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Like Sin City before it, 300 brings Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's graphic novel vividly to life. Gerard Butler (Beowulf and Grendel, The Phantom of the Opera) radiates pure power and charisma as Leonidas, the Grecian king who leads 300 of his fellow Spartans (including David Wenham of The Lord of the Rings, Michael Fassbender, and Andrew Pleavin) into a battle against the overwhelming force of Persian invaders. Their only hope is to neutralize the numerical advantage by confronting the Persians, led by King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), at the narrow strait of Thermopylae. More engaging than Troy, the tepid and somewhat similar epic of ancient Greece, 300 is also comparable to Sin City in that the actors were shot on green screen, then added to digitally created backgrounds. The effort pays off in a strikingly stylized look and huge, sweeping battle scenes. However, it's not as to-the-letter faithful to Miller's source material as Sin City was. The plot is the same, and many of the book's images are represented just about perfectly. But some extra material has been added, including new villains (who would be considered "bosses" if this were a video game, and it often feels like one) and a political subplot involving new characters and a significantly expanded role for the Queen of Sparta (Lena Headey). While this subplot by director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) and his fellow co-writers does break up the violence, most fans would probably dismiss it as filler if it didn't involve the sexy Headey. Other viewers, of course, will be turned off by the waves of spurting blood, flying body parts, and surging testosterone. (The six-pack abs are also relentless, and the movie has more and less nudity--more female, less male--than the graphic novel.) Still, as a representation of Miller's work and as an ancient-themed action flick with a modern edge, 300 delivers. --David Horiuchi
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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.