Friday, March 02, 2007

'300' - Visuals to provoke your senses

300 (war drama)
Cast: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Vincent Regan and Dominic West
Director: Zack Snyder
Time: 90 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)
Gerard Butler and Rodrigo Santoro
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? "300" is the second of Frank Miller’s graphic novels to be adapted for the big screen – after "Sin City" of 2005 – and Miller should not have any complaints about how Zack Snyder has visualised his sword-and-sandal epic. Snyder has not only been faithful to Miller’s style and vision, he has also provided the adrenaline and testosterone thrills – plus a whole lot of graphically realistic violence and blood-letting (hence the 18PL classification in Malaysia).

WHAT’S IT ABOUT? Based on the Greek legend of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, the movie opens with a brief introduction to the militaristic traditions of Sparta where children, like Leonidas, are taught the art of sword-fighting as soon as they are old enough to hold a sword. They also learn about personal honour and respect – and never to yield to the enemy.
When he becomes king, Leonidas (Gerard Butler) receives word from a Persian emissary that Sparta and all of Greece should pay homage to King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) as ruler of the world – or face invasion by his massive army. When Leonidas refuses, he not only incurs the wrath of Xerxes but also that of his own council members for going against the exhortations of the Oracle (Kelly Graig) forbidding him from fighting the Persians.
The rest of the story, about how Leonidas leads 300 men against the hordes of foreign invaders, is now legend. The word ‘Spartan’ is synonymous with ‘practical, simple and disciplined.’

HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS: ‘Spartan’, however, does not describe the way Snyder brings the graphic novel to life. Most of the movie is filmed against a green screen backdrop where computer-generated backgrounds are incorporated into the print, giving the movie a surrealistic, comic book effect (just like what we got in "Sin City"). The costumes are specially designed to excite and provoke the imagination. The music score keeps the battle scenes 'energised'. In filming the battle scenes, the camera is speeded up and slowed down, providing slow-motion close-ups and fast-paced shots of limbs and heads being severed -- with blood splattering all over the screen. There are also many shots of dead bodies being piled up – just to emphasise the results of the battles.
For the first half-hour or so, these graphically violent scenes are cool to watch but Snyder tends to repeat them throughout the movie – numbing the audience to the brutality in the process. The Spartan warriors are all about glory and sacrifice – and the cast, including Vincent Regan as Captain, Andrew Pleavin as Daxos and Andrew Tiernan as Ephialtes – are suitably gungho to pass themselves off as sacrificial lambs all ready to accept Leonidas’ invitation to ‘dine in Hell’.
Snyder alternates the battle sequences with those of Queen Gorgo’s (Lena Headey) attempts to rally the treacherous Theron (Dominic West) to her side and persuade the Council to send reinforcements to her husband. However, this political wrangling could have been developed and expanded to heighten the suspense and tension in between the battle scenes.
Avid cinema fans would also be reading about the 'explicit' love scene between Leonidas and his queen – and the nude Oracle scene – which had been exorcised from our cinemas. But never mind, there are enough thrills and spills and eye candy here for fans of Frank Miller to enjoy on the big screen.

THE LOWDOWN: "300" is a visual feast that should provoke our senses.


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