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More about atmosphere than history
A Scene from the Action/Adventure "300".
OPENING WEEKEND: $32,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $94,000,000
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

October 16th, 2006: In 480 BC, King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) sends his massive Persian army in order to conquer all of Greece. Against insurmountable odds, Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) assembles his army of 300 courageous warriors to lead Greece in the defense of the country. Aided by his wife, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) Leonidas is able to inspire his men to walk into certain death. They will engage the Persians in battle at Thermopylae in a narrow canyon where the invaders cannot take full advantage of their army of hundreds of thousands. The mission proves to be suicidal after all, but it also proves to be devastating to the Persians and inspires the rest of Greece to band together and defeat the weakened enemy.

What to Expect: The film 300 is based on the real-life Battle of Thermopylae, which is frequently cited as one of the most famous “last stands” in history. Led by King Leonidas and his 300 Spartan (from the Greek city-state of Sparta) men, an alliance of Greek city-states took on the invading Persian army that outnumbered them by a count of 200,000 to 7,000. Taking advantage of the terrain, the Greeks blocked a narrow 50-foot-wide pass and prevented the massive army of Xerxes from advancing. After two days of fighting, the Persians had suffered heavy losses, incomparable to the minor ones endured by the Greeks. On the third day, a local betrayed the courageous Greek army and showed the Persians a mountain path that led behind the Greek lines. King Leonidas dismissed the rest of the army, but stayed behind with his 300 men as well as with 700 Thespian (from the Greek city-state of Thespiae) warriors to slow down the Persians as much as possible and to allow the rest of the Greek army to escape. It was a suicidal mission, but the battle alarmed Xerxes enough to withdraw some of his troops. He only sent a part of his force to finish the conquest of Greece, which had banded by then and subsequently defeated the Persians.

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Sparta, is a city in southern Greece, which at the time hailed as a military state and a self-proclaimed “natural protector of Greece.” The average Spartan was trained to kill, obey, and endure from an early childhood. Spartans were the perfect warriors, the perfect killing machines. The Battle of Thermopylae is frequently used as an example of the benefits of training, proper equipment, and use of terrain to improve one’s chances in a battle. It has also stood as a symbol of courage and heroic sacrifice in the face of overwhelming odds. Thanks to their efforts, the Spartans and the Thespians have inspired several cultural references, including the somewhat unspectacular 1962 epic The 300 Spartans.

The film is likely to stand as a stylized take on the events, much like the Frank Miller graphic novel on which it is based. Rather than a historically accurate depiction, 300 will be, first and foremost, a decadent and amazingly violent motion picture that places far more focus on artistic grandeur and innovation then on realism. Frank Miller, who has been a hot item in Hollywood since Robert Rodriguez transformed his Sin City into a critically acclaimed feature, penned the stunning graphic novel 300. From the moment the first footage was shown to the beat of a Nine Inch Nails track, the film has been hailed as a new “fanboy masterpiece” and has quickly become one of the most anticipated movies of the year.

The focus will be on artistry and not historical accuracy. Zack Snyder, the man responsible for the very successful Dawn of the Dead remake from a few years ago, will bring this unique vision to the screen. Clearly, he is a director that understands action and as such should have no problem making this a physical project. Above all, the filmmakers want to capture an atmosphere. A lot of attention will be placed on capturing the distinctive environment in the graphic novel – the rocks, the soil, and the dirt of Greece. The battles promise to be stylized to the point of almost being surreal. The filmmakers have taken several liberties with the action and the sequences promise to be extremely theatrical in nature. Since editing cuts tend to deflate the tension, Snyder’s use of forty-five-second-long steadicam shots is an encouraging sign that the combat scenes might be some of the most captivating and engaging ever shot.

To achieve their vision for the world of the story, the filmmakers have combined live action with virtual backgrounds. Nearly everything was built and shot indoors in a blue screen environment, with a fully designed 3D background in mind for each scene. The actors and some basic foreground elements were the only real objects in the scenes. The rest is all abstract terrains rendered with computers. The final result is something that resembles an ancient combat in the fiery depths of hell. Needless to say, it is a wholly remarkable world and one that will be just as much of a character in the story as any of its inhabitants.

A lot of focus was also placed on training the actors to become as much like the Spartan warriors of the past as possible. Thanks to random and savagely intense workouts specifically designed by a world-renowned mountain climber, the actors were molded into men with physiques of primitive, ancient warriors, not into bodybuilders. Their bodies were pushed to the limit. Thanks to their redefined strength and agility, they were better equipped to handle the physically complex and lengthy shoots that frequently required those long takes. There was simply no way for the actors to fake their way through it. Gerard Butler, the Scottish-born thespian from The Phantom of the Opera, has been transformed into a King Leonidas worthy of being commemorated in one of those immaculate Greek sculptures.

Zack Snyder’s fan-friendly approach to filmmaking seems ideal for this material. 300 will be a comic book brought to life – an epic tale about sacrifice and absolute bravery set in a universe that is almost unreal. Snyder’s take, however, may be a bit too friendly. So far, the dialogue that can be heard echoing throughout the film’s trailer puts Gibson’s war cry “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” from Braveheart to shame. Furthermore, Snyder has strayed from the graphic novel by giving Queen Gorgo a far more substantial role beside King Leonidas. The filmmakers felt that a little more girl power was a great addition to the movie and so they have transformed her into a vital instrument in the rally for war. Greece’s eventual victory over the Persians also led to the eventual establishment of the first democratic society. It is a topic that the film will touch upon, but some have pointed out that the “few against many” idea is actually more reminiscent of a terrorist mentality than anything else. Given the state of today’s affairs, that sort of scrutiny has become standard practice by now and will probably come into play upon the film’s release. Certainly, the Spartans were not the most righteous of societies. Slavery was commonplace as the Spartans were supported by oppressive neighboring cities that provided all the work while the men trained. Obviously, historians have denounced 300 as a historically inaccurate account, but that’s like saying that Star Wars lacked realism. The film will serve as a theatrical experience and not as a history lesson. It will probably be a far less realistic take on a historical event than any other epic before it.

In Conclusion: Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake was a fun picture, but it lacked some of the social commentary that enriched the original. As a result, I fear that, while it will be a sumptuous visual pleasure and a highly entertaining experience, 300 will lack the layers of a true masterpiece. While I have no problem with “style over substance” filmmaking, the style has to be so convincing that it becomes the essence of the film. I think that’s what Snyder will be aiming for, but I worry that he may not have the ability to pull the trick off. Fans of films inspired by comic books, especially ones regarded so highly as to be called graphic novels, are likely to bask in the delights of the viscerally stimulating adventure.

Similar Titles: Sin City, The Fifth Element, Kingdom of Heaven
March 9th, 2007 (wide)
July 31st, 2007 (DVD)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Zack Snyder

Gerard Butler, Vincent Regan, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Michael Fassbender, Rodrigo Santoro, Tom Wisdom, Andrew Tiernan, Dominic West, Andrew Pleavin

Total: 958 vote(s).

Action & Adventure, Drama, War/Western

Click here to view site

Rated R for graphic battle sequences throughout, some sexuality and nudity.

117 min





300 at RottenTomatoes.com

300 at AskMen.com

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