| The Red Right Hand
The majority of historical epics are hindered by audience ignorance; some people simply don't get or understand the depicted ways of old, others refuse to believe that certain races/sexes would have been treated in such a manner - which usually ends in one nation calling out the producers, accusing them of racism. Another aspect to the failings of this genre are the historical inaccuracies, in order to please modern audiences. 300 is going to suffer on both fronts. Based on Frank Miller's graphic novel - creator of Sin City - 300 tells the legendary tale of a small unit of Greek warriors defending their home from foreign invaders. The battle at Thermopylae is one that has been told for centuries. When Miller was a child, he was taken to the cinema to see Rudolph Mate's The 300 Spartans, which inspired him, later in life, to use his artistic flare to recreate this ancient epic. The comic was beautifully illustrated and presented characters with a sense of honour and purpose; something reflected in the protagonists of the other characters Miller has created/worked on. To transfer the graphic novel to the cinema, director Zack Snyder has collaborated closely with Miller to interject a fresh element into the third act, giving the audience time to recover from battle fatigue - one of the main problems with the original release of the serialised graphic novel are the continuous double-page fight sequences, that neither further the plot nor show much more than blood and corpses. This, I feel, is one of the main reasons why 300 went from a potentially half-decent action flick to a monumental epic.
With a voiceover commentary from Dilios [Wenham], we are first shown the history of the Spartan King, Leonidas [Butler]. A brief explanation is given, illustrating that all Spartans are inspected at birth and cast aside if in any way flawed. If they manage to survive this trial, they are trained to fight and kill, then sent out into the wilderness, armed with nothing more than a spear - like a tribal, teenager-coming-of-age kind of thing. Though brief, this can be considered the first act. The second is the preparation for the coming war. A messenger brings news to Leonidas that the emperor of Persia, Xerxes [Rodrigo Santoro], has set his sights on Europe, starting with Greece. All he requires is allegiance, if this is not given, there shall be consequences; embodied by an army, one million strong. Leonidas has been brought up never to yield, submit or surrender, naturally, he doesn't take too well to this news. Having violently seen to the messenger he ascends a treacherous mountain path, to consult the oracles. Old, gnarled and corrupt, they inform him that he must lay down his arms and allow Xerxes control. Leonidas, unable to do this, secretly amasses a small unit of 'Royal Bodyguards' and under the guise of simply taking a walk, proceeds to the hot gates (the literal meaning for Thermopylae), a narrow corridor near the shore line, the only vantage point they have. Despite a particularly ferocious storm destroying a large amount of ships, the armada arrives, carrying thousands of Persian soldiers. The third act is the continuous, non-stop, bloody battle that rages on for three solid days. This part is inter-cut with the story of Leonidas' queen, Gorgo [Headey], struggling to convince the council to send more troops, whilst dealing with the power-hungry traitor, Theron [Dominic West].
After the first half an hour, it becomes blatantly clear that this is a film for boys. Now, a lot of people will misinterpret that, assuming I mean to say that women folk won't enjoy this film. This is far from true, in the same manner that a lot of guys enjoy what are widely regarded as chick flicks - this guy (Stoo) is a good example. With a strict honour code, glorious battles and a heroic protection of family and country, guys will instantly see something deep inside that will make them shout, "Ar-hoo" is chorus with the Spartan warriors. Unfortunately, this over-machismo is the main problem with this film. Snyder has done an extremely good job in building the suspense and sheer grandiose of the bending battle but when it comes down to the final showdown, you can't help but feel slightly let down by the constant beheadings and lashings of blood. The characters are also a large problem; all heart and little sense. Each Spartan is hungry for war and once he has secured an heir, is ready to die on the battlefield. This can be broken down to a large amount of on-screen shouting - largely dealt out by the commanding officer, Leonidas himself, about dying, killing Persians and incomprehensible guttural roars. On the other hand, this is a visual piece, a loyal fanboy's on-screen depiction of a graphic novel that is by-and-large one long fight sequence. When the trailers and production diaries were released last Autumn, I was a little unsure as to the visual depth of the film. Luckily, my fears were laid to rest as I witnessed armies of millions, woven together and topped with a glistening sepia overtone. A lot of people are going to complain about the historical inaccuracies, the draining fight sequences, the possible contemporary political ties and the Spartans being difficult to relate to but I feel this is a classic tale re-envisioned through graphic novel medium that harks back to the styling of Beowulf, The Illiad and Le Morte d'Arthur. As far as adaptations go, this is extremely loyal and visually astounding but as a stand-alone piece, I found it slightly wanton. The best comparison I could draw for you would be that of Lord Byron's Charge Of The Light Brigade; a poem that romanticises a war, portraying a very noble and praiseworthy cause.
23rd March 2007
The Scene To Look Out For:
Two scenes for you: the first is for visual aesthetics; during the oracles' consultation with the Ephors, we witness a young woman, dancing as if possessed, defying gravity. It was all shot underwater but the mixing really shows a beautiful side to this CG-based, blood-fuelled blockbuster. The second is a little cheesier and just shows off a silly sort of humour that guys tend to adopt when in conflicting situations - something I've noticed on my many paintball outings. Before, after and during combat, the soldiers would employ humour to lighten the tone, setting goals and racing each other. This can be taken to the extreme with cheesy one-liners but if there was ever a movie they could run wild in, it's 300.
The Spartans scared me. Yes, I know, that's ridiculous, they're the heroes, blah blah, but they did. Each one is ripped to the degree that they look as though their muscles are going to push through their skin. I understand they were toned men (albeit short, toned men) and that their bodies would need to be kept in a state of extreme physical condition but I still couldn't help but think that they just look nasty, so I can't pick any of them. Lena Headey not only brings out a softer side to the Spartan King but manages to pull off the conflicted state of affairs that women with voices face, extremely well; showing that even though their society treated women as equals (for the most part), in the company of men, not all Spartans saw women as people of equal cunning, strength and intelligence - something that sill afflicts our own society.
"Submission? That's a bit of a problem; see, rumour has it the Athenians have already turned you down and if those philosophers and boy lovers have that kind of nerve... and of course, Spartans have their reputation to consider"
In A Few Words:
"It's not clever but it's certainly big, bold and baptised in style. Perfect for those who like their action bloody, their fight scenes drawn out and their heroes Homer-esque"