Directed by Zack Snyder
Bless its bloody heart, 300 is a ridiculously over-the-top epic-wannabe that will no doubt rank as a masterpiece among those whose film diet is strictly computer-generated special effects and post-pubescent machismo.
It's Only a Flesh Wound
At one point in 300, a Spartan soldier named Dilios (David Wenham, The Proposition) gets an eye shot out by an arrow. When King Leonidas (Gerard Butler, The Phantom of the Opera) asks if he's OK, the soldier replies, "It's only an eye. God has graced with me a spare."
Wow. It's a moment reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when John Cleese, as the Black Knight, loses his arms and legs and goes on to say, "It's only a flesh wound."
But in 300, a sword-and-sandal fantasy that otherwise has more in common with Gladiator than Monty Python, this line of complete and utter masculinity is not delivered entirely for yucks. It's the earnest reply of a manly man who eats lightning and craps thunder.
With this abundantly gung-ho spirit of testosterone run amuck, 300 marauds the senses, blow by crimson blow until Leonidas and his men of war become oddly endearing.
300 is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel, which in turn was (extremely loosely) based on ancient Greek history when, at the Battle of Thermopylae, King Leonidas and 300 of his "personal bodyguards" combat the Persian Emperor Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro, Love Actually) and his exponentially larger army. As the film ends, the deeds of Leonidas and his men provide the inspiration that ultimately leads Greece to victory over the Persians.
Filmed in a fashion similar to Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and (Frank Miller's) Sin City, virtually the entire movie was shot in front of blue and green screens.
In some respects, the technique worked better in Sky Captain because most of the settings were inside man-made structures like massive hangars, Radio City Music Hall, and loads of others that lent themselves to artificial lighting. In 300 most of the action takes place outdoors and there simply isn't enough in the computer-generated exteriors to cultivate the complete suspension of disbelief that this film so overwhelmingly demands.
Nonetheless, 300 does capture an artsy, graphic-novel look that is interesting to watch, at least for a while. Ultimately, though, the technique creates such a flat, unconvincing image, the novelty wears off fairly quickly and watching the movie grows tedious as it steamrolls through its nearly two-hour runtime.
Certainly David Lean would lament the film's total lack of natural light.
It's a Spartan's Life for Me
As the special effects grow old, the film's humor keeps things interesting.
Proving itself a very quotable movie, in one scene the Persians talk of how their "arrows will blot out the sun." The Spartan retort? "Then we'll fight in the shade!"
Zack Snyder, who directed 2004's remake of Dawn of the Dead, seems to be searching for a balance between early Sam Raimi and Ray Harryhausen, with the extra advantage of really, really big computers to help negate the need for good ol' fashioned creativity.
The end result in this case is a partly entertaining, partly irritating popcorn flick. For every good quote ("Only Spartan women give birth to real men," sez Queen Gorgo) there's a load of pixilated pain.
But there's also an interesting undercurrent that pricks up the attention on occasion. Those Spartans loved their wives, their children, their country, and their freedom. And those Spartans were mighty damn willing to fight to preserve those loves.
So there it is. 300. A very expensive mixed bag that's a sloppy, loud, violent amusement park ride with just a smidgen of topicality to make one wonder what grandiose stories will be told about this generation 2,500 years from now.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.