detract from the historical accuracy of the movie. But this doesn't keep it from being a good movie, just don't watch it before that big history test.
Visually: Overwhelming! Miller's imagery presents very well on the big screen through Zack Snyder's direction. It's from a comic book, so everything is larger than life. The use of color was brilliant, and shapes the mood of the viewer with remarkable grace. This movie overwhelms with vignettes of image, each more powerful than the last. I was particularly impressed by the imagery of the Spartan phalanx, capturing the power, beauty, and lethality of a coordinated team that has been trained and forged into a whole greater than the sum of its parts. On the other hand, I think Zack Synder is trying to do for American men what the fashion industry has done for American women (when I'm done typing, I need to do about 10,000 ab crunches, sit-ups, and flutterkicks).
As a story (apart from history): Brilliant! It's a story of a man forced to decide between his desires, the duties of his office, the laws of his land, and the future of his country (and of the world; had Leonidas and his comrades not fought at the hot gates, Persia would have shaped the world very differently than the inspiration of Classical Greece did). Not an easy decision, and the factors shaping the decision are developed beautifully, and how the story of Leonidas and the 300 heros of Thermopylae shaped later events is mentioned at the end of the movie. This story is well told. It is also the story of Queen Gorgo, and one of the few cultures of the time that treated women with the respect they deserve. Sparta was the only Greek culture of that time where woman could be heard openly in political discussion, and had greater equality than in any other Greek city (and MUCH better treatment than in Persia). Ironic that in every other way, Sparta was the least liberal city of Greece. The Queen was a powerful woman of integrity, and the treatment of her piece of 300 is respectful, well told, and shows the whole woman. Congratulations to Lena Headey for a job well done!
As having current, real-world impact: I am amused. The President of Iran's response to this movie is very telling. Iran is what was Persia, and the majority of Iran are ethnic Persians. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad voiced complaints about this movie, that it portrayed Persians in a negative light, that it was propaganda a psychological warfare, and demanded that the U.S. government do something. (Like anyone in Hollywood would do any thing for the Executive Branch these days.) It's from a comic book! This is as silly as China's complaints about Disney's "Mulan"! Oh, by the way, the U.S. government doesn't control the movie industry, but Ahmadinejad clearly thinks it does. But maybe Ahmadinejad was offended by a movie that had woman having a voice in a nation's policy. Maybe he was offended by exhortations to stand up against tyrants, for freedom, the future, and the hope that (Greek) democracy brought to the world. Maybe he was upset by the comicbook presentation of Xerxes. Still, regardless of the reason, his demands to suppress the arts speak volumes about his vision for Iran and the world.
Nah, he was just upset that someone reminded the world that guys in pajamas (Persian trousers) were beaten by guys in skirts.
As a source for leadership vignettes: pretty darned good. The single best one is in the dialog between Leonidas and Xerxes, as they discuss the roles of leaders and followers, but Leonidas' talk with hunchbacked shepard who wished to fight alongside the Greeks, and the final monolog have much to offer also.
There have been frequent criticisms of the way "300" presents the human figure, alleging that the film is soft-core homoerotic porn. Critics shouldn't be so narrow. If "300" is any kind of soft-core porn, it is pretty even-handed and diverse in its nature, especially in Xerxes' tents. The movie is not for kids, and not for adults offended by human bodies or sexuality.
In all, I enjoyed "300" and was moved by the final scene, where the entire story is placed in context by the narrator. As a bit of a historian, I couldn't give it the fifth star, but that wasn't easy as I believe it captures the spirit of the Greek side of the Battle of Thermopylae well, despite uncounted historical inaccuracies and fabrications. It's not for everyone, but it is very good for what it is.
Wish more folk would write about the quality of the Blu Ray disc rather than provide a summary of the story or a treatise of the historical accuracy. No opinions here on acting or plot, just a review of the transfer quality.
I do have the Standard Def DVD and I did not notice that much improvement in the video transfer. While this movie was one of the first to use such a great amount of color grading and much CGI, there are areas in the video transfer that do contain a noticeable grain. Nothing too distracting but it is there. This is especially so in the first several minutes of the film and during the scene at the end where the king's wife receives back the amulet the king sent back to her. The grain appears not to be present during the majority of the film and good detail can be seen throughout. The colors are fairly sharp (as I said, this was a highly colorized production) There were no artifacts that I could see, nor aliasing or stair stepping.
The disc defaults to Dolby Digital 5.1 so be sure to go to the audio selection to highlight the Dolby True HD 5.1 which really is the star of this transfer. There is excellent use of your entire audio system, including the LFE channel, with much use of discreet audio from both fronts and rears. The audio's use of discreet channeling is something to be appreciated as it is often the first thing they put in less effort for to keep costs down I guess.
Bottom line, the audio is the highlight of this BR transfer and is certainly Demo worthy.
There are plenty of extras, 3 deleted scenes, commentary and a couple of interesting documentaries on the historical accuracy and what life was like for Spartans back then.
All my movie reviews are of this nature and focus only on the quality of the transfer to BluRay so check them and see if they are of help as well.
Hopefully, this review has been of some help to you in determining your purchase, hope I am on the correct path with a review of the transfer quality as opposed to providing plot summaries.
on July 31, 2007
...of your money!
Warner Bros should be ashamed of putting out such a bare bones "special edition" and spreading it out over 2 discs (they easily could have fit these tiny "making of" episodes onto one disc.
The commentary track is full of silence and the "making of" and "webisodes" are a few minutes a piece and do not go in depth nor do they go deep into the technical aspects of how they made 300. (One of the most interesting scenes with the Oracle isn't even covered in the making of and is barely mentioned in the commentary.
300 is a fantastic movie but it is a shame that a better special edition couldn't have been made.