Archive for March, 2007
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Zack Snyder & Kurt Johnstad, based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller
Starring: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, and Rodrigo Santoro
I’m a member of what I like to call “The Star Wars Generation.” Maybe you are too. I was a kid of about 7-years-old when George Lucas brought forth the first Star Wars film. I sat there, in a theater that only had one, huge screen, and when the lights went down and the six-track Dolby stereo kicked in, I was plunged into a festival of the senses that I never wanted to end. In fact, the moment it was over, I wanted to buy another ticket and see it all over again. Nothing I had seen before Star Wars could have prepared me for this experience, and though I have taken countless cinematic journeys since that fateful day, few have captured that same feeling. It is the moment that sparked my love of cinema, of movie music, of art. In many ways, it is the moment my life began.
Now, I foresee a whole new generation of film fans being spawned, and it will be known as “The 300 Generation.”
Based on the graphic novel by artist Frank Miller (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City), the story is a fairly simple one. The forces of the evil Persian Empire, led by god king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), arrive on the shores of Greece with one thing in mind: total conquest. The Greek city-states can either become slaves and live under Persian rule, or they can stand and fight for freedom and democracy. King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) wants to protect the Spartan way of life, but the council has forbidden the army to get involved. With no other options available, Leonidas takes up his spear and shield, gathers together 300 of his best men, and marches off into battle while his queen, Gorgo (Lena Headey), tries to win support for the war at home.
But we didn’t come to the cinema, our modern-day coliseum, for a history lesson on Thermopylae. No, good citizens, we came to see some battles. And like the emperors of old, writer/director Zack Snyder knows how to satisfy our bloodlust. In 2004, he took the slow-moving zombies of George A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead and gave them a turbo boost. Now, with the help of computer technology, he does the same for the sword and sandal picture, transforming stale sword fights into sadistic ballets. Heads go spinning through the air; limbs are hacked off in mid stride; and countless warriors find themselves impaled on Spartan steel. Snyder lets his horror roots show in these sequences, and you can almost hear him laughing with glee at the bloody mayhem he is able to unleash upon the screen under the guise of historical epic.
This film is as much Frank Miller’s vision as it is Snyder’s, and you can see it in each and every frame. Backgrounds are painted and animated around the actors, capturing the world of the comic with a degree of artistry never before attempted. Scenes of ships being smashed on rocks, armies of elephants, temples erected on rocky spires that could not possibly exist in reality…all are breathtaking spectacles in their own right.
As good as these visuals are, the sound design is even more incredible. At one point, a character throws a dead body and startles a flock of sea gulls. When they take flight, I literally jumped and turned my head. I thought there was a bird trapped in the theater with me. Weapons and battle cries wiz by on all sides, and when the blood does splatter, you hear the droplets hitting stone all around you. It is as if you are there on the cliffs, part of the siege, and it makes your jaw drop. To complement all of this action, Tyler Bates has composed a magnificent score. Rousing, beautiful, and haunting, it adds emotional weight at just the right moments.
If there is any sour note to be heard here, it is that of the dialogue. Someday, when the movie hits DVD, there will be a drinking game created. Every time Butler’s Leonidas yells out “Sparta” (usually preceded by a “We are…” or a “This is…”), take a shot. And when that game is created, someone will die of alcohol poisoning. Like Star Wars, there are dozens of memorable, quotable lines, but just because something is quotable, doesn’t make it great. Given this type of over-the-top dialogue, it would have been easy for the actors to turn the whole affair into a cheesefest, but to their immense credit, they play it all straight, adding depth and breath to characters that simply did not exist on the page.
Movies like Star Wars come around only once a generation, plunging the viewer into another world, a world that exists only in the dark of the theater, appealing to the inner child in us all. Like the world’s greatest rollercoasters, they are thrilling, exhilarating, and over far too quickly. As soon as you exit, you have the urge to run back to the end of the line and get another ticket.
300 is just that kind of ride, and even as I write this, I want to go again. Come on, I’ll race you.
4.5 out of 5 stars.