King Leonidas of Sparta and a force of 300 men fight the Persians at Thermopylae in 480 B.C.King Leonidas of Sparta and a force of 300 men fight the Persians at Thermopylae in 480 B.C.King Leonidas of Sparta and a force of 300 men fight the Persians at Thermopylae in 480 B.C.
The story was first told on film in 1962 when director Rudolph Maté went to Greece and shot a worthy, but conventional and surprisingly leaden, version entitled "The 300 Spartans", starring American Richard Egan as King Leonidas and the British David Farrar as Xerxes. "300" takes the same basic narrative and presents it in an utterly different style in a blood-fest when "The Wild Bunch" meets "Kill Bill" and the visuals are like nothing except "Sin City". This time the director is Zack Snyder, known for his music videos, and the location is a studio set in Montreal with green backgrounds later filled by superb computer-generated graphics and the whole storybook style is based on the graphic novel by co-producer Frank Miller. Both versions use the legendary exchange: "When we attack today, our arrows will blot out the sun!" "Good; then we will fight in the shade." But only "300" has such fun lines as: "Spartans! Enjoy your breakfast, for tonight we dine in Hell!"
Ever since its first public showing at the Berlin Film Festival, most critics have mauled "300" and it presents an easy target for those wanting something more cerebral: there is virtually no plot or characterisation, the script is sparse and bland, much of the acting is exaggerated and over-loud, when it is not homo-erotic it is oddly camp, and the whole thing is stereotypical when it is not outright xenophobic and politically incorrect. And yet, as entertainment, it has much to offer: the sepia-tinged visuals are absolutely stunning and the fight sequences viscerally exciting. I was fortunate enough to see it in IMAX and I regularly felt blood-splattered and exhausted and quite ready to leap into the action.
There are no big names in the cast list which helps the sense of history but does not raise the thespian talent quotient. Gerard Butler plays King Leonidas with a Scottish accent, while the Brazilian Rodrigo Santoro is a version of Xerxes bejewelled with ethnic metalwork. Most of the warriors are literally larger than life: the actors playing the Spartans reveal most of their bodies with digitally-enhanced muscles, while on Xerxes' side characters include a huge hunchback, a giant emissary and a claw-armed executioner as well the metal-masked Immortals. This is before we get on to an enormous raging rhino and bedecked elephants. Truly this is a battle with a circus-like cast. The love interest comes from the feisty wife of Leonidas, Queen Gorgo, portrayed by the alluring British actress Lena Headey. There is even a scene in a rippling corn field borrowed from "Gladiator".
At the end of the day, what makes the movie are the thrilling fight sequences with encounters in which the film is slowed down and then speeded up to give a video-game quality that is unlike anything you have previously seen on the big screen. Whem a sword slashes or a spear lungs or an arrow whistles, you really feel and hear it. At times, it is as if a picture by Hieronymus Bosch had come to life.
- Mar 30, 2007