300: Abs of Steel meets Chippendales...seriously!
300 is a blood-drenched epic with its sword and sandals firmly planted in a never-never land of overbearing testosterone but wow…what a world this is. The movie is based on the graphic comic artist Frank Miller’s re-telling of the legendary story of 300 Spartan soldiers making a stand against 10,000 Persians in the 5th century B.C. Countless movies from my childhood—most of them starring Victor Mature or Kirk Douglas—traveled this same ground with a stoic lack of wit and a flat sense of action. But director Zack Snyder has thrown out all of the old storyboards and created a film so visually enthralling it practically defines a new way of moviemaking. His digitally crafted images, all of them filled with actors set against green screens or manipulated in the computer, are richly intoxicating and gorgeously rendered. It’s not the computer technology that is new, it is Snyder’s way of bending the technology to create a unique vision of a world we think we’ve seen before.The Spartan soldiers are magnificently framed against saturated horizons, stained yellow by the sun or blanketed by a swarm of incoming arrows; the Persian enemies are decked out in elaborate costumes and masks, attacking in clouds of dust; the blood flows not in spurts or rivulets, but in bits and pieces of matter…one critic described them as looking like rose petals. There are strange human mutants, giant rhinos, stomping elephants, and a monstrous gladiator who nearly kills the Spartan king Leonidas.
Leonidas, as played by the Scottish actor Gerard Butler, makes Arnold Schwarzeneggar look like a nancy boy. In fact, these Spartan warriors are so tough and so buff they could take their show on the road: Abs of Steel meets Chippendales.
It is not the story that enthralls in 300—the band of Davids fighting the Goliaths, making a stand for all of Greece and the intellectual and physical freedoms the culture revere—but the way in which the filmmakers keep flexing one fresh visual idea after another, both in the wide shots of battle and the close-ups of more intimate moments. The entire film is burnished with a high-contrast, otherworldly sheen, as if surely this is how a legend looks, if you translate what your mind can conceive of to the screen.
Zack Snyder’s only other film so far is the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. That was a nasty and thoroughly entertaining piece of action-horror; one of the best films of the last 10 years…seriously. He has a talent for devising new takes on tried and true genres…and with 300, he has cooked up a delicious sensory feast. He is not afraid to be operatic with his images, with his music, or with his cast; and that is the only way to make a film like this which would be silly and pretentious if you played it only half way. 300 is certainly committed to its mission of presenting us with a heroic hell on earth.