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300 (2007)
Director: Zack Snyder

review by Hugh Slesinger

In Zach Snyder's epic retelling of Frank Miller's graphic novel 300, the audience is privy to one of the year's most promising and visually stimulating pieces of cinematography to date. The premise for 300 is based upon the ancient Greek battle of Thermopylae where a small band of 300 Spartan warriors, aided by a similar number of Arcadians and slaves, fend off the hordes of more than a million from the Persian Empire. Led by self-proclaimed Persian demigod Xerxes (played by Brazilian Rodrigo Santoro), the conflict's setting takes place at a geographically strategic narrow Northeastern Greek pass, otherwise known as the 'Hot Gates.'

Gerard Butler, cast in the lead role as the Spartan King Leonidos, is aptly fit for the part, looking and sounding every bit the hardened iconoclastic native warrior bent on protecting his homeland and core Spartan values, which pivot around the film's archetypical themes of honour, glory, victory and respect. His classically beautiful wife, Gorgo, played by a seductive Lena Headey, is nothing but gorgeous and alluring as a loyal and articulate mate who supports her 'rebellious' husband's desire to make the Persian armies recoil under the Spartan defence, regardless of the danger to his men or his own personal safety. "Spartans don't surrender and they don't retreat," he declares, "but find no greater honour than to die a noble death defending their land, women and children."

Lobbying against the Spartan rule of law, with regard to the timing of his campaign, Leonidos is aided in battle by his trusty captain, played by Vincent Regan who found work in the 2004 version of Troy. Regan gives a convincing and emotional performance, particularly when faced with the loss of his favourite son Astinos (played by Tom Wisdom), a young warrior anxious to revel in the limelight beside his adept sword-wielding father.

If the captain is Leonidos' right hand, then Dilios (played to perfection by David Wenham, Faramir of Lord Of The Rings fame) must certainly be the king's left arm in terms of his overt military prowess and incredible oratory ability, as he narrates much of the story as the sole Spartan survivor reminiscing upon the legendary clash between opposing civilisations. Indeed, both Wenham and Regan deserve cracks at best supporting roles, if Hollywood can reflect that far back, when the Oscars roll around in 2008.

Despite the film's rather thin and telegraphed plotline, Snyder grasps the enormous magnitude of the story in a way that makes the production anything but an updated alternative classic comicbook version of David and Goliath or a highly stylised violent storyboard, which the Miller novel seems to depict. Deviating somewhat from the artificial look of his now infamous Sin City, 300's unique sepia-tone colouring adds to the dream-like quality of the piece, aided by a powerful musical soundtrack and inventive visual effects which utilise slow motion freeze-frame techniques, reverse-angle steadicam stunts, and sub-woofer shaking audio, to rivet the viewer for the entire two-hour plus duration of the film.

visual design in 300

Various behind-the-scenes reports indicate that about 90% of the film was a CGI creation, shot primarily in front of a green screen. According to Snyder and others, "if the characters didn't touch it, then it probably wasn't fabricated," with only one of the film's 'exterior' scenes actually shot outdoors. This presented certain challenges to the actors, reciting lines to an X on the ceiling or a mark on the floor. But in terms of saving money for production costs, it was a "no brainer," which didn't hurt the film's bottom line during the opening week at the box office where it raked in over $70 million the first weekend it was released, the most for any March movie release ever.

Among the film's most memorable passages are the battle scenes demonstrating the effectiveness of a Spartan phalanx, the outlandish costuming of the Persian ranks and the betrayal of the queen by the politically motivated Theron, played convincingly by Dominic West. The screen writing was at times a bit trite, including the lines about so many Persian arrows falling at once, that the Spartans would "fight in the shade."

Likewise, the line about the realisation that "Freedom isn't free at all," seemed to invoke overtones of modern day politicians touting current conflicts with fervent Middle Eastern foes bent on destroying the west at all costs. But make no mistake, the cunning and bravery of the Spartan forces is inspiring and indeed worth emulating as they hack their way through one of the bloodiest hand-to-hand combat pictures ever.

In retrospect, 300 stands proudly among the most memorable epic adventures to hit the silver screen in recent memory. Moreover, the striking similarities between the ancient history of Greece, as depicted in the film and the politics of present day warfare, bring to light the continuing struggle of fundamentalism, nationalism and democracy in our own modern era, begging the question of idealistic patriotism when war is just and political realism when war is not.

The question faced by the citizens of the west today is, are we fighting for the same idealist values espoused by the democratically minded Leonidos and his queen when she advised her husband to think and act "as a free man" or are we witnessing a lust for power and greed carried on a global scale where the few continue to control the many? Historians will be the judge, from which modern storytellers may find similarly engrossing themes on which to base their own future epic adventure myths and stories.
300 poster

masked man in 300

horseman in 300

politics in 300

ready for battle in 300

war in 300

up a tree in 300

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