Tuesday, June 05, 2007


The verdict: Yes it's got battles 'n' bloodshed galore, and superficially, it looks great. Scratch a little below the surface however, and 300 ain't got a lot to offer.

The rating: 6/10

300 may as well be called 1,800, for that is the number of rippling abs you will see on screen (and I'm only counting the Spartans there). This movie, if anything, is a triumph of muscle definition.

Some of my favourite movies' have been book-to-movie translations ('The Godfather', 'Trainspotting', 'A Scanner Darkly'...) but when considering adaptations, there are also the notable failures, where the screen version just couldn't match the expectation of fans of the book ('Bonfire of the Vanities', 'Catch 22' and 'Frankenstein' among others).

Lately movie makers have begun tapping the graphic novel archives as a new source of material to inveigle for their own nefarious purposes. 'V For Vendetta', 'A History of Violence', 'Sin City' were all good movies, and the forthcoming 'Watchmen' is eagerly anticipated. However, it seems that with graphic-novel-to-movie adaptations, too, there can also be failures to refer to, with the former being in the positive column, and 300 being, well, a qualified success at best.

I haven't read the 300 graphic novel, but I have a strong feeling that the medium of the printed page may be a better delivery mechanism than the big screen for a story like this. You see, the problem with '300' is that, although it looks great, there really isn't a whole lot going on under the surface.

It tells the story of Leonidas (Gerard Butler), king of the Spartans, who heroically stood with 300 warriors against the forces of Xerxes, who commanded an army of a million Persian soldiers. So, it's got battles. Sounds cool so far right? Also, it features a little of Spartan legend, and Sparta was a pretty cool place, as far as history goes. All that kids left on mountainsides to fend for themselves, fierce warriors and death before surrender stuff, cracking material for a movie right? Then you have the mystical Persian army, with their assortment of animals, magicians and monsters to throw at the Spartans, that's got to add to the battle scenes, right?

Well, all that is well and good, but I would argue that a two hour battle does not alone a movie make. You need to care about what happens first. And this is where '300' ultimately fails. Even early on, we learn that the Spartan soldiers actually welcome an honourable death in battle, laughing at their Athenian counterparts who fear it. So... they're happy to die, should we feel any different about their fate? Apparently not, as Frank Miller's story doesn't really try to encourage you to feel sorry for the Spartans in the least. Even Leonidas' wife, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headley) seems so emotionally strong and secure, that we're not sure if she's unhappy about Leonidas' crazy quest to lead these warriors to this impossible battle.

So, it's lacking in emotional depth, fair enough, but what am I, a pussy? Surely people aren't watching 300 for soppy reasons of drama and heartfelt emotion? Well, I disagree, and point a finger squarely in the direction of the film that 300 must surely benchmark itself against: 'Gladiator'. In that movie, Russell Crowe's Maximus had many, many good reasons to fight. He cried wholeheartedly at the death of his family, (with snot too - Ed) he strove for revenge against the evil incestuous emperor, he even had Oliver Reed on his side! We connected with him, and we wanted him to win.

Contrast that with Leonidas' steely impenetrable gazes into the middle distance, as the annoying voice-over proclaims how he is duty-bound not to display emotion... then, against Leonidas we have Xerxes, one of the strangest and campest (if that's a word) bad guys in recent movie memory, but certainly not a figure of evil. He just happens to have a larger army than Leonidas... Because of these two main characters, in terms of one side against another, we're never really concerned with who wins or loses. (No, we just want to see a good bloody ruck - Ed)

The action scenes are impressive, and Gerard Butler has surely made a name for himself as something of an action star with this one. However, too many montages, a rather contrived voice-over, not enough connection with the central characters, and an indifference about the outcome of the battle are the main problems I have with 300. That, and and an uncomfortable number of men in speedos. It is action-packed and has a good sense of humour, but it's no classic. Possibly a good one to watch on Dvd after the pub, when the action scenes are all you really care about.

No comments:

/** Amazon Affiliates code /** Google Analytics Code