What happens to a young director on the scene whose first film, which just happens to be a remake of an old horror film, garners a lot of critical and box office success? Well to be honest, it’s different every time. Sometimes the director decides to go the indie route and make a film that has a faux sense of importance and responsibility. Sometimes they direct the inevitable sequel to their first film, which is arguably the most dangerous option since a sequel to a remake doesn’t isn’t exactly going to be embraced for its originality or fans of either of the previous films. Still, there is a third alternative for young directors coming-off of their successful debuts (if you discount giving-up on the business of course) and that is directing an even bigger and more challenging film with an equally demanding fan base. That is the direction Zack Snyder took with 300 and after seeing the film, it is definitely the right thing to do, as the picturesque, artsy result that is the movie, indicates in frame after frame.
And that is a curious, but new way to render a war film, especially one that takes place in the times of the Greek Empire – a frame in history frequently depicted in film as an ugly and disordered time of power struggles and wars without end. And while graphic novelist Frank (Sin City) Miller partially captures that tumultuous period in the book this film is adapted from, he as expected, also contributes a type of esthetic to the novel that not only beautifies it, but effectively romanticizes it. Snyder and Co. do the book justice and use mostly green screen to achieve the seemingly impossible task of making the novel come to life. Yes, I’ve seen Sin City, and while that pretty much did the same thing, 300 is a film with a much greater scale and without the differences in contrast of Sin City, it is a much tougher sell on technology-advancement alone. What sold me about Snyder’s film was actually its overall abandonment of back-handed liberal messages in order to stick to its guns.
For how can such a message be naturally found in a time and place when war was embraced and was the most efficient way to protect your own people? How can such a message be found in an age during which pride of one’s own country and the concept of protecting yourself at all odds is the most important thing? It cannot and Snyder intelligently abandons any thought of doing something like that. Honestly, he takes the high road by doing that and not bastardizing the story at all. In said story, a brave group of Spartans (about 300 of them to be more specific) decide to go up against hundreds of thousands of Persian soldiers just so they don’t have to feel the painful embarrassment of being under Persian influence.
The Spartan heroes are not supported by their corrupted government and simply volunteer to face the insurmountable odds that will lead to their assured death. It is bad to draw parallels between modern day corruption, or it is at least foolhardy, considering the character types included here that surely never existed. I mean really, I don’t think a hunchback that stabs the Spartans in the back for a few cheap Persian thrills that involve naked women and all types of gold, can be appropriately paralleled to anything in modern day. But lets forget about Quasimodo for a second, since he is the worst part of the film, both contextually and performance-wise.
One of the best parts of the movie for me is the role of women in the Spartan culture. The film includes a very powerful and honorable woman character – Queen Gorgo (played by the always stunning Lena Headey) who stands up for the soldiers in battle. I guess the best part about her character is that she never really gets that break-down scene that women characters in her situation aften are forced to play. Instead she is strong throughout and one takes her claim that “Only Spartan women give birth to real men.” seriously until the very end.
I guess the casting director deserves the most credit in fashioning a believable cast that simulates the concept of Spartans that appears in the romanticized novel. These people are similar to superheroes but the thing is that their plight actually happened, although in a different, more realistic form, here on this planet. That is what makes them even more compelling and their emotions even more affecting than normal. When they finally meet their deaths, the feeling of accomplishment stays and the definition of the word hero becomes clear. These people were willing to sacrifice their lives for a common cause – something that is seemingly impossible in today’s world.
What makes the film a little less satisfying and believable than one would like is the acting which is too often embarrassing or in the hunchback’s case – downright laughable. There is no tragedy in the hunchback character, and from the first frame his dishonor is expected. The Spartans do a better job at pronouncing their lines, even if they are more over-the-top than anything found in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (and that’s over-the-top for ya). But at least it isn’t bad enough to totally ruin the experience for you, and lets face it this movie is not about the acting anyway – well not method acting. Physical acting? That is a different story.
Overall, I really liked 300, and not only for its brawn – it holds a positive message too. I strongly recommend it.