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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.
Many not so accurate depictions, especially of Xerxes. Search for images of Xerxes (ignore the ones from this film) to see images of ancient stone carvings depicting the Achamenid kings of Persia.
Anyone who sits down to watch a movie and starts picking it apart because that couldn't possibly happen in real life needs to reevaluate why they watch movies in the first place. Yes, there are times when we want something to be realistic, but the whole point of a movie,play,art etc. is because it is supposed to evoke emotions in us that we wouldn't normally have in our real lives on a daily basis.
Enough of that. What about the movie itself. It certainly gave us a colorful, action filled, balletic vision of hand to hand combat. It didn't happen to be accurate but we have put that issue aside. My lack of satisfaction with it in purely cinemagraphic terms was the absence of the kind of tension, the constant uncertainty as to outcome, both individual and collective, that marks the best combat scenes on film. It was Superman (supermen) against a group of ferocious looking completely untrained equivalents of office clerks. It did not ring true (not true in the sense of what really went on in hand to hand combat, but true in the cinemagraphic sense-how can you be a HERO, if you are fighting the equivalent of the kids who had never held a gun whom Hitler sent to face the Russian Army as it approached Berlin). I liked the acrobatic techniques but never felt for a moment that these could be real people fighting a real battle.
What there was of non-combat related scenes were conventional and non-involving. One felt that, well, that give us a brief shot of the wife and brief shot of the nasty traitor; oh, and to be sure that we know how bad the guy was, he persuades the Queen to have sex with him to get his support in a vote. Not enough? we see the Persian gold pouring out his tunic (neat trick that) when she deals with him later.
What would I recommend: if you like choreographed, colorful display (by one party to hand to hand combat), and splashy camera work painting a portrait of war, this should suit you. If you are going to think about what you are seeing, you might want to look elsewhere.