I like Frank Miller’s stuff and Sin City stands as one of my favourite films of all time, as well as one of my favourite comic series. Finally someone worked out how to do Graphic Novels justice when bringing them to the screen – don’t fuck with them. 300 followed that singular piece of advice extremely closely and one can only hope that the people doing Watchmen were paying very close attention this time.300 tells an embellished and mythologised tale of The Battle of Thermopylae in which 300 members of the Spartan warrior elite stood their ground and held off the gigantic army of the Persians, buying time for the Greeks to amass their armies and to win an important naval victory over the Persians, setting the stage for the repulsion, a year later, of the Persian army and an and to Xerxes ambitions in that direction.
The film glosses over the role of the non-Spartans for the most part, instead choosing to concentrate upon the deeds of the Spartans under King Leonidas and who can blame either Frank Miller or Zack Snyder for doing that? The Spartans were real, but they stand tall in myth because of their harsh lifestyle, their prowess and reputation as warriors and their antiquity and the film portrays them as that warrior elite to the hilt ‘descendants of Hercules’ and with the amount of abs and pectorals on show you can honestly believe it.
This isn’t a deep film, though it touches on important issues, fighting for civilisation, bending the rules to do what needs to be done and the costs carried by those who sacrifice everything to protect what others enjoy, it is mostly about drawing a line in the sand and saying ‘no more’ and how little it can really take to overcome what seem like overwhelming odds. The Spartan’s discipline and training – the special forces of their day – let them weather attack after attack until even in their final, inevitable defeat they claim victory.
This whole film just oozes style from the first moment to the last. The lack of big name actors actually helps the film and the stylistic nature of the colour and shooting helps lend it a mythical, grand air that was completely missing in Troy and only intermittent in Gladiator. The use of CGI backgrounds and the almost cartoonish physiques of the heros combined with the monstrous appearance of the enemies lifts it above these other efforts onto another plane of storytelling, somehow combining the freewheeling possibilities of graphic novels with the presence ‘in the moment’ of film. The use of slow motion and tightly focussed shots helps emulate the panel nature of the graphic novel and emphasise the battle moments, scenes are almost like animated paintings, rich and perfect in their visual impact.
The battle scenes are great, Gerard Butler makes a convincingly grim Spartan King (though he does sound like he’s trying to be Sean Connery through the whole thing) and the Persians are made to seem like the strange, otherworldly enemies they must have once appeared to be in a time when Xerxes could think himself Emperor of all the world. The occasional slowing in pace to let you catch your breath, dealing with politics and treachery back in Sparta are welcome, and don’t outstay that welcome, keeping the pacing hard and fast but not too frenetic.
I have barely a complaint about this film, it was damn near perfect for me, even inspiring despite the lack of depth, showing you don’t need to have a lot of dialogue or exposition, or even character development, to get emotionally engaged by a movie. I can see myself watching it again and again.