“Spartans! Enjoy your breakfast, for tonight we dine in hell!”
Al’s rating: I’d say maybe 238 of my 300 personal guards would fight and die for this film.
Al’s review: Have you ever been flipping channels on a Saturday afternoon and seen Braveheart playing on TNT? You know how sometimes when you stop it’s the scene with Stephen the Irishman when Mel Gibson is hunting in the woods and you go “Aw, Braveheart! Sweet!” and watch the whole rest of the movie? And you know how sometimes when you stop it’s a scene with the leper dude talking to his son and you go “Hmm, I’ll have to remember Braveheart is on if I can’t find anything else…” and you keep flipping but never come back to it because VH1 is counting down the Top 40 Most Metal Moments Of All Time?
The entire movie of 300 is like the part of Braveheart that will always make you stop and watch.
I had definitely some fears. I’d read the Frank Miller graphic novel, which has all the proportional thickness of a Doctor Seuss book, and wondered how on earth they were going to stretch that into a 117 minute film. I’d also seen all the trailers and TV spots, which contained a seemingly unending barrage of Spartans — who were oligarchic if you want to be kind, but fascistic is probably more appropriate — clamoring about “fighting for freedom” and was fully prepared to engage in Justin’s King Arthur counting game. But, in the end, my reservations were swept away and I was completely able to lose myself for two hours in the spectacle of this film because, to be succinct, 300 whomps tushie.
The plot is straightforward enough. King Leonidas, heroic ruler of the Spartans and all-around good guy (except for the part where he leaves infants deemed inferior on top of a mountain to die of exposure), is faced with a problem. An emissary of the Persian Empire comes knocking on his door one fine day to borrow a cup of sugar. That, and to advise him that the God King Xerxes and his Merciless Horde will be moving in next door. I would just like to stop here a moment to point out that “The God King Xerxes and his Merciless Horde” is an excellent name for a cover band. Now, unfortunately for said Merciless Horde, Sparta is the home of the Supreme Fighting Machines and Leonidas is all “Don’t Tread On Me!” so he kicks the emissary into a well and you now know that it is TOTALLY on.
The politicians, however, refuse to believe that it IS on and aren’t terribly interested in much of anything BEING on, so Leonidas is forced to act illegally. He takes a “personal guard” of the 300 Supremeist of Sparta’s Fighting Machines and marches into battle, hoping they can hold out until all the proper paperwork is filed and the whole army can be mobilized. The 300 entrench themselves in the pass of Thermoplyae, known as the Hot Gates, a bottleneck where they and a small contingent of Greek forces may be able to hold off the Persians. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Leonidas’ wife, Queen Gorgo, struggles with the politics of war and attempts to unite the ruling council behind her husband and awaken them to the fact that it is, indeed, TOTALLY on.
The big thing that everyone has been talking about in this movie is, of course, the visuals. To reiterate what I’m sure you have guessed, 300 is breathtaking. I know that’s a criminally overused word these days, what with all the sweeping CGI vistas and whatnot, but the dreamy, washed out landscapes of the Peloponnesian headlands and the military spit n’ polish cities of Sparta manage to walk a careful line between reinforcing the startling immediacy of the action and lulling the viewer into the fairy tale romanticism that allows 300 to work its magic.
The Persians, too, are just brilliantly executed. Xerxes’ empire stretched for thousands of miles and was comprised of hundreds of civilizations; this film revels in that multiculturalism. The camera is allowed to languish on the uniqueness in each of the Persian legions and the director is smart enough to simply let it wash over you from time to time and strike you dumb in your seat. Some soldiers are wrapped in rags with scimitars and wicker shields, some are dressed head to toe in garish robes and elaborate head dresses, the Persians themselves are adorned fantastically in gold piercings, jeweled necklaces, and intricate tattoo work. The design team has really outdone itself in this film and the whole thing is beautiful to drink in.
Some words on the action: first, there’s a heck of a lot of it. I’m willing to say that at least two thirds of running time is devoted to battle. Second, it’s mostly pretty cool action, which is crucial when the whole rest of the movie sits squarely on it’s shoulders. Seeing Spartan hoplites and the phalanx formation performing in what is likely the closest thing to real combat we’re ever going to get is pretty intense, and large scale spear fighting is just awesome. Another touch that is neat, though a bit too frequent, is when the film periodically lapses into slow motion and focuses on a single Spartan warrior systematically eliminating anywhere between one and two dozen opponents in a matter of moments.
If there is one place 300 falls down, it’s in the bloodless side of the drama. The dialogue is ham sliced extra-thick, and while you might think it would befit a movie with action this gratuitous, it’s simply not the case. Most of the character interaction is badly cliched, and while there are ways to write these kinds of platitudes and still maintain the integrity, emotion, or intent of a scene, this stuff seems ripped directly from the DIY Handbook of War Movies. And when the dialogue isn’t cluing us in to exactly what we can expect each actor’s character arc will be for the next two hours, it’s a “Sons of Scotland” speech. Seriously, every ten minutes there’s a rousing call to action by an impassioned and desperate hero.
Even getting away from the character dialogue, whenever there is speaking in 300, it misses more often than it hits. This is a film designed quite clearly from the outset as a fireside tale, and we need a storyteller to make that important device function, but this film is so heavily narrated that I simply felt talked down to. Seventy-five percent of the voice-over could have been eliminated and no one in the crowd would notice it’s absence, and no one in the crowd would miss a thing onscreen. I firmly believe that. Give your audience a little credit next time, guys.
In the group of seven that I saw 300 in, I am the only one that has read the Miller source material, and, indeed, the only one who reads comics on a regular basis. So when it was brought up in our post-movie chitchat that 300 feels more like a comic book than any other graphic novel adapted to the screen, I immediately rebelled against the idea, mostly because I didn’t think of it first. Let’s face it, that’s a pretty bold statement. But then I gave the notion a chance. I really sat down and granted the matter some serious thought (Politics? Religion? Bah! This is what I reserve my serious thoughts for!) and when it was allowed it’s big day in the court in my head–no “out of order” jokes, please–I came around the realization that I agree. More than Spider-Man, more than Sin City, more than Hulk, 300 really replicates the feel of a comic book.
Most obvious, of course, are those nifty slo-mo battle scenes where you can almost see the gutters around the comic book panel. But 300 also works in subtler ways than that. As the Spartans cut down the Merciless Horde, they encounter elephants and rhinoceroses adorned in battle armor, creatures they likely had never seen before and could not imagine even existed. On the screen, they appear as monsters, exaggerated and misshapen. King Xerxes himself is an awesome sight, ornamented extravagantly, standing what seems to be ten feet high over the Spartan heroes. In neither case are the designs exactly wrong–they’re just modified ever so slightly, in the way a storyteller might misremember or intentionally hyperbolize when spinning a yarn around a crackling fire. It’s also the way a comic book artist might draw them, just a little fantastical and with a touch more style than real life has permitted them. It’s damn well done and that alone elevates this film beyond Hercules Unchained, Son of Samson, Troy, or any other sword and sandal flick I have ever seen on the big screen.
So, when the cards are finally on the table, what is 300? The dialogue is overblown, what began as small historical inaccuracies and authorial conceit have been inflated a thousand percent into outright lies, and the battle, I’ve been told by several members of the fairer sex, goes on far too long to be continuously interesting. In other words, 300 is an action film. But simply calling it an “action film” leaves too much room for it to be sold short. It’s been deemed by some to be high-budget peplum, and that is wrong. It’s been dismissed as slick CGI riding the coattails of Peter Jackson, and that’s wrong, too. 300 has too much flair and too much intelligence to be lumped in with Duel of the Titans or Hercules Against the Moon Men and is too possessed of itself to be simply discarded as a bargain bin Helm’s Deep. 300 is far from perfect but it is still a spectacular accomplishment, an exhilarating story, and something you will want to sit down and watch no matter what scene is playing when you find it on TNT.
Kyle’s rating: Everything is better when you’re drunk
Kyle’s review: At my comic book store, the overwhelming thought leading up to 300 was that it was hopefully going to be one of the greatest films ever. As long as they adapted the insane Frank Miller’s comic properly, we figured that the super-violence and overly manly overtones would result in an extremely awesome experience. And if Zach Snyder removed all the exposed male genitalia from the comic book (there’s quite a bit in there, if you haven’t read it yet), so much the better!
You’d think one of us, with our massive enthusiasm, would have made the proper arrangements to see the Thursday sneak preview on IMAX. But by the time I was elected to buy the online tickets, they were all sold out. We theorized going to one of the biggest theaters around, and sneaking in plenty of alcohol (yep, we played that card for a change) would help provide an experience similar to IMAX. Long story short: it kind of did. Hooray!
Anyway, Al was totally right. 300 is the type of film that (metaphorically) picks you up and smacks you around, but then buys you a drink and makes you feel like you’re a buddy anyway. I give quite a lot of credit to the immense awesomeness of Gerald Butler as King Leonidas, but I also think every creative aspect of 300 succeeds amazingly well. And they cut out (ha ha) a lot of the man wang. I think that helped out the box office receipts tremendously.
Actually, after watching Grindhouse I feel like 300 gets closer to that grindhouse energy than what Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino contributed. I’m not sure it has anything particularly innovative or interesting to say, but as a piece of pure entertainment it blows away most of what you could compare it to. Nothing will probably ever challenge Die Hard’s dominance on my ‘Top Action Films’ list, but I don’t think 300 necessarily wants to dethrone any other action film. Rather, it wants to provide a fantastical action experience that works much like a cinematic gallon of Red Bull. And in that, it succeeds!
I suppose that 300 might be a little “too much” for some. There is a plot point involving the Queen (Lena Headey) newly invented for the film that most comic book whackos will argue is awkwardly shoehorned in only to appease girlfriends who are dragged along, but I think it quite rightly provides the film with a little more connectivity. Leonidas, through Butler’s masterful performance, is also softened quite a bit from the graphic novel’s relentless and ruthless incarnation. All for the better, I think: 300 the comic book is exciting and exactly what you want, but it would be an unpopular film. With the new material and several creative adjustments, the film adaptation is instead a hugely enjoyable epic that should appeal to anyone who likes swords-and-sandals shenanigans.
If you haven’t given 300 a chance yet, strongly reconsider it. On the big screen, 300 will pump you up! On the small screen, it will be greatly effective, but not quite the “epic” I’ve mentioned it as. Unless you have one of those massive big screen you hear so much about. If you do, then 1. It should be just as much fun as it is at the theaters; and 2. I hate you.
Sue’s rating: Wow.
Sue’s review: Ordinarily, I wouldn’t necessarily throw my two cents at a movie after the sort of ultra-thorough and marvelous reviewing job that Al (and then Kyle), started us off with. I mean, what’s left to say?
However, considering that I’m one of the more cinematically conservative (elderly, cowardly and easily nauseated), reviewers here at Mutant Reviewers, I thought it would be interesting in a purely academic way for me to offer just a smidgen of my own thoughts and insights pertaining to 300.
Allow me to begin thusly:
Ah. Ahem. I would like to take this moment to thank my son for his timely assistance. I’m sure that the application of that bucket of rather invigoratingly cold water was… Necessary. I feel much better now. Yes. Indubitably.
Now that I have my faculties back under control (actually, if you’ve ever seen The Faculty, I think you’ll agree that they’re best kept under strict supervision), let me say a few things that are no less sincere for being coherent.
First of all, 300 proved to me that under special circumstances, I’m still capable of watching and totally enjoying a movie that is essentially all about the violence, baby. Seriously, the political infighting and stuff was really just a whitewash to hide the fact that 300 is nothing more than a showcase of Spartan as-ah donkey-kicking. And the donkeys do get soundly kicked indeed!
There’s no point in saying much about the acting or the dialogue. I mean, running around brandishing swords and screaming defiance while (for the most part) cheating death is the sort of thing every boy (or tomboy) does when Mom finally gets annoyed enough at the video games to kick ’em out of the house for a few hours. Except for doing a bazillion abdominal crunches, I’m not sure these guys really had to stretch their skills to play these roles. Bless ’em, I say!
If I harbor any disappointment in 300, it’s relatively half-hearted. Let me try to explain. In the Star Wars prequel trilogy, the lightsaber fights were all shown in real time. (If you haven’t ever used the slow motion feature on your VCR or DVD player to look more closely at the Darth Maul/Obi Wan or Obi/Anakin fights, you should be ashamed of yourself. Or maybe I should. I don’t know.) In 300, there are several places where the motion is slowed down so that you can see every nuance of the combat on the screen. Impressive, yes. Graphic novelly, certainly. But I did sort of miss the speed factor in those places. (Ooooh, here’s a thought — Jedi vs. Spartans — Cage Match!)
In any case, I think the reason that I had such a high gastric tolerance for 300 must have been the utterly cool graphic novel effect. I liked Sin City for the same reason. Gore seems less gory when it doesn’t look quite… real. Seriously, I was a lot closer to losing my lunch during Maximus’s brief chow-blowing (oh, Russell Crowe is an Aussie, isn’t he? Amend the record to say, “Technicolour yawning”) moment in Gladiator than I ever was during either Sin City or 300. For me, this works, cause I do likes my action, but I do hates them bodily fluids.
And just as a matter of interest for those who keep track of such things — 300 was the first R-rated movie I’ve watched with my son without previewing it privately first. Mommy’s little boy is growing up!
Lissa’s rating: A wall of dead people. Ew.
Lissa’s review: You know, I have to be honest. While I really miss going to the movies two to four times a month like we used to, it seems like there are fewer and fewer movies I’m eager to see in the theaters. Maybe it’s the high cost of tickets these days, or the preponderance of movies that just don’t really need to be watched on the big screen. I guess for some reason it keeps seeming to me like movies these days are headed towards the pretentious indie film types that try to look at life, love, and family and really just end up being grumpy, snobby treatises on how all of these things suck.
I need to watch more previews, I think.
Anyway, one of the few films I was dying to see in theaters was 300. I didn’t make it then (thus the reason I’m the fourth person to review this), but I really wanted to. For one, I really liked Sin City, and the source material was done by the same author. Although the director was different, in a way, the feeling was the same. Both movies were very graphic-novelly in feel, and I really liked that. It was innovative and really cool to look at, which is exactly what I wanted. Sure, we’ve been watching Rome recently so I’ve been into swords and togas, but still. I wanted flashy battles, good effects, and plot without too much thinking. I was most definitely entertained.
The plot is simple, straightforward, and direct. Persia wants to conquer Greece, including Sparta. Sparta does not want to be conquered. But since a traitor has bribed Congre- erm, the people who say the leader can go to war, the Spartan king Leonidas says “heck with you all. I’m just going to take three hundred of the finest soldiers and go for a stroll.” So he goes to not-war, leaving his wife behind to rule in his absence. And then there is war, and it is bloody and creative and good.
Yeah, normally I don’t like violence. But it’s different when it’s crouched in fantasy and perpetuated with swords. And if you don’t believe me that this is fantasy, check out the abs on some of these guys. Someone was busy with the CGI.
If you’re a history purist, you might go a little nuts at some of the critters that appear. (Heck, just the fact that critters appear.) Apparently, this film has also aroused fury from Iran, because of the way the Persians are portrayed. But regardless, the whole movie is framed with a voice-over narration by Dilios (David Wenham, and yes, I drooled a little). The narration is serving as a speech, so it makes sense that Dilios might have added… a little artistic embellishment, perhaps? Anyway, it works as long as you don’t think too hard.
I have to admit, we did find ourselves mocking the movie a bit. It’s kind of hard not to, when all these people are running around practically naked despite the fact they’re trying to kill each other. But, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the mocking only enhanced our enjoyment. It’s a fun movie (if you like swords); exciting and exhilarating and eye-popping – you need to have fun with it. And it’s easy to have fun with.
But I still don’t believe that all those abs are real.
- That they’ve been making films for 112 years and they still can’t create an onscreen decapitation I can take seriously?
- That the phalanx seems a little off from what the history books taught you? If you did, you’re absolutely right. Director Zack Snyder has admitted to altering the look and implementation of the phalanx so it would ‘look cooler.’
- Pointy beards are not quite high fashion
- Persian emissaries on 480 B.C. apparently rode Friesian horses from the Netherlands – even though the Friesian breed wasn’t developed until somewhere around 1400 A.D.. (Come on, you people would’ve been disappointed if Sue hadn’t nitpicked at the horses.) T’was a pretty horse though.
- Xerxes had an interesting array of unconventional weapons.
- Did any Stargate SG-1 fans have an Apophis flashback during this movie?
- Hey, that’s a Friesian horse! What’s a Frisian horse doing being ridden by a Persian emissary?