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Tonight I saw the movie "300" at the very first advanced screening that this studio has allowed.

Studio synopsis: "Film tells the true story of 300 elite Spartan fighters who, led by King Leonidas (Butler), fought to the death against King Xerxes' massive Persian army during the battle of Thermopylae in 481-480 B.C. According to lore, their valor inspired all of Greece to rise up against the invading Persians, planting the seeds of democracy."

STARRING: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Dominic West, Rodrigo Santoro, Vincent Regan
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
SCREENWRITER: Zack Snyder
STUDIO: Warner Bros.
RATING: R
GENRE: Action / Adventure / Drama
RELEASE DATE: TBA 2007
Based on the comic book series by Frank Miller.

First, a note on the screening itself. I've never been to an advanced screening that was cracking down this much on who they were going to let see their movie. No saving places in line (everyone got a number after their interview), every person personally interviewed with multiple questions about your employment (to make sure you in no way are affiliated with any kind of press, entertainment company, etc...), a little speech about how they matched your named against a black-list of people they have caught releasing reviews prior to final cut in the past, checking every person's driver's license (I saw three people sent home because they had no driver's license), no cell phones allowed (not just turned off, but not allowed), full metal detector to get in the door, etc..

Okay, on to the movie.

It's very, very good in my opinion. However, not for everyone. If I had to compare it to some other movies, I would say there are parts of Gladiator's organized fighting, Lord of the Rings' grand-scale battles, the Thirteenth-Warrior's feel of going against the unknown depths of man, and the stylistic feel of Sin City.

And the movie is quite stylistic. Colors are stark and heavily contrasted. While it isn't as extreme as Sin City, the feel of a comic book is present, and the entire film looks "different" than most film. Sometimes, using slow motion, it almost seems paneled. And certain scenes are set up to further this mood, this distinctness.

The story is fairly simple, and told through the eyes of one soldier, exaggerated here and there by him due to his perceptions at the time and not due to intentional puffery it seems.

Sparta is a country of soldiers. While Athens and the Acadians have philosophy and finer intellectual pursuits, Sparta is a hard, harsh, almost cruel place where only the strong are permitted to survive, where every child goes off to become the perfect soldier (or die trying, which is common), and where even the weakest women is a stronger and likely better fighter than most of the strongest soldiers of any other country.

King Leonidas is the best of the soldiers of Sparta. He is the nearly perfect warrior in an army of nearly perfect warriors. His speech is at times near-Shakespearian, and he is passionately in love with his wife, Sparta's Queen.

Sparta is about to be attacked by the Persian army, the greatest army in the world that is threatening to engulf everyone and everything under the rule of their God-King Xerxes. King Leonidas, seeing this threat, wants to send the Spartan army to stop the Persians.

However, because Sparta is the beginnings of a Democracy, he must follow the law. And the law says Sparta cannot go to war unless the Oracle that is controlled by the small ancient order of priests who worship the elder gods give their advice to go to war. Unfortunately, the oracle does not advice war (having been bought off by the Persians).

King Leonidas struggles with the concept of defying the law he was born to defend. Eventually, he decides to "take a stroll" with 300 hundred soldiers as "King's Guard" to defend him while he takes he "wanders". The council permits this (though without a vote).

King Leonidas and his 300 come up with a plan to rebuild an ancient wall near the sea, and force the enemy into a narrow gorge where the enemies numbers will not serve as much of an advantage (the enemy numbers around 100,000+ is my guess).

The soldiers of Sparta are all dressed in their uniforms: bright red cloaks, distinctive helmets, shields, spears, and swords (scimitars or falchions actually), bare chested in a toga-like wrap, boots, armbands, and extremely muscular. They move with grace, speed, and a certain uniformity. You really get the sense that these are people whose only purpose is to fight, so that the rest of their nation can survive in this harsh world.

From here, the movie becomes a bit of a cross between Gladiator and several scenes from the Lord of the Rings movies.

Battle after battle after bloody battle takes place. The armies of Xerxes seem inconceivably large and varied. Having conquered most of the world, Xerxes's battalions are each somewhat elite unites of unique fighters and fighting styles. Their are bowmen, cavalry, elephant-riders, alchemist-fire throwers, beasts, heavily armored men, lightly-armored whip-wielders, a super-elite Xerxes guard called the Imortals (whose faces are deformed and look a bit like orcs), and there is even a giant reminiscent of a troll.

The Lord of the Rings analogy doesn't end there however. The whole feel of large portions of the movie is similar to the Rings trilogy, with grand vistas, ancient buildings, fleets of ships, and even a Gollum-like hunchback who follows them (a discarded Spartan whose mother escaped with him at birth to avoid his death due to his deformity - Sparta breeds only perfect warriors). There is some witty banter between the king and his closest friend similar to the banter between Legolas and Gimli in the Rings movies. There are even some "creatures" in the movie, such as a goat-headed man and a man with blades for arms and perhaps even some dark arts of magic being performed in the corrupt dens of the enemy - but the impression is given that these are maybe exaggerations of the storyteller rather than "real" creatures and things.

While all of these waves of battles are going on, back home the Queen is attempting to persuade the council, using all her that she has to offer in that persuasion, to send the full army to support the King.

I will not give away the entire ending at this point, as there are some surprises at the end that, though not wholly unpredictable, are worth experiencing nonetheless without spoilers.

The audience seemed to love it from beginning to end. However, note that the audience was 400 or so people, mostly men in their 20s (primarily due to the fact that invitations were given out at comic book stores and game stores in the area for the most part).

I said earlier that this movie is not for everyone, and it isn't. It's "R" rated for a good reason. While there are some explicit sex scenes, it's the violence that gets the rating here. Boy, is this movie bloody at times. Some of the more in-your-face bloody moments include: a tree covered entirely by dead bodies nailed to it; a wall built mostly with the dead used as the mortar; and a pile of dead bodies about three stories tall. There are limbs severed, spears plunged, lots of blood, screaming, and slow-motion ballet-like dances of spinning death.

In other words, this is not a date movie for most couples. This is a chest thumping, dirty, writhing mass of violence at times. You can feel the testosterone in this film. However, the violence is not the kind that makes you want to be sick at the reality of it. It is all quite stylized and probably less gory overall than Sin City for example. Still, it's there, and if you don't want to see men fighting and dying, do not see this movie.

I found the movie very compelling, and plan on seeing it again (perhaps even on opening night). It is very "manly" in tone, and one does not leave contemplating the philosophical meaning of things. Instead, it's the kind of movie that you leave with a feeling of power, from having been witness to something grand.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
fithelere
Feb. 19th, 2007 05:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the review. I've been eagerly anticipating seeing this movie--rumors are that it will be at an IMAX near me next month . . .
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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