Lowdown: The good few beat the crap out of the evil many.
As hype goes, not much can exceed that which has been revolving around 300. Described as anything from “battle of the bulges” to “the first blockbuster of the year”, it was one of those must see films. And then there were arguments on what it is that it was trying to say.
Well, what the film has to say is said mostly through the mouth of David Wenham, whose talents are wasted on yet another film that requires nothing in the way of acting. Set in ancient Greek Empire BC times, Wenham tells us the story of Leonidas, the king of Sparta. Forged by the, well, very Spartan educational system they’ve been deploying there at the time, this guy was a mean warring machine. So when the Persians drop by with some million soldiers and decide it’s a nice idea to conquer Greece, you can trust Leo to have a thing or two to say about this.
On one hand, Leo has a lovely wife and both walk around naked at home in what may be very Spartan like manner but is definitely not very much like American movies like manners; the directors must have given up on child friendly ratings rather early for this one, given the abundance of CGI blood. On the other hand, Leo is impeded through traitors in his midst, which do not allow him to send his army to face the Persians.
Instead, Leo assembles a group of 300 volunteers, the crème de la crème of Spartan cubed abdomens, and off they go on what is surely a suicide mission to stop the Persians. They make their stand at a narrow pathway the Persians have to cross in order to enter Greece, and from then on the film follows the ensuing battles between Greeks and Persians.
And battle they do, in a very Matrix like style, against a multitude of enemies. These start with normal men but move through mutants, immortals and all sorts creatures of fantasy. There are even enemies wielding hand grenades, although nothing as effective as the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. The key element here is that everything is larger than life, reaching its peak with the king of the Persians, Xerxes (interestingly enough, “Xerxes” is the Greek version of the guy’s name; his Persian mother didn’t call him by that name, which goes to show that Hollywood history is written with a pro-winner orientation in mind). Xerxes is made to look like a huge statue carrying more bling on him that an entire group of rappers. It all goes with the trend of the film, which accentuates everything and portrays the Spartans as the ultimate good facing the ultimate evil. However, one cannot escape the feeling that given the way certain characters and certain situations are portrayed, this is all done with one big wink in mind; otherwise, one would have a hard time explaining why Sparta is made to look very dreary and why all the characters seem to come directly from a Playgirl centerfold.
This leads me to the main discussion point out of 300, the good vs. evil element. While we should all be very thankful for the Spartan way of life dying with Sparta, the film keeps on praising it. The screenplay sounds as if it was written by George Bush, a notion that in no doubt is aided by Bush like phrases such as “axis of evil” and “if you’re not with us you’re against us”. This goes so far that it becomes the main thing you take off the film, but it goes far enough to make you think that it’s either a case of really stupid filmmakers or extreme sarcasm at work. Me? I’d pick the second option.
It’s not the fight scenes that are best remembered here, even though they can be quite spectacular, albeit too heavy on CGI for their own good (you get the feeling they just had the actors standing there doing all sorts of movements, with their weapons and their crushed enemies added later on a programmer’s PC).
No, the main events in 300 are the various Bush like catch phrases. They’re so funny they can kill you if you’re not careful. And the peak scene is when dusk sets on the battlefield after the first day, and Leo and his merry men stand there contemplating Spartan philosophy (read: exchanging George Bush like phrases) while Leo is eating an apple that seems to have come out of nowhere.
Which leads me to make my usual movie complaint: Nowhere in the film do you see a roll of toilet paper being used, a water container being carried, or supplies being delivered. Surely this is why the Spartans ultimately lost.
Picture quality: One of the things unique to 300 is its looks. It’s all shot in very high contrast and it all has a sepia tint to it. All the sets have this gloomy, bland look to them, naked of anything warm or growing. It is unique, but ultimately it is one of the reasons why 300 cannot be counted among those epic films of the Gladiator or even Troy caliber; it’s just a minor epic instead. Technically speaking, the look also makes it very hard to pass judgment on the DVD’s picture quality; let’s just settle things by saying it’s unique.
Sound quality: This is what films should be like – aggressive (and unsettling, as Dylan may venture) through and through, but with good fidelity while at it. If anything, this one could and should have been even more aggressive.
Overall: On one hand, 300 is spectacular viewing, no doubt about it. On the other hand it is a very bad movie: it doesn’t take long for you to anxiously wait the next gem to come out of the actors’ mouths in support of the “we’re so good and pure of heart” vs. the “they are just so evil and they’re not that good looking and they don’t have cubes on their abdomens” motif.
So what do I make of it? I think 300 is a film so bad it is actually good fun in that campy Priscilla Queen of the Desert kind of a way. I’m not sure it was designed to make you laugh, but I have found it to work better than most comedies; its epic and fantastic touches didn’t hurt, either.
3.5 out of 5 stars.