300 (Single-Disc Widescreen Edition)
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300 (DVD) (WS)
In this ferocious retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae based on the epic graphic novel by Sin City creator Frank Miller, King Xerxes of Persia (Rodrigo Santoro -- Lost) amasses an army of hundreds of thousands, drawn from Asia and Africa, to invade and conquer the tiny, divided nation of Greece in 481 B.C. But when the advancing Persian forces enter the treacherous mountain pass of Thermopylae, they encounter Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler -- The Phantom of the Opera) and his royal guard of soldiers numbering just 300. According to legend, their valor and sacrifice inspired all of Greece to unite against the Persian foe, planting the seeds of democracy and ushering in the Golden Age of Greece.With nonstop action and awe-inspiring visual effects, director Zack Snyder creates a breathtaking vision of one of history's most legendary battles ... and an epic tale of sacrifice and heroism.]]>
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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.
The film is a visual treat even if there is much violence and bloodletting. The acting is over-the-top, almost operatic in its use of grand gesture. There is no way to over-act in a film that is attempting to push limits and provide an operatic grand statement.
Gerard Butler is excellent as Leonidas. He is the finest visual example of the archetype of the Greek King from Greek Mythology that I have ever seen on film. He is supported by beautiful Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo. These two lead actors are surrounded by a cast of virile men, revealing much of their beautiful bodies. Dominic West as the traitor politician makes a fine villain. David Wenham as the one-eyed story-teller Dilios does a fine job (you will recognize him as the tragic Prince Faramir in the Lord of the Rings films). Vincent Regan is allowed more dramatic range than most of the other actors as he plays a Captain who grieves the loss of his youngest son on the battlefield. Andrew Tiernan plays the hunchbacked Spartan who turns traitor. He is an excellent actor (see him in the Horatio Hornblower series as a mentally disturbed sailor). Finally, Rodrigo Santoro is over-the-top as the homoerotic giant King Xerxes. He appears almost nude in every scene, conveying a sense of both masculine and feminine power.
Relax and don't try to make this film into some historic or philosophical statement. It is visually striking entertainment. It is testosterone driven so as to appeal in particular to young men. However woven into the matrix of the film is a dream-like archetypal story of struggle and resistance against overpowering force.