300 (2007)

Rating: ****
Release Date: 3/9/07
Director: Zack Snyder
Writer: Frank Miller
Cast: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham


I don't think I've ever used that word to describe a film before, but it was the first word that came to mind when thinking about this savory visual banquet. In fact, it may be the most graphically delicious film I've ever seen, its colors and textures almost tangible. "300" is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name, and chronicles a courageous battle between a small group of Spartans and an overwhelming Persian force. When the great Persian war machine comes to Sparta asking for subservience, King Leonidas (superb Gerard Butler) rejects their proposal and prepares for war. Defying Spartan law, he takes 300 of his best men to face the Persian juggernaut for the sake of his family and country. As you can well imagine, only death awaits these doomed souls, but a glorious death indeed.

It's so great to see that comic book adaptations are finally getting the respect and attention that they deserve, and this film is spectacular on every level. I was initially wary of director Zack Snyder's ability to pull if off, but he's succeeded in making me a believer. The colors and textures in the film are amazing and the choreography and cinematography are astounding. Each frame looks as if it were a painting, and the flow and composition are very much like Frank Miller's sequential art presentation. But it's more than just beautiful eye candy - the characters have depth and the acting is of a much higher caliber than the genre usually gets. While I find Gerard Butler's mouth and voice a tad distracting, his eyes and troubled brow speak volumes of emotion. Leonidas's ferocity and tenderness are matched only by that of his wife (lovely Lena Headey), who lives up her Spartan namesake and delivers a wonderfully strong performance (along with some utterly delightful retribution). She and Butler share a scene of incredible erotic intimacy, which stands out of one of the finest cinematic love scenes I've ever seen. Regal David Wenham narrates the story in full comic book form, which helps add to the fantastical flavor of the film. Delivery-wise, the only thing I found disconcerting was King Xerces's dubbed voice, which fell somewhere in the Uncanny Valley and tended to break the suspension of disbelief.

As far as visual effects are concerned, the battle sequences are superbly rendered and the hand-to-hand combat is poetically beautiful in its over-the-top execution. Battles are shot long and wide in slow motion, lovingly caressing the characters and each bloody wound they inflict. Imagine John Woo taking on a sword and sandal epic with his trademark themes of blood and honor. For as violent as the film is, it's surprisingly bloodless. Wounds tend to be extremely sterile - people get cut and skewered, but they don't bleed. That's not to say that blood isn't profusely sprayed and splattered about, but there's little evidence of it on the victims. Computer animation was used for the majority of the bloodwork, which the industry seems all excited about, despite the fact that the Japanese have been using this technique for almost five years and to much better effect. While it's a great tool for creating impressive impact effects, the biggest problem with digital blood is its lack of persistence. There's no interaction with the environment, so it just disappears instead of leaving its trace on people and surroundings. Very disconcerting.

And then there's all the political bullshit surrounding the film. Apparently Iran is outraged by the movie, claiming that it portrays Iranians in a negative light (there were Iranians in the film?) and is merely a prelude to their country being invaded by America. Huh?!? Where the hell did THAT come from? Now I may not know much about politics, but I am not under the impression that America makes foreign policy decisions based on fictional comic book accounts of events that took place 2500 years ago. But maybe I'm wrong. I will never cease to be baffled by what some people see in things. Speaking of which, box office analysts always amuse me with their nonsensical musings. I just read that the success of "300" is primarily due to a viral marketing ploy that the studio employed, which makes me laugh because I hadn't seen ANY marketing material for the film prior to viewing it. Analysts always talk about marketing schemes, ad campaigns, and demographic penetration for the success of films, but they don't ever seem to take into account that maybe the film is actually good, and that's why people are going to see it. If something is good, whether it's a film or a CD or even a new piece of flatware, people are going to seek it out - they don't need to be sold on it by deceptive and manipulative means. Okay, that was a bit of a tangent. The bottom line is if you've ever enjoyed reading comic books, do yourself a favor and see "300" right away. And then see it again.