Jeremy dines in Hell on 300

Thursday, March 22, 2007

  • "Come and get your political allegory!"

    "Come and get your political allegory!"

Written by Jeremy Hatt

300 is a pure adrenaline rush. A film that charges into intense battle scenes with heedless joy, as if director Zack Snyder was having so much fun with the mêlée of blood spatter, beheadings, and special effects that he forgot to add any depth to his design. This is merely a quibble however, as every time the action stopped for dialogue filler, I found myself yearning for the glory of a successful kill, the over-the-top brutality of an uber-stylized war, and the charisma of the hunky, scantily-clad Spartan warriors.

I have heard a lot of discussion about the historical accuracy of 300, based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel. History be damned, this is simply one man’s vision of the events of 480 B.C. during the Battle of Thermopylae with the King of Sparta hungrily leading three hundred of his finest men to fight against an army of Persians. The Spartan have been selected for warriors since birth (literally) and trained to believe that the highest honour in life is to die in battle (as long as you’ve also slaughtered an ample amount of the opposition).

Much of the narrative focuses on the spouting of glorified speeches or venomous threats almost to the point of melodrama. Not that it matters in a movie like this where every aspect of filmmaking is exaggerated, from the raging battle sequences, overwrought dialogue, attractive costumes, thundering music, to every blood-splattering strike of sword, spear, and iron fist.

Gerard Butler, playing the King of the Sparta, is particularly ferocious, somehow creating an emotional centre in a wildly extravagant mess. Also talented is Lena Headey playing Queen Gorgo who proves that Spartan women ought to be taken as seriously as the men. In his next epic role since Faramir in The Lord of the Rings, David Wenham is pervasive as the narrator of the story, proudly recounting the suicide of the Spartan warriors to buy time for the rest of Greece to prepare for the Persian onslaught. The Persian army is led by the portentous, flamboyant, colossal King Xerxes, deeming himself a god among men. I was shocked to find out that Xerxes is played by Lost star Rodrigo Santoro as he is unrecognizable under inches of makeup and metal piercing.

But enough about acting and plot, let’s talk about the war. The faint at heart might cower at the gory detail splayed onscreen, but I was enthralled. CG blood is splattered across the scene, scenes jump from real-time to slow motion in order to accentuate brutal deaths, the score slips in and out of pseudo-rock, and characters smile, even laugh in the act of killing. As if all of this isn’t enough, rhinos, elephants, and grotesque creatures enslaved by Xerxes are thrust into battle against the Spartans (of course, met with equal nonchalant boldness). It is in theses scenes that the movie triumphs.

300 will inevitably be compared to Sin City, also based on a Frank Miller graphic novel and also stunning in its artistic beauty. There are shots in both films that could be considered a piece of art with a simple click of the pause button. This includes not only the surrealistic battle scenes but the attractiveness of the actors as well, a celebration of solid-muscled men, and elegant, beautiful women. 300 is also great to look at for its muted tone that gives the film a dreamlike eloquence (making some particularly nasty scenes tolerable).

This is a film that doesn’t hide its excessiveness. It worked for me without being overly pretentious. Audiences may be polarized by its dubious historical and political subtexts but for entertainment alone, it’s a great movie; one that must be seen on the big screen to experience the full effect. So buy an oversized bucket of popcorn, sit back, and have a bloody good time.

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