Wow. That was the one word that came to mind as the blood splattered credits began to roll at the end of 300. This was a movie that was firing on all cylinders, delivering an adrenaline pumping stylistic, intense,y cinematic experience. It is the next step in cinema style, the gorgeous union of live action and computer generated surroundings, right alongside the pioneering Sin City and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which can possibly be traced all the way back to Tron. Zack Snyder has delivered a visionary film that will grab you by the eye sockets and demand your full attention for two hours. Beyond the technique, there is a story that is what myth and legend is made of.
I have never read Frank Miller’s graphic novel, upon which this is based, nor have I seen the 1962 film 300 Spartans. I also have little (meaning zero) knowledge of the real event, aside from knowing that it was a real event. One thing that is important to know going in is that this is not, nor was it meant to be, a historical document. If you go into this thinking that you will be seeing a true life historical epic, you are sure to be disappointed, and possibly even offended by the oft times cartoonish portrayals. Back to the point, there may be some elements of fact blended into the fiction, but it is not the other way around.
300 plays out a grand tragedy, a tale of heroism, fighting in the face of insurmountable odds for what you believe in. It never falters, it never wavers, it knows what it wants to do and it runs headlong into the breach. It was a fight to defend their way of life, if I can be allowed to quote the name of a forthcoming movie whose mere title fits this film, Live Free or Die Hard. King Leonidas was not about to let his people be taken into a life of slavery or worse under Persian rule, he did the only thing he could. He took the bravest of his warriors and led them into a glorious battle, a valiant, yet futile, attempt to hold back King Xerxes horde.
Zack Snyder has infused great vision and bloody delicious style into every frame. The film was shot almost entirely on soundstages, in front of green and blue screens. There is such care put into each and every frame, it is dynamic, it is larger than life, and it was violent. This is a film that is pure cinema, it is something that could not be done on practical locations, yet I never found the look distracting, quite the opposite. The film started, the title card flashed and I was thrust into this other world, a world where the right were just, the bad were bad. There was a lot going on in the look, and the surface of the story as simple, yet do not be tricked into thinking that this a simple story. It is laced with emotion and political subtext.
The movie plays out like a grand myth, this is how legends are born. The stories of heroes are told, passed down, and used as a point of inspiration for the people. It could be seen as a form of propaganda, I mean, that is what these passed down tales of heroism boil down to don’t they? This story is no different, it is a an actual event, that is blown up to gigantic proportions, exaggerated to the point of the grand effect of inspiration. It is in that where everything falls into place.
At the start of the film, we are provided with a voice over narration telling us of Leonidas rise to power, from his trials as a child through to his grand leadership. It is revealed that the story is being told around a campfire to a group of Spartan warriors. This provides the framework for the fantastic tale of bravery that was to follow. The narration returns at many points throughout, never letting us forget that we are being told a story, as opposed to watching the events unfold in real time. This story is exaggerated, it is turned into a grand campaign, and is used as a tool to get the men pumped up for battle, it is this tat allows for much of the fantastic elements that appear throughout the film. It is not a point for point retelling of the events, it is the start of the legend of King Leonidas.
This is a movie that is filled with macho posturing, sword swinging action, and is not afraid of letting a little blood fly. Everything takes place in a wonderfully realized alternate world, where every element is highly stylized. Snyder and his director of photography, Larry Fong, have created a fully realized world that is as convincing as it is unreal. Add to that the larger than life performances of the leads, in particular, Gerard Butler. Butler takes his role of Leonidas by the teeth and never lets go, he brings depth to the overblown character. There is a lot going on behind the eyes of the warrior king, adn Butler doesn’t let you forget it. There is also a strong performance from Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo, she has a powerful turn, giving us a strong female character with a very satisfying arc. There is even a hunchback character, whose name I cannto recall, who had a very interesting tale and role to play. Not to be forgotten is Tyler Yates, whose score was wonderful and as experimental as the film.
Bottomline. This is a great film from an interesting new voice, in the span of just two films (the surprisingly good Dawn of the Dead remake being the other), Zack Snyder had established himself as a director to watch. This film has so much style and a strong focus that it is impossible to ignore the talent behind it. This is filmmaking firing on all cylinders, and a fine example of convergence of written material and visual forwardness. Cannot wait to see this again.