REVIEW: '300' is One for the Ages
by Steve Mason
Frank Miller's graphic novel about the legendary stand of the ancient Spartans at Thermopylae comes to life on the big screen thanks to director Zack Snyder's directorial virtuosity. This is the wildest, bloodiest, most visually striking and flat-out fun moviegoing experience in ages. 300 (Warner Bros) is light years more engaging than such similar epics as Gladiator and Troy, and it will be hailed as an immediate classic.
The Battle of Thermopylae took place in 480 B.C., when the Persian god-king Xerxes led an army of 250,000 in an invasion of Greece. A mere 300 warriors from Sparta held the Persian army at bay for three days at a narrow mountain pass known as "the gates of hell." That contingency of fierce soldiers was inspired and led by Spartan King Leonidas.
Gerard Butler, far more buff than he was when we saw him in the title role of Joel Shumacher's The Phantom of the Opera, is completely commanding as Leonidas. He is given the difficult task of delivering lines like, "Eat a hearty breakfast, for tonight we dine in hell!" and he makes every one of them work.
There have been more than a few zombie movies in the last five years, but, for my money, Zack Snyder's 2004 Dawn of the Dead, the one with Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames and Mekhi Pfifer, was easily the best. Snyder gave the tried-and-true zombie formula a fresh spin, and now he has reinvented the sword-and-sandal genre.
The movie invites us into the world of Sparta, a Greek city-state, where boys are taken from their families at age 7 to undergo years of rigorous training in order to become the fiercest of warriors. With the Persian armies sailing toward Greece, Leonidas argues that Greece must fight, but Sparta's oracles and its governing council disagree. That leads to a monstrous battle between the Persian horde and only 300 of Sparta's elite fighting men.
300 is so violent and bloody that it makes Mel Gibson's Apocalypto seem like a Disney film. This movie revels in over-the-top killing, with swordplay and stabbing and thousands of flying arrows and angry elephants and ticked off rhinos -- even an insane-looking giant. If the folks at Guinness kept track of movie beheadings, then we'd have found a new cinematic champ. The battle sequences are so stylized, however, that all of the mayhem feels like a comic come-to-life instead of real bloodshed, so it's never too much to take.
The "Thermopylae rumble" was shot entirely on Montreal soundstages. This was Snyder's way of recreating Miller's graphic novel style. The actors worked against bluescreen, then CGI backdrops were created scene by scene, finding just the right color and look to match the desired emotional impact of each sequence. Miller and his visual effects wizards played with the contrast and highlights and shadows and shades to give this movie a surreal, fantastical, one-of-a-kind look.
Miller fanboys may be less than thrilled with 300's expanded romantic storyline: Leonidas's Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey from The Cave and Imagine Me & You) matches wits with traitorous Spartan politico Theron (Dominic West of The Forgotten and Hannibal Rising) in an effort to win her husband some reinforcements. Even this digression from the main action, however, works for me. The over-the-top histrionics match the hyper-stylized look and the psychotically supercharged mayhem, and it all adds up to one of the most kick-ass two hours of wild fun in movie history.
This isn't really an actor-driven movie. Butler is very good as the testosterone-charged Leonidas, Headey is every inch a queen, and the rest of the 300 cast have the requisite biceps and washboard abs to be convincing. Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro, a regular on Lost, plays the Persian king Xerxes. He's got piercings from head to toe and is wearing gold and jewels. There's something campy about him in full makeup and with a digitally-enhanced voice. It works, but not since Jaye Davidson in Stargate has a villain come across this prissy and androgenous.
In his Henry V moment (like "We few, we happy few" in the St. Crispin's Day speech), Leonidas announces, "Remember this day, men, for it will be yours for all time." You may not remember300 "for all time," but you won't forget it any time soon.
Fantasy Moguls Lowdown on 300:
Original FantasyMoguls.com Projections for 300 were for $95 million in box office, an IMDb User Rating of 8.1, 11 Top 5 points and 6 PTA points. Based on reviewing the movie and updated industry tracking, here are Steve Mason's Revised Projections:
Box Office: $139 million
IMDb User Rating: 8.9
Top 5: 15 points
PTA: 9 points