Can a movie be too epic? Can there be too much heroic slow motion, or bombastic dialogue? If you’ve seen previews of this grand adaptation of Frank Miller’s comic book you’ll know exactly the kind of visual spectacle you’ll be getting from 300. Its the screen adaptation of a comic book retelling of the famous legend of 300 Spartan soldiers who held off the overwhelming numbers of the Persian army by fighting them in a narrow pass. A classic fable of military fortitude, the story’s hero, King Leonidas (played by former singing Phantom, Gerard Butler), would no doubt have reveled in the glorious fact that thousands of years later, we are still celebrating the achievement of his handful of men on the big screen. There are some obvious contemporary messages about fighting for freedom and the glories of a just war, (Persia is generally located in the area we currently know as Iran–coincidence?)
Anyway, all political parallels aside, 300 has very little to do with reality. Visually stunning, every scene is a tableau depicting legends come to life. All the men and women are statuesque and ripped (best performance by a personal trainer in a supporting role?); the sky always full of dramatic clouds; and a breeze is always blowing just enough to tousle hair and billow capes. However, the nail in realism’s coffin is the slow motion. If there were an Oscar for artful use of slo-mo, I think 300 needs to win it. More than just simply drawing out a battle scene for mood-enhancing effect, each spear thrust and sword clash speeds and slows with the rhythm of the battle (and music). Now I’m not saying this movie has great characters or an awesome script (in fact, the dialogue seems a bit humourous in its chest-thumping bravado) but with a simulated cast of thousands and a massive visual scale, it certainly goes a long way towards redefining what it means to be epic.
The source comic book comes courtesy of Sin City creator Frank Miller. while it doesn’t have the underworld blackness or perversity of that series, this adaptation is probably even truer to its material than Sin City. Many of the scenes and “speeches” are word for word, shot for shot from the comic book. while that clearly contributes to the bold visual style, it also makes for extremely two-dimensional characters. The one addition to the story is a somewhat pointless subplot about the queen of Sparta trying to gain the support of the politicians for sending reinforcements to her husband. Nevertheless, throwing away any pretense of realism allows for some extremely fantastic looking characters. Persian king Xerxes is a bronze giant covered with ropes of gold chains hanging from numerous body piercings. When he stands up to Leonidas, he towers several heads taller than him (Leonidas already being an imposing man in his own right). Xerxes’s personal guard are known as the Immortals and they wear all black outfits with silver frowning masks (kind of like ninjas going to the theatre). Leonidas needs to seek the blessing of a group of mountain-top mystics who, for some reason, have extremely horrible skin and equally disgusting lusts. Finally, there’s a hunchback Spartan who is so deformed that he cannot even stand up straight. Again, this movie’s main feast (delicious or repulsive) is unquestioningly for the eyes.
Is it worth seeing? I think so, especially on the big IMAX screen. It won’t exactly make you think, it may not really make you feel, but it might make you wow and gawk, so if you’re going to gawk, don’t just gawk big — gawk epic. (4 out of 5)