Although the story may be as stripped-down as the Spartans themselves, 300 is one of those phenomenon films worth seeing just for imagery alone. Of course, it has Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s graphic novel to thank for that.
Proving his DAWN OF THE DEAD remake was no fluke, sophomore director Zack Synder lensed this rooted-in-fact actioner, based upon the ancient Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 determined Spartans held their own against exponential armies of Persians.
Gerard Butler – to me, he’ll always be DRACULA 2000 – stars as King Leonidas, the Spartans’ leader. He looks just like the character from the book, and indeed, this is a recurring trend. The film makes a better point of Leonidas’ internal struggle between doing what is right for his people vs. doing what is right for himself.
Much of this hinges on the film’s one true departure from the book: the addition of his wife, Queen Gorgo, played by a radiantly beautiful Lena Headey. While the Spartans square off against legions of spear-wielding soldiers and the occasional monster, the queen is shown defending her husband’s honor back home, by any means necessary.
The first half of 300 is all buildup – and admittedly, boring at patches – as it paves the way for the true reason moviegoers turned over $210 million for tickets: the battle scenes. And, oh, those battle scenes! They’re as visually exciting as anything you’re apt to see all year. Actually, even the slow stuff upfront is stunning, with every scene a marvel of production design and a work of art. One could grab a random frame from the film, have a print made, and hang it above the fireplace, and visitors would be envious.
In these sequences, one can see how panels from Miller’s work were lifted directly onto Synder’s viewfinder. The latter does an excellent job of using the former’s work as a template, but then building bridges between the individual scenes to fill in the action and make it come truly alive. Has there ever been a case where a film followed its source material so closely?
The DVD’s bonus features make just how clear, with side-by-side comparisons of certain key scenes. More interesting is a conversation with Miller himself, in which he reveals his main – and unlikely – influences in writing 300: hard-boiled crime writers like Jim Thompson and Mickey Spillane, particularly for their to-the-point approach in dialogue.
At the end of this feature, Miller turns to Snyder and asks how in the heck the director is going to make his next project work: an adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ WATCHMEN. One thing’s for sure: It won’t look dull. –Rod Lott
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