300 (Limited Edition SteelBook) [Blu-ray] (Bilingual)
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300 (Limited Edition Steelbook) Blu-ray
Like Sin City before it, 300 brings Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's graphic novel vividly to life. Gerard Butler (Beowulf and Grendel, The Phantom of the Opera) radiates pure power and charisma as Leonidas, the Grecian king who leads 300 of his fellow Spartans (including David Wenham of The Lord of the Rings, Michael Fassbender, and Andrew Pleavin) into a battle against the overwhelming force of Persian invaders. Their only hope is to neutralize the numerical advantage by confronting the Persians, led by King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), at the narrow strait of Thermopylae. More engaging than Troy, the tepid and somewhat similar epic of ancient Greece, 300 is also comparable to Sin City in that the actors were shot on green screen, then added to digitally created backgrounds. The effort pays off in a strikingly stylized look and huge, sweeping battle scenes. However, it's not as to-the-letter faithful to Miller's source material as Sin City was. The plot is the same, and many of the book's images are represented just about perfectly. But some extra material has been added, including new villains (who would be considered "bosses" if this were a video game, and it often feels like one) and a political subplot involving new characters and a significantly expanded role for the Queen of Sparta (Lena Headey). While this subplot by director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) and his fellow co-writers does break up the violence, most fans would probably dismiss it as filler if it didn't involve the sexy Headey. Other viewers, of course, will be turned off by the waves of spurting blood, flying body parts, and surging testosterone. (The six-pack abs are also relentless, and the movie has more and less nudity--more female, less male--than the graphic novel.) Still, as a representation of Miller's work and as an ancient-themed action flick with a modern edge, 300 delivers. --David Horiuchi
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And the adaptation of "300" is a stunning one -- literally stunning, since it bombards the viewer with larger-than-life characters, smashing visuals and tight direction. It goes a bit too fast for its own good, but it's a truly epic film that takes the historical war movie to another level -- all the more so because it actually happened.
As the introduction tells us, the Spartans were the ultimate warrior people. Babies were inspected for weakness or faults, and killed if they had any; as they were growing up, they were taught and toughened by a savage regimen. Their only true hope was to "die beautifully" for their land.
A Persian messenger arrives, telling King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) that the god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) wants the Spartans to bow to him. Leonidas' response: shove the Persians into a pit. But before he can go to war, he must consult the corrupt priesthood of Ephors and their beautiful Oracle. She predicts that Sparta will fall and the gods forbid war at the approach of the Carneaian festival -- courtesy of a hefty bribe from a Spartan traitor.
So Leonidas takes out three hundred of his best men, along with their nervy Arcadian allies, and begin trouncing the Persians. But they are being sabotaged, both by a hunchbacked outcast and by a treacherous councilor, whom Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) is battling. And so at Thermopylae, Leonidas prepares for a final battle against the monstrous Persian Army -- knowing that their story of freedom will live on.
This is not a "sensitive" movie where you have any appreciation for the bad guys -- it's a glorification of three hundred soldiers who died for their land and freedom. It just wouldn't work otherwise. It doesn't blindly adore the Spartans -- we see their darker side in their "weed out the weak" policy -- but it does appreciate them. They respect and care about each other, and Leonidas is as kind as he can be even to Ephialtes, the traitor.
And it's done in a manner appropriate to its comic book origins -- grimy, bloody and epic, but with a stylized look that is almost like CGI. The battles are shockingly good, and full of fantasy-ish creations like the monstrous creatures or the silver-masked Immortals. Even a wall of corpses. But we also get some beautiful visuals as well -- roiling seas, sunlit battlefields, Spartan cities, and the drugged Oracle in her white veil.
While the script gets a bit over-the-top at times, it's hard not to be moved by dialogue that can be darkly funny ("It's just an eye. The gods saw fit to grace me with a spare") or stirring ("He did not wish tribute, nor song, or monuments or poems of war and valor. His wish was simple: "Remember us." That was his hope, should any free soul come across that place, in all the countless centuries yet to be").
Butler and Headey are simply great as Leonidas and Gorgo -- they're both strong, passionate and fearless, and they both do a great job in their separate storylines. But the movie is filled with good performances -- David Wenham as the narrator, Dominic West as a disgusting traitor, Santoro as the decadent, arrogant god-king, and many others.
"300" is a unique, stirring, stunning movie that pushes the action-movie envelope, and gives a thrilling edge to a real-life story of overwhelming edge. A brilliant movie.
The Battle of Thermopylae was fought in 480 B.C. The Persian army of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) is invading Greece with the largest army the world has ever seen. With the Spartan army prohibited from marching north because of a religious festival, King Leonidas (Gerald Butler in fine form) heads for the natural bottleneck on the main road between Locris and Thessaly with the 300 men of his bodyguard. After three days of battle the Spartans were betrayed by a man named Ephialtes who showed the Persians a mountain path that led behind the Greek lines. While the rest of the Greek soldiers retreated, the 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians were slaughtered to the last man. Simonides composed a famous epigram that was engraved as an epitaph on a commemorative stone placed on top of the burial mound of the Spartans at Thermopylae: "Go, stranger, and tell the Spartans, That we lie here in obedience to their laws."
Miller was inspired by historical events but was not constrained by it in telling his story. In his version Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan) is no longer a poor shepherd but a deformed figure who was born to parents who fled Sparta rather than leave their infant on a rock to die, adding elements of pathos and irony hitherto unseen with regards to the character. Nor is this movie the attempt to faithfully bring Miller's art to life that we saw with "Sin City," which is perfectly fine with me. Besides, director Zack Snyder's film reminded me more of lots of other films, from "Gladiator" to "Hero," more than it did "Sin City." I want to say that what we saw of this type of modern filmmaking in "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" has been refined, but that would be quite an ironic comment to make about such a gory and gritty film. Ultimately, the movie is rather impressionistic in nature, emphasizing graphic images over everything else, which brings us back around again to the idea that "300" is art and not history.
I was quite pleased the overall "300" met my expectations. During the first part of the battle Snyder ("Dawn of the Dead") resorts to the rapid series of cuts that I have come to deplore in contemporary action films because I can never tell what is happening. I understand that a battle is a sea of chaos, but if I cannot tell what is going on I become distracted. I want to see what is happening in order for the scenes to become memorable to me. Fortunately the rest of the movie takes full advantage of slow motion technique we see in the trailers and television spots for the film. In fact, "300" makes better use of slow motion than any film I can remember, mainly because the point is not to prolong the suspense (e.g., the end of the fight in "Rocky II"), but to let you see what is happening (e.g., River's fight scenes in "Serenity"). Think of watching big hits in football in slow motion replay and you get a sense of how Snyder is able to strategically slow down the action to see not only the power but also the grace of the violence.
Looks are everything in this film, so the Spartans fight bare-chested, the better for their muscles to ripple, while the Persians might be the most overdressed warriors in cinematic history (although I admit that I have to wonder where the Spartans were hiding their helmets on the long trip from Sparta to the Hot Gates). "300" is a film that glories in visual excess as the army of Xerxes becomes a computer generated million man march and the pass at Thermopylae exists between towering pillars of rock. This may or may not be the most computer generated figures on the screen at one time in the history of the world, but I have to believe "300" offers the biggest piles of corpses we have ever seen. As if quantity was not enough to overwhelm the Spartans, Leonidas and his men are confronted by a towering Xerxes and a host of monstrous men and animals. The net result may well be the best comic book movie to date, despite the fact the hero is a historical figure and not a superhero.
This adaptation plays up a subplot regarding what is happening back at Sparta while Leonidas and his body guard face annihilation as Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to play politics with Theron (Dominic West), who complains about the legitimacy of the king's actions rather than deal with the reality of a Persian army coming to crush Greece. But it is hard to care about such machinations in the face of the historical record and the fact that the drama is happening at Thermopylae and not back in Sparta. There are notes sounded about saving Greece from the Persians and civilization from the evils of Asian mysticism, but the legacy of the Spartans has nothing to do with their role in the development of democracy. Almost two millennium before the Alamo there was this story of a group of warriors that sacrifice their lives in a battle so that their people could win the war. The story of the 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae is that of the first great last stand.
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If you can get passed that, it is good.