Jul 2008 31

Movie Review – 300

(2007) If ever there was a battle driven movie worth its weight in mayhem and dead bodies it is 300. A movie so titled because it refers to the 300 Spartan warriors who decided to take on the largest army on earth coming out of Persia in 480 B.C. Director Zack Snyder, cast thousands or at least made thousands look pretty impressive.

From the opening scenes of a youth’s journey to manhood, the film’s narrator (a member of the 300) states, “Only the hard, only the strong may call themselves Spartans.” It is the classic machismo definition of what a Man is…the pugilist, the hunter, and defender. The master, rule giver and defiant one against Nature, bad luck and any foe—man, beast or God.

Sparta historically is a sister city to Athens, where was more cultured and accentuated the fine arts. Sparta, on the other hand, was more militaristic. The film depicts a city father examining an infant on a hilltop. Malformed or weak infants were “discarded”—thrown to their quick demise from a mountain top—a lovely visual here—if you live in a place where there “is no place for weakness. Where only the hard, only the strong” survive. Darwin would have loved Sparta as proof positive of his Natural Selection theory, but would have probably been thrown from the mountain top himself if he did not ring true as a future SOLDIER for Sparta.

From an historical perspective, in 480 B.C the Persian god-king Xerxes, had plans to take over the known world by force. A dramatic scene is one where the classic invitation to a fight is issued to King Leonidas of the small Greek city state known as Sparta, by the Persian Emissary. The scene is vibrant and threatening. Without giving away an exchange that must be witnessed to be appreciated–the gist of the exchange was that Sparta would not bow down to Xerxes. By the way, Rodrigo Santoro, who plays Xerxes in all his splendor, is a powerful villain. He is made to look huge, pierced, and bald–and is a real bad ass with a deep and curious voice, and fingernails that can scratch your eyes out.

A sidebar exchange is also worth mentioning wherein Queen Gorgo, wife to Leonidas, makes a significant statement to the Persian Emissary, and to all around, regarding the importance of a woman’s place in giving birth to real men; and a woman’s contribution to key life decisions made by men in raising a family; in politics, and in war.

Speaking of politics, King Leonidas cannot declare war with out Sparta’s governing body’s approval, but he fears that Xerxes will press forward with his plans to invade if he is not confronted. So Leonidas must act. He essentially hand picks 300 of his most valued soldiers and challenges them to help him confront Xerxes at a narrow pass where they can best defend Sparta against a large invading army.

What comes next is the supreme battle between good and evil. 300 of Sparta’s best warriors vs. what seems to be an army so massive “they drink lakes dry and make the earth tremble when they march.” The visceral impact of visuals so spellbinding they make 300 a breath taking experience. The golden hue of the film is rich and tantalizing, and starkly attractive which is dramatically different from the typical battle film visual experience. It is simply grander in a shock and awe format.

Example, in the wake of Persian army’s path of destruction, the 300 are sickened by the bodies hung or otherwise impaled onto tree limbs—leaving a visual that belongs in one of Dante’s circles of hell. Such death and destruction hardens the 300 in their resolve to stop Xerxes and his reign of death and subjugation.

The dialogue is straight forward and crisp. King Leonidas, played by Gerard Butler, is a physical specimen—as are all the 300 soldiers. They are warriors with bodies chiseled for battle. For hand-to-hand combat—the most horrific ways to meet one’s end–looking into the eyes of Death itself. Or, being the executioner and bringer of death. In such close quarters, hand-to-hand combat is brutal. The grip is on your wrists and on your neck. You cannot run. You cannot hide. If you are the stronger, better trained and most aggressive SOB in the valley—you will live to fight another day. It is here in these fight scenes that 300 stand above others in the genre. There is blood and the blood flies, but it’s done, dare I say—artistically. Yes, I said it. The sword slicing is in full, slow-mo view. The blood is flying in slow-motion as well. Spears and arrows are launched and fly like they will never land, but they do and they look like the hurt real bad, but not in a gory way. It is done with finesse. It’s a movie full of people, elephants, and more people being dispatched straight to heaven or hell. Imagine a wall ten feet deep and ten feet wide made-up of human bodies. Neatly stacked, deceased combatants can be found in 300, but wait, there’s more. You have to see how this wall of humanity is used as a weapon by the 300. It kills.

Besides the action filled scenes, there are lofty messages and heady observations of the human condition that run throughout 300. For example, the narrator observes, “we march for our land for our families for our freedom, we march”. I already mentioned the strong woman theme with Queen Gorgo ready to go medieval on the Persian Emissary. It is Queen Gorgo, played by Lena Headey, responding to her husband’s concern about doing the right thing, while both are lounging in their bedroom, reflecting on the growing Persian threat. “What should a free man do?” she says with knowing eyes—then she is taken by her man in an explicit sexual encounter that is multi-positioned and certainly earns the “R” rating for a give and take escapade that tries to be discreet by being brief, but our wise eyes cannot look away from such provocative and artistic cinema.

The 300 were idealists and dreamers, but they were soldiers first. They were called to arms and came to do battle because their king asked them to defend Sparta. This is the focal point of 300’s grandeur and historical import. Sparta’s 300 had the discipline, training and code of honor that would even dwarf that of the Marines, the only modern day reference point of what was a force of nature then as it is now. 300 is well worth seeing for its historical importance to modern day relevance. Like the movie Titanic—the end is known, but the adventure of seeing the movie over-rules that simple fact as a possible deterrent to seeing this movie. 300 stands without peers in its unbelievable fight scenes. Visual and emotional impact is powerful all the way to the end. And the ending scenes do accommodate the rollercoaster buildup to a result that is powerful and memorable and will leave a lasting impression on the good, bad and ugly of war and its aftermath.



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