Posted on March 20, 2007 by Flames
Despite my love of everything Frank Miller, I wasn’t actually chomping at the bit to see 300. It may have been because it’s one of the only Frank Miller books I haven’t actually read, or it could’ve just been because of one of a million other reasons. Who knows? Whatever the cause, I was uncharacteristically unenthused.
However, my lack of anticipation would change upon entering the theater where, oddly, all the lights were on. I looked toward the screen and to my glee I saw approximately ten fan boy-types as well as a couple fan girls dressed as Spartans and Persians, brandishing nerf swords as if their lives really were in peril. In front of the expectant popcorn-munching audience, this band of overenthusiastic fellow movie-goers repeatedly killed each other with spectacular sword play, shouting commands and issuing dying grunts in faux pain. Way too good to be true. Lo and behold, this humorous and impressive show was an admittedly good primer for 300. And as the lights went dim, my mood had changed…I was ready for war.
300 is adapted from Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name about the 480 B.C. battle at Thermopylae between a monolithic and massive invading Persian army led by King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and merely three hundred of the most brave Spartans led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler). As both history and the laws of probability dictate, our noble Spartans lost, but they did inspire the rest of their fellow Greeks to resist which ultimately preserved the genesis of Western Civilization.
Director and co-writer Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead remake) has made a visually neato film. Stark and dramatic landscapes, strange characters, cool weapons, battle ready animals, huge human-carried carriages, and epic battles are shot with such style that it wouldn’t take a masterpiece story to make a truly great film. Unfortunately, 300 falls a good bit short of greatness.
The story is emotionally empty for too long. At first we’re only given a very broad premise to work with – Spartans vs. Persians, without any nuances or character-specific elements of tension. We really aren’t given any reason to empathize with anyone until after the film’s midpoint. This is a real problem during the first half of the movie, especially toward the beginning. The first act is nearly tension free as we are told from the start that the Spartans are the best warriors there are and subsequently they easily plow through factions of the vast Persian Army that they have forced through a mountain pass.
Despite beautifully shot and creatively violent battle scenes, Snyder’s visual ju-jitsu is not enough to prevent damage inflicted by the lack of narrative depth. This is an unfortunate over site, because although the movie skips along the surface for over half of its duration, when we are finally given some emotional depth and complexity the movie becomes exponentially more interesting. This improvement comes via the development of two simple, but effective subplots. Had these narrative steps been addressed from the get-go, 300 would be a much more impressive film.
Many aspects of 300 dangle perilously over the gaping chasm of cheesiness. The dialog and costumes are the worst offenders. Much of the dialog comes straight from Frank Miller’s word balloons and I suspect that it worked well when confined to the pages of his book, but when spoken, it comes off as hyperbolic and cheesy. Even so, there are some genuinely clever and funny moments of comic relief.
But, oh those costumes. The Spartan men are all ridiculously cut, tanned, and hairless, and the Greek women are the feminine equivalent. No one wears much in the way of clothing, even when battling armies of beastly men known as Immortals. There were times when I heard people seated near me laughing at the mere spectacle of the Chip and Dale dancers waxing (no pun intended) ominously about the perils of battle.
One of the things I like best about 300 is the fantasy element, which is ironically born in reality. The story is based on a true event, but the ways in which accounts of that event have been passed along throughout the centuries have facilitated exaggerations, birthing myths and legends. In 480 B.C. the Spartans’ fears of the unknown with regard to Persian culture undoubtedly led to fantastic and frightening tales of their encounters. In 300 these perceptions are represented literally – a clever way to cinematically narrate using the style in which this event has been recounted over time. Examples include a deformed giant who’s led to the battlefield in chains, an enormous executioner with fleshy swords for arms, and king Xerxes himself – a giant androgynous being with a voice as deep as a canyon.
In its entirety, 300 is an entertaining film, if not totally fulfilling. There is enough here to make for a fun night out, but much like Chinese Cuisine, it left me wanting something else within the span of mere hours. The guys and gals with the nerf swords got me ready for war and that’s exactly what I got, just not much more.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Reviewer: Jason Thorson
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