It’s more than possible this will be the second positive review i’ve done in a row after ‘Hot Fuzz’, meaning of course I may have to self-harm afterwards in order to build up my inner-hatred again, or maybe i’ll just go and watch ‘Smokin’ Aces‘ for a second time.
On Friday I had the good fortune (along with a group of other UK bloggers) to see ‘300′. Now I’ll admit I’ve been looking forward to this film for a long time, and following any new developments closely (Just do a search on 300 and see how many posts turn up… there’s a ridiculous amount). I’ve had faith in Zack Snyder from the beginning as I really liked his previous project; the remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead’, but still I attempted to walk into ‘300′ without bias. So after sitting for 2 hours and taking it all in, I was happy from the feeling that all my coverage hadn’t been a waste of time. ‘300′ is an epic and brutal film, that perfectly encapsulates Frank Millers graphic novel, and if anything improves upon it. ‘300′ really does live up to the hype and visually looks like nothing i’ve ever seen before. It’s combination of unique visual style, old-school storytelling, graphic and exciting battle scenes and just straight-up balls-to-the-wall action make it near unmissable on the big screen.
Despite having roots in real events, the film ‘300′ is based purely on the Frank Miller graphic novel of the same name, and is every inch a comic-book adaptation of one of histories great last stands, drawing more on myth, legend and Miller’s own imagination rather than anything resembling historical fact.
The book and subsequently the film ‘300′ is a retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, where King Leonidas of Sparta took a group of men to fight back against the Persian invasion of Greece. Despite being grossly out numbered the 300 Spartan soldiers used the terrain and their superior training to make a stand against Xerxes (the king of Persia) and his army numbering more than 100,000.
The film opens to Dilios (David Wenham) recounting the story of King Leonidas’s actions to a group of Spartan soldiers. This voice-over leads the audience into a walk-through of Spartan culture, their training of young men from an early age; to be strong, to resist pain, to fear nothing and to be valiant in the face of adversity. After this brief build-up we’re introduced to King Leonidas played by Gerard Butler. Butler Looks every inch a king-amongst-men, not only does the guy have muscles in places I didn’t know bodies had them, but whenever the camera is on him, he owns the screen. There were moments I actually thought he might take a bite out of the screen, chew it up and spit it out onto a persian corpse.
Butler is the lead in a cast made up mostly of Brits, but everyone sounds vaguely Scottish (Butler’s influence we were told by Snyder). Then there’s the occasional American or Brazilian thrown into the mix when someone evil is needed on screen. The only woman in the film is Queen Gorgo played by the excellent Lena Headey, a strong female lead and believable as the only person who has any say over Leonidas’s actions.
A big portion of ‘300′ is made up of battle scenes, and this is where the film really comes into it’s own. We see the Spartans tactics in action; the infamous ‘Phallanx’ used to form an armoured shell around the group, and using there shields and spears to great effect against an onslaught of Persian arrows. Snyder doesn’t take the standard epic wide-shot approach to battle scenes, but rather gets in close to this small band of men and focuses closely as they dig there feet into the dirt. There was more than a couple of these scenes where I didn’t notice how excited I was until it was over; I’d been biting down on my hand and the only thing that shook me back into reality was the taste of blood in my mouth.
Despite early reports ‘300′ really wasn’t as bloody as I was expecting, that’s not to say it doesn’t have its share of graphic violence, but claims that it’s “the most violent film ever” seem unfounded. The gore is also highly stylised to look comic-like detaching it from reality further, so it’s unlikely to offend audiences, especially when compared to recent cinematic outings such as ‘Apocalypto‘.
The special effects that drench ‘300′ never feel out of place, and only serve to draw the viewer deeper into Frank Miller and Zack Snyders world. Snyder’s camera speeds up and slows down as his warriors slice through the battlefield, pausing only to focus on a recently detached limb or the killing blow from a Spartan spear. The use of camera tricks is actually quite reserved and used only to lift the tempo during the battle scenes, something it achieves admirably. The art direction of each scene is also awe inspiring, with shots framed and coloured to look like incredible oil paintings that wouldn’t look out of place in a museum.
One of the films greatest achievements is the simplicity of the story arc, something it retains from the book. It relies on characters, dialogue and action sequences to move the film along at a pace steadier than a Spartans footing. They resisted the urge to take liberties with the source, and have only expanded the story when it was really called for, keeping it simple and myth-like in its narrative. Snyder chooses instead to develop the characters and their relationships to each other from the beginning. A choice that really pays off. When these men stand fast on the battlefield you truly feel invested in them and want them to triumph despite the overwhelming odds.
‘300′ was an incredible cinematic experience, and certainly felt ahead of the game when it came to direction and visual style. The films style coupled with a timeless story, simple narrative structure and characters you really feel invested in mean it really is something special.
‘300′ has overtaken ‘Hot Fuzz’ as my favourite film of the year, and holds a position I feel it will be difficult to top.
‘300 is released in the US on the 9th of March, and in the UK on the 23rd of March.
Also check out our comic-to-screen comparison of 300 here