Shiny Shelf


300

By Mark Clapham on 02 April 2007

As macho as drop kicking a tank to the moon, and about as believable, ‘300′ is a beautifully stupid live-action cartoon for adults.

Based pretty tightly on Frank Miller’s gorgeously deranged comic book, ‘300′ is the number of Spartans that King Leonidas had at his side as he took a suicidal stand against the million strong armies of Xerxes, god-king of the Persians.

This is not, however, a history lesson, and neither is it a film brimming with contemporary relevance. It’s an ancient battle filtered through myth and re-worked as an action fantasy of strong-willed men against creepy bad guys.

To interpret the movie, with its leprous mutations, sword-armed executioners and ten-foot tall kings, as being a debasement of history or an insult to this group or the other is sheer lunacy – ‘300′ is a fantasy based on the mythic version of events, and to read across from it to any real event past or present is as rational as believing the black dog down the road is telling you what to do.

As adaptations go, this is remarkably faithful, with production designs and actual shots taken straight from the pages of the comic. Casting also mimics the look of the comic, with actors who have the grizzled, angular look of Miller’s sketches.

There are minor additions and subtractions from the plot – the brutality of Spartan life is toned down in a couple of places, and a sub-plot seemingly designed to ensure there’s a strong female role somewhere in an otherwise relentlessly macho movie is added.

These tweaks, while insubstantial, are also kind of pointless and slightly dilute the ferocity of what is, for the most part, a pleasingly uncompromising film.

The strength of the movie is that it offers an alien mindset – a pleasingly polarised fantasy world where men are real men, women are real women and all enemies are implacably evil monstrosities – and nods in the direction of gender balance, family bonding and democractic decision making are more jarring than any number of Noh-masked ninja fighters.

In a film this broad, acting is hard to judge, as most of the dialogue is archly unnaturalistic and delivered with cartoon ferocity.

Gerard Butler’s constant appearance in tabloids as a possible Bond is at last explained, as his performance as Leonidas is more a broad Sean Connery impersonation than anything else. He certainly looks the part, seeming to have been hewn from rock rather than born.

An odd collection of buffed-up British TV thesps, including Vincent Regan and Lena Headey, play the other Spartans, while Rodrigo Santo (unrecognisable from his role on ‘Lost’) brings a steely camp to the role of giant Persian villain Xerxes.

A surprisingly muscular David Wenham narrates the movie as the Spartans’ resident storyteller, but his voice is slightly too warm and approachable for barking out tales of myth and bloodshed – more homely than Homer.

While ‘300′ is unlikely to be seen as a great step forward in either cinematic history or the portrayal of history in cinema, as a successful, adult-oriented comic book movie it may persuade studios that fantastical films don’t have to be for a family audience.

Snyder’s avowed ambition with ‘300′ was to make a fun film for adults, which may not be the most highbrow ambition but is certainly a job worth doing.


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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




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