Tuesday, September 08, 2009

“You see old friend? I brought more soldiers than you did.”

I need something to wash the insipid taste of First Knight out of my mouth. How about a stupid, brazenly ahistorical movie featuring near-constant ass-kicking for 117 minutes? 2007’s 300 by Zach Snyder should be a fine antidote.

Saying that the story is loosely based on the Battle of Thermopylae is like saying Dragonheart was a King Arthur movie. Yes there is a connection, sort of, kinda, but ultimately that’s not the point. What the movie is really is an adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic (and I do mean graphic) novel of the same title. Persia invades Greece, the Spartan king will have none of it, but, only able to bring 299 of his best warriors with him because of a technicality, and the march up to the famous “Gates of Fire” where violence and posturing and loincloths and freaky mutants ensue. If it sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. However, its played so over the top and stylized that it actually works in the movie’s favor.

CharactersKing Leonidas: Gerard Butler in the role that rocketed him to public consciousness. The largest ham of the movie, he either growls his lines OR. HAS. LOUD. OUTBURSTS! Anyway, he’s the king of Sparta (the movie doesn’t tell you that Sparta had two kings at any given time as a contingency) and really, he’s all about kicking asses and feats of bravery. There really isn’t a whole lot of character development to him, but he’s the ultimate badass of the film.

Queen Gorgo: Lena Headey is Leonidas’ queen. When he marches off to war, she stays home and tries to drum up support for the war effort with the ruling council. Results are, shall we say, mixed.

Theron: Dominic West, who was Jigsaw in Punisher: War Zone (which nobody saw) is the bad Spartan politician. Oozy and clearly on the take, he’s constantly stalling the council’s decision to go to war.

Dilios: David Wenham, who’s been Faramir and the narrator of Deadliest Warrior is one of Leonidas’ most trusted men. He loses an eye during the fighting and is sent back to Sparta when the Leonidas realizes that nobody’s going to go home from this fight. Anyway, he’s the narrator of the film, going with the conceit that he’s telling other soldiers about the Battle of Thermopylae as a pep talk the night before going to battle against the Persians at Marathon, and that lets the wildly inaccurate portrayal of the Persians as monsters kind of work.

The Captain: Vincent Regan is the “drill sergeant” of the unit, Leonidas’ Number Two, and a crusty veteran soldier. One of his sons is with the 300, and he’s got that whole “wants to make daddy proud” thing going.

Daxos: Andrew Pleavin plays the most important “other Greek,” He’s an Achaean and has known Leonidas for a while and they get along well, but there is no doubt in this movie who the real soldiers are. Daxos is an all right fighter, and his troops acquit themselves reasonably well, but again, they’re not Spartans, so they’re citizen-soldiers at best. When the Persians figure out a way to outflank the Greeks, Daxos reasonably bugs out with his men, and Leonidas does not begrudge him.

Ephialtes: Andrew Tiernan, under a heap of makeup, prosthetics and a large hump. He’s a deformed, misshapen guy who wants to help the Spartans out, but can’t because he’s so disfigured that he can’t fight in formation (and he’s a freak who somehow made it past the Spartan Eugenics Screening System of infanticide). Spurned by the heroes, he sells out the Spartans to the Persians for wealth, access to a harem, and a stupid hat.

Xerxes: Rodrigo Santoro plays a larger than life god-emperor androgynous hedonist. He looms large over his troops, is rather fussy, and is covered with more bling and piercings than you can take seriously. He tries hard to out-ham Leonidas, but Butler just one-ups him.

This is where the movie really shows its worth. The characters are fun in an endlessly quotable, cheesy catchphrase sort of way, but they’re mostly there to throw warm bodies into the cinematic meat grinder. Zach Snyder brings a hyper-stylized, digitally edited world to life around the human actors in costumes. Everything about the film is larger than life. The battles are hugely entertaining, mixing fairly reasonable phalanx tactics with wild hand to hand combat against regular troops, elite troops, freaks and giant monsters. It’s a menagerie of bloodshed, lovingly edited and Snyder does go for something different with the slow motion here. He slows things down, then speeds them back up again in the middle of the fights and does this over and over, creating a kind of visual rhythm to the fighting, particularly in one long cut of Leonidas stabbing and slashing his way through a bunch of Persian grunts. I’m not sure how great it would be if it was over-done, but the trick works here quite nicely.

Now, just about the entire movie is digitally enhanced, and I’m usually pretty against over-use of CGI as a crutch, but here its not annoying at all. I think this is because its done as a stylistic choice. Brown/bronze is the dominant color, with doses of red and cool blues for good measure, and the saturation and color editing are all geared toward creating a dry, violent mood that blood will contrast nicely against. As a framer of shots, Snyder is also really good. Pretty much each scene can stand on its own as great image.

Zach Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Michael B. Gordon adapted Frank Miller’s graphic novel, and, not having read it, can’t comment on how well they did. The writing as it is blends hugely over-the-top dialog with over-the-top stuff that Herodotus wrote way back when he was embellishing the last stand of the 300. Historicity is obviously kicked to the curb and left to die, but the movie’s so open and honest about it that I didn’t mind. The script’s goal is to have ancient Greeks and Persians killing each other, and it does a fine job of it.

The score by Tyler Bates is well-suited to the movie. Mixing bombastic ADVENTURE! cues with more modern, digital sounds. Its very, shall we say video game-y, but then again, so is the whole movie, so it works.

If you thought Predator had a lot of sweaty, muscular men, then you’re in for a shock with this film. Then again, ladies do seem to love 300 as much as the guys. Ultimately, my opinion of the movie straddles the line between awesome and cheesy. Its great fun, honestly action-packed and so gloriously silly that it does some Einsteinian Physics and ends up coming back from the other side of awesome. Entertaining, and ambitiously pushing digital filmmaking in an experimental direction, I do recommend it.

1 comment:

Paul said...

i love this movie