Thursday, March 22, 2007

300 - truly a spectacle

300 is truly a spectacle. It dazzles the viewer with stunning images of finely-hewed, red-caped Spartan warriors; decadent Persian courtiers; a gold-flecked, jewel-bedecked god-king; and enough stylised spear-fights to satisfy the most ardent Total Warrior.

The movie is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel which told the story of the Battle of Thermopylae. Thermopylae is a narrow pass in Greece, and in 480 BC King Leonidas of Sparta defended that pass with a small army of his own Spartans and other Greeks against a vastly larger Persian invading force.

Writer-director Zach Snyder beautifully renders Frank Miller's graphic novel: feeding our imaginations with the sort of old-fashioned glamour, excess and epic sentiment that old-fashioned big-studio Hollywood used to specialise in. The director uses the same techniques as in SIN CITY - mixing live-action with CGI to create highly stylised visuals that approximate the graphic novel. Famous plates are re-created closely - specifically Leonidas pushing the Persian ambassador into the well; the Spartans herding the Persians off a cliff; and the final spear throw that grazes Xerxes face. The casting closely matches the facial features of the characters in the graphic novel too - especially the case of the effete Xerxes and Leonidas himself.

The plot is also fairly close to the novel, with no key scenes ommitted. The key difference is that the role of Queen Gorgo is massively enhanced, perhaps as a sop to Hollywood's need for a strong female character and a love-interest. (They did the same thing with the role of Arwen in LOTR). Thus, the film breaks away from the battle-scenes to Gorgo's struggle to get the Spartan council to send the full army in support of Leonidas.

So much for what 300 is. What 300 is not, is a history lesson. It is not a political tract. Nor should we beat it up for failing to give us an exact rendering of the key battles and fighting styles or for simplifying the clash between Persia and Greece as one of freedom versus tyranny. (Although, in its defence, Dominic West's Spartan politican rightly points out to Lena Headey's Queen Gorgo that not all men are born equal, even in Sparta.)

300 does not pretend to be a serious politico-historical discourse. It is, simply-put, epic, fascinating, sensually-luxurious entertainment. The concubines, giant-mutant beasties, scabrous priests and other exotica pander to our most basic desire for the strange and exciting. I defy anyone not to take pleasure in the finale to Gorgo's council speech or Gerard Butler's Connery-like drawl as he refuses to kneel to Xerxes on account of his "cramp".

Moreover, exotica aside, the battle scenes do give us a sense of the scale of the battle and the key tactical necessity of forcing the Persians to abandon an open assault from the beach and attempt to pass through the narrow gorge at Thermopylae. I doubt whether Frank Miller's novel or this film would have been successful as they are without this key central fact: dress it up how you will, the true story of a small band of men defending their home against a mammoth invading army and inflicting disproportionately large injuries upon it is, in a word, quite literally: awesome.

300 is on release in the Philippines, Greece, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, the US, South Korea, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Turkey, the UK, Belgium, France, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands and Russia. It opens in Bulgaria, Estonia, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Romania and Spain tomorrow. It opens in Argentina, Chile, Peru, Slovakia, Slovenia on the 29th and in Brazil, Denmark, Latvia and Venezuala on the 30th. 300 opens in Sweden on April 4th and in Australia, Germany, Israel and Portugal on April 5th. It opens in Austria and Finland on April 6th and in Japan on June 9th.


  1. Been looking forward to this for a long time. It's out very soon here and I think everyone I know is gagging to see it.

  2. Ali - it is really awesome. Enjoy!

  3. I really want to see this & not often I say that when a film comes out these days.

  4. Who cares if a phylanx should be straight or broken. This had big men with homo-erotic relationships and even more homo-erotic muscles.

    It had a really nasty baddy, an English traitor, a hero scotsman, a truly ugly double-crosser, and a double hard woman who's willing to take one of the team. God bless her.

    Plus it stars the biggest CGI wolf ever. Stupidly so. I love it.