Monday, March 12, 2007

Film Review: 300 - THIS! IS! SPARTA-CULAR!

Ahoy-hoy! I'm back with another review of another comic-book property turned film. This week I'm reviewing Zack Snyder's take on Frank Miller's graphic novel 300. I'll start out by stating that the film is worth every cent of your admission ticket and is not only a great adaptation, but a great movie as well. 300 is also further proof that you can embrace your source material and people will still show up (70 mill opening weekend!). On top of all that, it's also the complete antithesis of that schlock-fest Ghost Rider. I don't want to dwell on that one anymore; it's just that 300 makes it even clearer how much that film screwed up...

BUT FIRST THE EXPOSITION! 300 is an imaginative retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C, one of the greatest and earliest recorded military victories. The film tells the story of the brave Spartan king Leonidas (Gerard Butler - pictured), who, upon hearing of an imminent invasion by the Persian army ignores council orders and gathers three hundred of his best men to stop them. Unfortunately, the Persian's are a little larger in numbers... By roughly a million men. So, Leonadis and his soldiers, which include Captain (Vincent Regan) & his son Astinos (Tom Wisdom), Stelios (Michael Fassbender) and the film's narrator Dilios (David Wenham), soon find themselves wildly outnumbered and yet not outfought. This infuriates the Persian king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), who suffers from a serious God complex. Outside the bloodbath, Leonidas' wife Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to persuade sleazy politician Theron (Dominic West) into sending the Spartan army to assist in the efforts.

Yeesh. These names are tough to keep straight. Anyhow, while the film's description may sound a bit confusing, 300 is an extremely simple film. It actually reminded me of Mel Gibson's brilliant Apocalypto in the sense that both films are very minimalist in dialogue and plot. Instead, they rely on action to tell their story. In 300's case, we are presented with one of the most visually exciting films I've seen in many a moon.

To see trailers or previews for 300 on TV is not enough to comprehend what an accomplishment the film is. This is a movie that is an absolutely perfect example of what film can do better than any other medium. We are presented with a beautifully constructed artificial world that is enthralling to witness. Every second of the battle is lovingly rendered to have the highest possible impact. From the breath-taking landscapes to the Miller-esque sprays of blood, 300 is a film obsessed with even the smallest details. Battle scenes of this type of magnitude can often seem confusing or too frenetic (My biggest problem with Gladiator) since everyone is dressed similarly. Director Snyder joyfully slows everything down so we can linger on individual moments. He's not content to have two or three great money moments. Rather, every scene is constructed on an epic scale with truly captivating style.

I really have to hand it to Zack Snyder (Pictured). I admired the opening to his Dawn Of The Dead remake, but felt the film quickly fell to mediocre status. Here, however, Snyder delivers the goods and establishes himself as a director to look out for. I love seeing a hungry young director really grab hold of a project and give it their all. With 300, Snyder has done that and every bit of his enthusiasm washes over the audience. This guy wasn't content to deliver the umpteenth Troy/Kingdom of Heaven/Alexander variation. No, he had to go and do something completely different... And blow us all away. Take a bow, dude.

The acting is solid across the board. Part of the problem with this type of film is that it's told on such an epic scale that there is little room for subtlety. The characters are very broad and have little emotional depth. It's forgivable here, however, due to the story-telling parameters. This isn't a historical re-enactment, it's a legend. Thus, each character is larger than life and performed to match their mythic status. In the case of Leonadis and his men, the Spartan warriors prefer to speak through their actions. Gerard Butler's dialogue mostly consists of rousing battlefield speeches played out at full volume. Butler (Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life, The Phantom Of The Opera) is extremely effective and deserves credit for maintaining a consistency that prevents his heroic king from slipping into parody. The same goes for Lena Headley (The Brothers Grimm, The Cave - Pictured above) who delivers her grave warnings and philosophic statements regarding the nature of war with regal authority. I was particularly impressed with David Wenham's (Faramir in the Lord Of The Rings) narration. His voice is note-perfect for this material. Plus, I have to give a shout-out to the villains. Dominic West (The Forgiven, Mona Lisa Smile), in full on sneer mode, really gives us an A-grade scumbag that we truly despise. His moment of come-uppance is a true crowd-pleaser. As Xerxes, Rodrigo Santoro (TV's Lost - Pictured left) provides the film's strangest performance. His God-king is an androgynous whack-job who hypnotizes the audience every time he pops up.

I have to also mention that I was truly pleased that the folks behind 300 gleefully earn their R-rating. This is a film made for adults, and I appreciated that they treated it as such. You can tell that the studio and Snyder put their full confidence in Frank Miller's work and knew there was an audience out there. They didn't feel the need to throw in lousy jokes or A-list actors to draw the dull-witted folks in. So, my biggest thanks goes out to the studio for not condescending to the material or the public.

Finally, let me just say that it's imperative for you to see this film in a theatre. This is not a lazy Saturday night in front the TV movie. It has been designed to be seen on the biggest screen possible (I saw it in IMAX) with the best sound system. Snyder and co. have created something that simply won't be as astonishing on a television at home.

So, there you go. Save those Ghost Rider (Or God forbid Norbit) dollars and head over to 300. You'll be thrilled and mesmerized and won't regret it. This is what a night out at the movies is all about.


P.S.: Now I can't wait for Snyder's next film: an adaptation of the beloved Alan Moore graphic novel Watchmen. Stay tuned.

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