300 gained a name for itself as the extraordinarily violent, special effects spectacular that proved to Hollywood that it is possible to open at #1 without a single A-list actor in the cast. This film reaffirmed the power of pre-release Internet buzz in creating a runaway hit. It also seemed to have quite a polarizing effect on viewers.
Directed by Zack Snyder (2004’s remake of Dawn of the Dead) and based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel, the movie follows the struggle of 300 Spartan soldiers who wage war against the inconceivably massive Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. The film is definitely not a bastion of historical accuracy, but both Miller and Snyder have stated that they were willing to take some liberties to up the “cool” factor and wow audiences.
Being a huge fan of the last Frank Miller adaptation, Sin City, and always finding myself intrigued by any movie that can have such a love-hate effect on audiences, I felt compelled to see for myself. Unfortunately, I think that fellow Sin City fans will likely be disappointed. Although many of the basic elements remain – the highly stylized violence, audience-pleasing one-liners, and remarkable cinematography and post-production – this is not nearly as clever or solid a film.
There are moments when the dialogue becomes almost painful, the audience being beaten over the head with such blatant displays of hubris as one Spartan proclaiming, “Nothing can stop us now!” Not to mention the haphazard use of accents, and the narration that at times is a little too reminiscent of the voiceover work from the animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Most disconcerting, however, is how the filmmakers could take a true underdog story that everyone can get behind and take away any chance that the audience could get invested in the characters enough to really care. In a way, the Spartan soldiers are almost creepy in the way that they prefer and even seek a “beautiful death.”
In addition, the film features quite a few elements that were covered first and better in movies like Gladiator – from the themes of strong-willed women, betrayal, and the fearless leader, even down to some of the battle tactics and warrior catch phrases, like “respect and honor”.
Still, it is impossible not to appreciate the technical execution and eye candy factor, which is where the movie excels. Shot entirely on blue and green screen, the film often looks like a moving painting, with visuals so striking you can’t look away. I found myself thinking what a fantastic silent movie this would make. The costumes and makeup are also dazzlingly impressive, as the film presents a creative array of mutants and other creatures to challenge the Spartans. I recall having an audible reaction to the first appearance of the man-beast with swords for arms.
As far as the riveting level of violence that audiences will be expecting, this film of course delivers in full. The filmmakers make sure that you get up close and personal with Mortal-Kombat-like blood spatters and decapitations at every turn and an on-screen body count that has been quoted at 585.
So if you are looking for a visual spectacle, a little of the old ultra-violence, 300 will not disappoint. If you prefer an action film with characters you can empathize with or even a decent storyline, you might be better off re-renting Gladiator.