Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

"In short, death has never looks so gorgeous."

300 is the sort of motion picture that will likely divide audiences. While its unlikely arthouse fans will have it on their Christmas wish lists, fans of the graphic novel and gym-rats planning to use it as motivation (the physiques on show are inspirational) will probably ensure that 300 reaches a certain cult-status. You can almost hear mobile phones echoing “THIS IS SPARTA!” already.

While it’s true that those looking for character arcs and emotional threads will be left feeling somewhat short-changed, director Zack Snyder doesn’t seek to include these aspects and fail; he purposefully sidesteps them. Instead, his aim – which he blood-spoutingly achieves – is to bring Frank Miller’s graphic vision to life with a kick-ass, combat-packed adrenalin ride where style is more abundant than substance. Although this would normally signal a dumb action movie, here it makes perfect sense as the Spartans are born and raised to show no emotion and let nothing out. Basically, they’re poker players with scarlet capes and pumped-up biceps.

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When a Persian emissary arrives at Sparta, he informs the Spartans that if they do not submit to the rule of Persia’s King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), they face being invaded by a mighty force. After killing the messenger and his aids, King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) takes 300 of his best soldiers – the politicians will not let him take the full army - and heads out to meet the massive army that seeks to destroy them.

300 is an extremely testosterone-fuelled motion picture. With nearly every cast member boasting inflated pecs and horseshoe-triceps, there’s a masculinity on show that ensures it’s much more likely to appeal to male viewers as opposed to their Dirty Dancing-loving companions. Since the macho uber-violence on display – blood, gore and decapitations galore – is part and rippling-six-pack parcel of the Spartan’s many battles, 300 is better experienced on the big screen. Or, at the very least, on an embarrassingly enormous flat-screen with surround sound.

Historically, 300 is not concerned with accuracy. As we know from other battle-scarred epics (Braveheart anyone?), this is not a necessity to make an enjoyable motion picture. Instead of rifling through dusty history books, Snyder concentrates his energies on taking Frank Miller’s popular graphic novel and transferring it – sometimes image by image – to the big screen.

In doing so, the visual style is undeniably memorable with virtually no background sets used and so much blue screen you might think you’re watching a George Lucas movie. Thankfully, unlike the latter Star Wars instalments, it blends with the story and never proves too distracting. Full of beautiful imagery and stylistic shots, each new scene has a new aesthetic beauty (the silhouette of a body-strapped tree for example) where the hyper-reality creates a world that exists in its own right. In short, death has never looks so gorgeous.

While the movie has been misleadingly billed as a mixture of Sin City (another Frank Miller graphic novel) and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, it’s actually closer in tone to the Helm’s Deep portion of Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers. Though you can see where the comparison comes from with the visual style and ‘sword and sandals, glory in death’ angle, 300’s real journey is about brave men who heroically face unbeatably massive odds. Kind of like the participants of reality television pop star auditions.

In the lead, Butler is spot-on as the inspirational King Leonidas. Just the right level of unknown, the Scot plays the bearded leader with the ideal mixture of brawn, presence and masculinity. Despite being his first major lead role, Butler appears completely unfazed and will probably fly right up the Hollywood pecking list as a result of his performance here. As far as the rest of the cast goes, they are likewise sufficiently experienced yet unfamiliar enough that they give the characters life without ever over-shadowing them. The male perverts in the audience will be pleased with Lena Headey’s ‘contribution’.

Will you like 300? For those looking for a sword-thrusting, occasionally rock-blaring experience where Men’s Health cover boys are surrounded by stunning visual visages of beauty, you’ll probably have a rollicking time. On the other hand, for those that want to look deeper for historical accuracy or political intrigue, you’ll likely end up with nothing more than a deep-seated need to go home and perform copious abdominal crunches.

Reviewed on: 22 Aug 2009
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300 packshot
An adaptation of the Frank Miller comic about the real life struggle of 300 Spartan soldiers to hold a pass against the full might of the Persian army.
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Read more 300 reviews:

Chris ****
Max Crawford ***
Jennie Kermode **1/2

Director: Zack Snyder

Writer: Zack Snyder and MichaelGordon, based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley

Starring: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Michael Fassbender, Tom Wisdom, Andrew Pleavin, Andrew Tiernan, Rodrigo Santoro, Kelly Craig

Year: 2006

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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