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In Movies & TV

"300" freshens up history-telling


From the moment its trailer hit the Internet and theaters, "300" left people gaping at the beauty that could be had in 30 seconds of footage. Graphic novelist Frank Miller, the mastermind behind "Sin City," divulges the epic tale of the historical Battle of Thermopylae in a way that history teachers could only wish they could convey.

Miller's drawings now jump from page to film in a way that has live action interspersed with virtual backgrounds. "300" takes on features of movies like "Gladiator," "Troy" and "Lord of the Rings" while making its own way in the action film genre.

Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) attempts to do the unthinkable: Pair 300 Spartan soldiers against the million-man army of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), Persian king and conqueror of all lands. Xerxes has his sights set on Greece and only Leonidas stands in his way. Clad in red robes, the soldiers look like a river of blood no matter where they go, whether or not this represents their blood is up for interpretation.

Through the narration of Dilios (David Wenham), the audience learns of the tough battles that Spartan men start from birth. It's a cold world in which less than perfect male babies are discarded, hurled over a cliff. The training begins young and at seven, the boys are taken from their mothers to battle their way to greatness.

Leonidas was the greatest of all the Spartans.

However, his stubbornness earns him enemies besides Xerxes. He goes against the law and heads out with his men. As a battle rages out in the field, so does one at home. Leonidas' beautiful wife, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) just as headstrong as her husband, wants to send reinforcements, but is met by the disapproval of Theron (Dominic West), the man who has the council in the palm of his hand.

It'll take much effort on both ends to win the war. History tells us the Spartans lost Thermopylae, although they seriously hindered Xerxes' army. A hunchbacked former Spartan betrays Leonidas after being rejected and leads Xerxes behind the Greek army. Winning that specific battle didn't mean Xerxes won the entire war. The loss of Leonidas only fired up the Spartans and the rest of Greece.

Wisconsin-born director Zack Snyder, probably best known for horror flick "Dawn of the Dead," took Miller's story and ran, but he didn't stray too far. Miller's drawings play a massive role in the staging of "300." It's possible to compare frames of the film with the graphic novel to see the resemblance.

There is no doubt that the visuals are jaw-droppingly stunning. Half the film is done in sepia tones, different variations of golds, and colors influenced by the night. While the cinematography has the audience looking up at actors, conveying a sense of power and strength especially with shots of Leonidas and Xerxes. But the movie leans heavily on tight facial shots, which requires the actors to have varied and strong facial expressions.

Action makes up the bulk of the cinematography and these shots make the movie. Throughout the battles a scene will switch from live-action to slow motion. Every movement gets emphasized, as a sword plunges deep into an enemy the blood squirts out and the soldier moves on to his next target. Quentin Tarantino would be proud of the film's abundant blood and gore.

The script leaves something to be desired, but it's a comic book story, not usually known for narrative dialogue. The weight is on the actors to pull off the story, and they are stellar. The cast of usually non-leading actors is anchored by the ferocity each puts into their parts and the wonderful costuming. It does help that all the Spartan men have muscular physiques that aid the revealing robes.

Butler takes over leading man with ease. He's got the charisma and talent for roles like these. He's already known for roles like the Phantom in "Phantom of the Opera," but here he takes on more camera time than he's seen in other films.

Wenham is no stranger to epic films; he played Faramir in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and also played sidekick to Hugh Jackman in "Van Helsing." His voice was overtly recognizable from the minute he starts talking -- he does a wonderful job of conveying the urgency of the situation. But one might think someone with a deeper voice should have been chosen to narrate.

But the biggest transformation goes to Santoro as Xerxes. It's hard to transform a man known for being gorgeous in movies like "Love Actually" and on television in "Lost," into an effeminate, power-hungry warlord painted gold. He's unrecognizable, from features to voice.

For visuals alone, people should see "300." It's awe-inspiring and can leave you speechless. It's something that needs to be taken in from beginning to end and post-movie.


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Talkbacks

Pony811 | May 11, 2007 at 10:09 a.m. (report)

I thought "300" did a great job of showing the Spartan way of war. It was a very military movie that I believe captured the core. War is rough and soldiers follow command. I thought the graphics also followed very closely with the graphic novel theme. The colors were rich and the sounds sharp. This movie was very well done.

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littletinyfish | March 12, 2007 at 4:14 p.m. (report)

I have to say that Frank Miller's writing style isn't all that spectacular, but to say "comics are not known for their stories" is an egregious error. Read anything by Alan Moore, Chris Ware, or (Wisconsin's own) Craig Thompson, then expand from there. Also, this was the best translation from the comics medium to film, mostly visually, in the way the movie's shots were deployed. Hulk attempted to bring the frame elements of comics into the movie, but failed to recognize why people read comics; it's not for the frames, it's for the visual grandeur. In 300 many of the action scenes are slowed down to a crawl, so that you can take in the grandiose dance of battle. It's almost as if you're actually watching a comic come to life. And even more successfully, the slowing of the building action, plus the speeding up of the actual slice, impaling, or slash provided an extreme edge of your seat element.

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