Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Review: 300

300 (2006)

"This is SPARTA!"

Just wanted to establish that.

The Battle of Thermopylae was one of history's great battles; one that could be argued was pivotal in helping to keep Western civilisation  from being nipped in the bud.  At Thermopylae, a small  Greek force lead by 300 Spartan warriors faced a many times vaster Persian army bent on the total conquest of Greece.  The Spartans all died in the battle, save for one man who, to his shame was sent home with an eye infection.  Though they lost, they threw back wave after wave of Persian assaults and were only defeated due to treachery.  What they did that day demonstrated what free men could do fighting against slaves and helped to preserve the civilisation that we enjoy today.

300, based on Frank Miller's comic book graphic novel is a stylistic tour de force.  Director Zack Snyder throws history to the wind, digitises and green screens what's left, tosses in a busload of leather speedos (no wonder the Spartans are so touchy), cranks up the contrast, and turns the battle into a simple, albeit overwrought, contest between buff freemen and an army made up literally of monsters and demons who couldn't make the cut at Mordor.  Snyder himself admits that everything was subservient to making the film "look cool" and one must admit that he does manage that.  The images are novel and the fight scenes are impressive, though for all the spurting blood they never really come across as believable.  At least Snyder has the good sense never to mention the name of King Leonidas's wife on screen.  If the audience learned that "Gorgo" was on the Spartan's side, they'd wonder what chance the Persians had against a 60 foot lizard. 

The actors have the thankless job of racing after the over the top production, but they all put in an effort.  Gerard Butler's Scottish brogue is so thick that you imagine that when he dines in Hell it'll be on haggis and Lena Headey tries to ground the story in some sort of emotional sanity, though without much success.  At least they are spared David Wenham's having to carry an interminable narration and Rodrigo Santoro's thankless task of playing Xerxes as a nine-foot tall drag queen who makes Ru Paul look like Clint Eastwood.

300 is visually brilliant and a daring experiment in style, but it's comic book script and overwrought seriousness makes this a film to only see once.  Watch it twice and you'll know why it makes such good Rifftrax material.

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