300 may not be the most sophisticated war epic to hit the big screen, but with its series of mesmerizing tableaux and extreme graphic violence the film unquestionably succeeds in dazzling its audience. In other words: Watching 300 is like watching a video game that plays itself.
Set in 480 B.C.E., 300 recounts the fate of King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) of Sparta, as he led three hundred of his men to battle the superior Persian army of Xerxes the Great (Rodrigo Santoro). The battle was fought at Thermopylae, where Leonidas and his outnumbered soldiers struggled to block the only route through which the enemy could pass.
Setting new standards in the field of computer-generated effects, director Zack Snyder (who co-wrote the screenplay with Kurt Johnstad and Michael B. Gordon), cinematographer Larry Fong, film editor William Hoy, and the film's visual effects team used blue screen technique – through which actors are filmed in front of a blue screen before the addition of CGI-created backgrounds – to assemble glorious, nail-biting battle scenes. As a plus, the omnipresence of sepia mixed with blue and red provides the war epic with the appropriately gloomy mood.
Those who enjoyed Snyder's 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead already know that he's a dab hand at quick cutting and fast-paced filmmaking. But this time, Snyder combines his energetic style with a substantial number of spectacular slow-motion sequences depicting every detail of the battle's ferocious brutality. In fact, 300 is packed with decapitations and severed body parts, but considering that the film is based on a graphic novel co-written by Frank Miller (with Lynn Varley) its degree of violence should not surprise anyone.
Apart from the battle sequences, however, 300 has little else to offer. A subplot – involving Leonidass' wife, Goro (Lena Headey), fighting against political discrimination – falls flat, while the focus on the Spartans' refusal to surrender fails to spark any significant interest.
On the other hand, Gerard Butler stands out as the King of Sparta – the Scottish actor's best role yet. Butler fully conveys Leonidas' fierceness and sacrificial beliefs even though the screenwriters have failed to supply him with coherent lines. Sentences like “Madness? This is Sparta” or “This is where we fight! This is where we die!” made this reviewer look for a game controller so as to skip the dialogue bits.
Although 300 lacks the storytelling flow of Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez's adaptation of Miller's Sin City, Zack Snyder's epic works just fine as a brainless blockbuster. Indeed, the visuals alone are worth a trip to the theatre.
© Franck Tabouring
300 (2007). Dir.: Zack Snyder. Scr.: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, Michael B. Gordon. Cast: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro.