In early spring, a movie was unleashed upon the American public that unexpectedly spawned a dozen quotable catchphrases and launched a thousand internet parodies. It went on to make over $210 million at the box office, shocking industry analysts with it’s shocking violence, beautifully choreographed fight sequences and wide audience appeal.
That movie was 300 and I was on the sidelines for the whole thing.
Just as the hype surrounding the film was beginning to build, we brought our first child Henry into the world. It didn’t really fit within my priorities at the time to saunter off and wallow in a swords and sandals splatter fest while Cami was home changing diapers.
But I was able to get my hands on an advance copy of the film – out on DVD today – and this is my review.
By now you’re probably familiar with the battle of Thermopylae between 300 Spartans and the invading Persian army. The film bases it’s story around these events, but never pretends for a minute that its historically accurate. Instead, it draws an immediate line between itself and Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name.
Several key frames from the graphic novel are recreated in loving, gory detail here. I used to think that a previous Frank Miller creation – Sin City – was the most faithful comic book to movie translation. It’s evident that directory Zach Snyder has studied the approach to Sin City and refined it in 300.
The action on screen is constantly engaging and Snyder makes sure to slow things down just enough for you to feel each slice of the blade as it drags across human flesh. Knives bury themselves deep in eye sockets and heads are lopped from torsos with regularity – they float in the air like a bride’s bouquet.
Despite the film’s love affair with gore and it’s unwillingness to shy away from any of it, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat detached from the proceedings. I don’t know if the film has possibly lost some of it’s impact being wedged onto the small screen, but what transpires feels very much like a video game. Blood splatters everywhere and seems to almost evaporate. I was surprised when slain Persians simply didn’t blink a few times in rapid succession before disappearing from the battlefield to make way for more Spartan slaughter. But it’s probably not best to worry about it too long.There is more carnage to be had!
For me, the success of the film rests squarely on the broad shoulders of it’s star Gerard Butler as King Leonidas. Much more than a pointy beard, some eyeliner and rippling pectorals, Butler attacks his dialogue with the corners of his mouth pulled down to the base of his neck in vein-popping earnestness. He carries himself confidently and projects strength at all times. Watching him, you’re convinced that this is a man that could rally soldiers to battle and prepare them for death and glory as if there were no greater reward. He’s a treat to watch because he takes all of it as seriously as a heart attack. In less literal hands, Leonidas could have come off as pompous or unreasonable.
Beyond Butler’s scene chewing, the narrative is delivered largely in voice over. The third person account lends a sort of historical reverence to the proceedings, but at the same time feels pat and lazy storytelling. Some political maneuvering is thrown into the background of the plot, but it does little to anchor itself to the action at the battle of Thermopylae. Ultimately, it’s the visuals that sell the movie. Shot almost entirely against a blue screen in Montreal in 60 days, one marvels at how it was all assembled to recreate the epic battle.
Not much is explained in terms of extras available on the full screen version of the DVD that I was provided with. Just a simple director’s commentary and that’s all. The widescreen edition doesn’t fare much better for extras, but the two-disc special edition contains more than 90 minutes of addition footage that delves into the “How’d they do that?” for a richer at home experience.
FX junkies looking for an unapologetic action film will find much to love in 300. Anyone looking for greater depth will probably have more luck watching The History Channel.