From its opening scene—a close-up of thousands upon thousands of what are later revealed to be the bones of countless infant males tossed from a precipice after being deemed unfit for the honor of a Spartan life—to its last, Zack Snyder’s (Dawn of the Dead ) newest film, the cinematic adaptation of Frank Miller’s popular graphic novel, 300, leaves other filmic adaptations of the battles of the ancient world in its blood-speckled dust.
The driving force behind the film is not the storyline drawn from Frank Miller’s graphic novel, as many audience members may expect, nor is it Zack Snyder’s exceptional directing or his use of special effects. No, the overall success of the film, while certainly indebted to these talented men, is due to the passionate, testosterone-packed performance given by Gerard Butler (Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life , The Phantom of the Opera ), who plays Leonidas, King of the Spartans and leader of the 300 Greek soldiers whose brave and suicidal stand at the infamous “Hot Gates” forms the basis for the legend, the graphic novel, and the film. Butler, sporting chiseled abs that only seven months of daily, six-hour intense weightlifting sessions could produce, is barely recognizable as the same lanky actor who played the Phantom in Joel Schumacher’s 2004 The Phantom of the Opera.
Only slightly less impressive than Butler is actress Lena Headey (The Cave , The Brothers Grimm ), who delivers a stunning performance as Leonidas’ wife. In her role as Queen Gorgo, Headey brings to the screen a cunning beauty not seen since Connie Nielsen’s award-wining performance as Lucilla in Gladiator (2000). Headey’s version of classic beauty surpasses Nielsen’s, however, as only a female lead based on one of Frank Miller’s unique creations can: both gorgeous and deadly, Queen Gorgo proves a true black widow, and the newest role model for twenty-something women looking for a strong, intelligent female presence on the big screen.
Dominic West (Chicago , Mona Lisa Smile ) also delivers a powerful performance as Theron, a conniving politician who spends his time accruing power and wealth while lusting after Leonidas’ wife. The intensity with which West is able to make audience members despise his character may signal a return to greatness for the actor, whose acting abilities had come into question after several of his recent roles in films like The Forgotten (2004) and Hannibal Rising (2007).
Fans of the first Frank Miller screen adaptation, Sin City (2005), directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn , Once Upon a Time in Mexico ), will be more than satisfied with the stylized cinematography of 300, which utilizes some of the same comic-book-style camerawork as is featured in Sin City. From the blood that sprays forth from the mouth of a young Spartan boy to the images of headless and limbless warriors fallen in battle, Frank Miller fans will not be disappointed.
While these elements are somewhat isolated and tend only to appear during the film’s grueling action-packed fight scenes, what 300 lacks in prolonged animation-style camerawork it makes up for with the long line of fantastic characters brought forth to oppose Leonidas and the Spartan warriors throughout the course of the film—characters that range from the Persian “God-King” Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro, Lost) to the giant “Uber Immortal” played by WWF star Robert Maillet.
While remaining true to Miller’s storyline has endowed 300 with the occasional hokey line of dialogue, Zack Snyder’s film breathes life into the powerful art of Miller’s graphic novel, recreating the bold and stylized characters and landscapes in stunning big-screen images that can only be described as art in their own right.
The mix of live action and CGI—the entire film was shot in a warehouse using a green screen background—sets some of the longest single-take fight scenes ever filmed against the beautiful landscapes of a Greece that no soul has seen in hundreds of years.
Rated R for graphic battle sequences throughout, as well as nudity and sexual encounters, 300 opens this Friday, March 9, 2007.