The trailers which have whetted the cinematic appetites of fanboys everywhere have now given way to the premiere of the movie. Fanboys, the wait is over! 300 hits our shores this week, and to action buffs, this is the moment that we're waiting for! Pure, unadulterated, violent action, true to the visuals of Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name, based on an imaginative retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae, where King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and 300 of his Spartan warriors defended their land against the invading Persian army, led by the self proclaimed god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro).
One of the appealing factors of this classic tale is that size does not matter, so long as you've got the right techniques. It's a classic David versus Goliath, only that David is better trained, and has more grit, honour, courage to stand up for what he believes in, and to defend all that he loves. It's akin to telling the bullies not to go too far, or face the wrath and fury of those pushed to a corner. The Spartans embody the positive traits of men who are proud warriors, led by someone whom you'll always prefer to go to war with, a leader who leads, rather than a leader like Xerxes who directs.
In recent times, ever since Peter Jackson unleashed his epic battles from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, we've a number of movies that hopped on the bandwagon, from Troy to Alexander, all wanting to revisit the clashing of the swords amongst gladiators. But instead of something that rings familiar (just how many fights can you sit through before they look all the same?), director Zack Snyder managed to craft very distinct looking fights, and the action choreography is something to behold, exclaiming the point that when the Spartans fight as one keen unit, they are a force to be reckoned with. You can't wait for the Spartans to use their shield-spear-sword combo, and you're rewarded soon enough. Each frame in the fights are so deftly designed, you don't have "background nobodies" jumping around while waiting for their turn of action. It's messy, it's crowded, it's controlled chaos. Take your eye off the foreground action and into the background battle, you'll still see something stunning. Kudos of course to the stunt team and fight choreographers in designing different battle set pieces for each incoming wave of the Persian army, and I like the bit with the oriental looking Invincibles.
It's not all pure action, dismembered body parts and CGI splattering of blood. The action does take a breather once in a while to content with the usual rotting of Greek politics with Lena Headey's Queen Gorgo trying to drum up support for more Spartan warriors to join her husband in the defence of the land. As usual, the expected back stabbing, dirty politicking strokes rear its ugly head, and there are scenes that probably will get you seething. Somehow, the wise councillors always get portrayed as old buffoons, and this one is no different, especially in a scene where they act like dumb sheep.
However, given that this is a well known tale, the inevitable is just waiting to happen, and somehow, I felt that it tapered off towards the end, in a rather anti-climatic manner, after raising your adrenaline each time with successive battles that seem to top the previous. I thought at certain points you could draw upon references from other contemporary movies. Certain plot points and shots somehow reminded me of Zhang Yimou's Hero, with its rousing army war cries and the liberal use of arrows. Not only that, Lord of the Rings was tapped upon again, in giving us a Gollum-looking like "creature" used in a similar mould. And Braveheart too comes to mind.
But those aside, I would say this has all the ingredients for box office success. Sex and violence sells, and I'm pleased that this movie survived the censors unscathed, with an M18 rating. If the Oracle brings to mind the jolly matronly like lady in the Matrix movies, this movie will attempt to shake off that memory with a writhing nymph like seer.
I do not know how anyone can boo at this movie, unless of course you're not an action movie lover. Sit back, relax and watch the spectacle unfold up close as if you're battling side by side with the Spartans. It doesn't get any better than that.
For those interested, click on this link to learn more about the Battle of Thermopylae.
OR for an alternative look at the movie, The Seventh Art explains the demerits of 300.