Friday, November 1, 2013

300 Movie Review

I remember seeing the trailer for 300 (2006) in theaters and just about all that I retained was the fact that it had a buff 8-year-old boy in it. Seriously, small children should not be muscular. That's just creepy and weird. Of course after 300 was released some time later everyone and their dog was talking about it and parodies were popping up all over the place. Seven years later it's still a cinema cultural icon and I'm just now getting around to seeing it.
The massive army of the Persian Empire is sweeping across the globe, crushing every force that dares stand in its path. In Sparta, a Persian envoy arrives to offer King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) power over all of Greece if he will only bow down to the self proclaimed "God-King" of Persia, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). The idle threat does not bode well with the Spartan King, and he assembles a small army comprised of his empire's 300 best fighters and marches off to defend their home, their freedom, and their families. They have virtually no hope of defeating Xerxes' battalion of 170,000. Meanwhile in Sparta, the loyal Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to convince both the skeptical council and the devious Theron (Dominic West) to send aid to King Leonidas, despite the fact that many view Leonidas' unsanctioned war march as a serious transgression.
300 is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Frank Miller, which itself is a fictionalized version of historic Battle of Thermopylae. Since I have nether read the graphic novel nor bothered to study the Greco-Persian Wars in any kind of detail, I can't really comment on how historically accurate this movie is. Since 300 had a very comic book vibe, I'm willing to bet that a lot of it was sensationalized and made more dramatic.
The film is a shot-for-shot adaptation
of the comic book.
The comic book vibe was really an excellent point of the movie. The camera angles, the color scheme, the pacing, everything felt like a comic book. Come to find out, the director Zach Snyder, used the source material (the comic book, anyway) a great deal in designing the movie. There are some scenes that you'd swear they used images from the comic books as storyboard images during preproduction. Everything was shot in front of a blue screen. But unlike, say, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, 300 looked really good! Stylized and "comic booky," yes, but it looked good. It didn't look like a bunch of actors in front of a digital background resulting in lighting discrepancies. It manages to have a realistic look while also having a gritty illustrative quality to it.
The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed. It's really neat to see how the Spartan's battle tactics work and different techniques work. While graphic and often bloody, you can tell exactly what's going on at any given time and you're given a sense of space on what is essentially a computer generated set. I've seen movies that don't do that very well at all, even when they are using a physical set. Good job, Zach Snyder!
I've heard from a number of sources that the 300 comic book's author is an insane right-wing nut job and that his political views are prominently manifest in the book and thus are carried over into the movie. The warmongering Spartans are glorified as righteous and superior, they break the law to start a war, kill foreigners and are supposedly justified. Anyone who opposes them, including the pacifist Spartans who want peace, not war, are portrayed as traitors, etc. While I dislike right-wing nut jobs every bit as much as I dislike left-wing nut jobs, I disagree with this alleged analogy. The Spartans were being threatened and on the verge of invasion. In the interest of protecting their home, their land, their families, and their freedoms, the Spartans leave to defend themselves before the war that is already raging on comes to their country. It's well established that the war is moving in their direction whether they are involved or not. It's established that the invading Persian armies claim to treat anyone who surrenders without a fight with civility, but will enslave anyone who stands against them. The Spartan politicians are willing to be taken over by the Persians to avoid a confrontation, not because they want to find a peaceful alternative to the war. The Spartans are not seeking a war, they are defending themselves against an invasion that will be at their door any day. Leonidas, while certainly strong-willed, is doing what he believes is best for his people by sending a message to the actual warmongers that they will not give up their freedoms easily, that they will defend their families, and that they will not tolerate threats of death and slavery. I think that is a good message, and certainly not an attack on democrats or left-wing antiwar protesters.
300 is one of Zach Snyder's better films. I don't think it's quite as good as a lot of people make it out to be, but it's still a decent movie. It has made a significant cultural impact and has prompted many parodies and spoofs. The art direction, camera work, pacing and just about everything visual was very well done. The script had a few good lines but was mostly bland and featured some predictable one-dimensional characters. The cast was good but didn't have very riveting material to work with.  While the action is very good, the violence is definitely what earns it an R rating. I wouldn't mind seeing this again, but unless you are really enchanted by the special effects and action, which makes up a bulk of the movie, it's probably not worth owning. I do recommend renting it just to appreciate this cultural cinema icon.

History was never my strong point. Assuming you are, is there an epic historical battle that you would like to see turned into a movie? Comment below and tell me all about it!

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