by Dawn Taylor
There’s risk in playing around with legends, and “300,” based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, takes a lot of risks. The story of the 300 Spartans is a famous one, and it’s a tale that already plays fast and loose with historical accuracy – giving Miller and the film’s director, Zack Snyder, plenty of room for interpretation, which will doubtless lead to much nitpicking among history wonks.Sin City, based on another Miller work, has already proven that the man’s comics are easily adapted to film, and that the technique of having actors perform on empty sound stages in front of green screens doesn’t necessarily result in films of Lucas-esque torpidity. In 300 we have an epic action film that literally rewrites the way that such stories can be told, using all the latest cinematic tricks and gadgetry to pull the audience smack into the middle of battles that are as exquisite in their presentation as they are horrifying in their brutality.
"Oooooh, I loves me them naked, oiled-up Spartan mens!"
Gerard Butler, best remembered as a wholly inadequate Phantom of the Opera, is magnificent as King Leonidas, the proud leader who kills Xerxes’ messenger upon receiving the Persians’ initial request for surrender. Denied permission from the state council to go to war, Leonidas instead takes a casual stroll with 300 armed-and-ready soldiers to a secluded mountain pass. There, he knows, “their numbers will mean nothing” and his men can defend all of free Greece, even if it’s unlikely that they’ll win.
The bulk of the film is devoted to the battle, so it’s worth noting that those who find cinematic representations of severed legs, decapitations and gushing spurts of blood distasteful won’t embrace “300,” and purists who can’t take to leap of faith to appreciate an action flick told in an utterly unique style may grumble about the film’s artiness.
But for everyone else, there’s a lot to love here. Snyder, director of the superb remake of Dawn of the Dead, pays faithful homage to Miller’s novel, often staging sequences that are flat-out representations of the original, static artwork while adding new elements that are so right, you’d swear that came from source material. Leonidas’ wife, Gorgo (Lena Headey) is given a larger role attempting to still the political waters at home, and the additions to the mind-bogglingly large Persian army are in keeping with Miller’s sensibility of celebrating the violent, the beautiful and the grotesque.
There are a few flaws, like the jarringly bad overdubbing of Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro) dialogue, a few instances where the sight lines of actors in their one-shots don’t match up, and a really bad latex-and-makeup job on the traitorous hunchback Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan). These are small let-downs, however, in a film that offers such rich rewards – stunning action sequences in which computer-generated objects and actors blend seamlessly, a totally fresh storytelling aesthetic, the gladiator epic-meets-heavy metal musical score, and the acres of buffed, oiled and mostly naked beefcake on display.This is an action film boiled down to its very essence – the fight scenes – and then turned on its ear, offering a testosterone-drenched piece of fanboy art that’s brutally lovely, erotically charged, and a technological marvel.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=15601&reviewer=413
originally posted: 03/10/07 06:47:08