Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
Released over the weekend, 300 takes a stylized look at the historical Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, wherein Leonidas, King of Sparta, led a small force of elite warriors against the much, much larger invading army of the Persian empire. And when I say “stylized,” I mean as inspired by acclaimed graphic novelist Frank Miller. I’ve never read the graphic novel on which this movie is based, but I saw the movie on Friday and I’ve got to say 300 is awesome.
The movie begins with the telling of how a Spartan warrior comes to be. Every Spartan male is taken at birth and inspected for physical fitness, discarded if they bear any defect or malformation. Indoctrinated to combat at a very early age, they are taught to fight and kill; taught that retreat or surrender are never an option, that death on the field of battle is the highest honor they can achieve. They either survive and become full-fledged Spartan warriors or die in the process. If you’re looking for a historically accurate narrative, you’ll be watching the wrong movie. You’ve got to remember while this movie is based on historical events, it is first & foremost based on Miller’s graphic novel. As such the Spartans are hyper-realized and presented almost as super heroes. They certainly behave as such in the fight to come.
That fight comes quickly (and lasts for most of the film). Emissaries of Xerxes, the Persian Emperor, come to Sparta with an ultimatum: surrender or face annihilation. Leonidas wouldn’t be a good Spartan if he so much as considered the first option, and so he prepares for war. But part of that preparation (as laid down in Spartan law) requires that he consult an oracle for her blessing & permission to wage war; however, she does not give it, citing the coming of a sacred Greek festival that must be observed. The king is forbidden from taking the Spartan army to war. Leonidas discusses his displeasure at this decision with his wife & queen, frustrated by his inability to do what he knows to be right because of the law. The queen advises him to think like a “free man”, which results in Leonidas ignoring the oracle’s decree & taking 300 of his finest & most loyal warriors to make a stand against the invading Persians at a narrow canyon that marks the only route to Sparta where the Persians’ superior numbers “will be meaningless.” The remainder of the film is split between the battle itself, and the queen’s efforts to convince the ruling council of Sparta to send the bulk of their army to the aid of Leonidas and his 300.
Filmed in much the same style as Sin City with green screens, computer-generated backgrounds, and digital enhancement 300 is visually stunning. But a bit of a warning here, this movie is rated R, and it is rated as such for a very good reason. It’s violent – very, very violent. The battle scenes are impeccably choreographed and exhilarating to watch, but they are also very graphic. Think Gladiator on steroids, crack, AND shrooms, and then you might get the idea. There’s no shortage of spears plunging through bodies, limbs and heads getting hacked off, and blood flying through the air, often rendered in surreal, slow motion effect. If you’re at all squeamish you’ll be covering your eyes for a good portion of this movie, and you’ll miss quite a spectacle.
In addition to all that action & violence, there are several scenes of female nudity for the guys to enjoy (and I think you’ll find the scene where the oracle “prophesizes” to be especially stimulating), but there’s also plenty for the ladies, believe it or not. Gerard Butler (who portrays Leonidas) and the other dozen or so actors playing Spartans that share the majority of screen time are all prime examples of the ideal male physical form. AND they are all dressed in little more than loin cloths and capes. I saw 300 with a friend and his wife, and she attested to how much she enjoyed the “eye candy.” The only weakness of the film IMO is the dialogue, which can get a little hokey at times, but if you keep in mind this movie is full of bold, heroic men (and women) making statements in kind it doesn’t detract too much from the film.
All in all I think this is a great movie and lots of fun. I can't help but think it's a faithful and excellent adaptation of the source material. Credit is due here to director Zach Snyder, and fans of graphic novels everywhere should rest easy knowing his next big project is adapting another acclaimed work to the big screen: Alan Moore's Watchmen. If 300 is any indication, Watchmen should be anything but disappointing.