Friday, March 16, 2007

"300"

Gerard Butler, David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Lena Headey, Dominic West, Michael Fessbender, Rodrigo Santoro

Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex

"Prepare for Glory!"




It has been a pretty hectic month so I haven't had time to indulge in my favorite past time - watching movies. But I have been straining my eyes a lot lately by watching complete DVD sets of my fave TV shows like Grey's Anatomy (Season 1-3), Heroes (Season 1) and Lost (Season 2 - 3). I still have the whole seasons 1 to 5 of Jack Bauer in "24" to go. Phew!

But I was determined to make my way into a jam packed cinema to watch "300" on the big screen. There are certain movies which need to be experienced within the confines of a dark theater on a giant screen. Nothing compares to the thrill of having your heart racing with adrenaline when those huge loudspeakers with Dolby Surround System booms full blast except maybe drinking tons and tons of espressos in one seating at your favorite Starbucks (I'm a Figaro habitue). Glad to say this movie didn't disappoint in injecting me with my adrenaline fix. I was totally blown away by Frank Miller's movie adaptation of his graphic novel. The same author/artist who gave us "Sin City" which I found interesting in a fascinating way and really grew to love despite its genre. I have to admit that comics turned into movies isn't my cup of tea, so to speak. Case in point - Spider Man (the third installment coming soon), the Batman franchise, the X-Men, Fantastic Four and of course Mr Clark Kent himself, Superman. But it doesn't mean I don't enjoy these popcorn chomping variety of films, I would probably just rent them from my local video store or catch them on TV when they are shown.

The main attraction for me in "300" is the theme. The story based on the tale of King Leonidas and 300 of his finest and most fierce Spartan warriors in the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. Their inspiring against all odds story, a suicidal mission to defend their rights and their freedom against a very mighty opponent, the Persians. So on the subject matter alone, I was already sold on the idea. Never mind that everything except the cast was computer generated in some studio in Montreal or whether the historical aspect was accurate or not. I think it was a very pretty bold venture to depict a tale the likes of which we could only imagine in our heads while reading about it during our Greek mythology class in high school.


From the very first frame when Dilios, the narrator (one of the warriors) tells us about the arduous path (known as Agoge) a Spartan boy embarks on to become a warrior till the very last shot of an Elysium field and everything in between, most of the scenes were pretty fast paced with full action and dramatic moments to keep you fixated to the screen.

Cleverly edited sequences of well choreographed battle scenes (my favorite element of the movie) shot in a dusk tone/hue permeates throughout the film. A heavy metal sound mixed with melancholic music to highlight several important scenes all add up to one very thrilling, suspenseful masterpiece of an artistic undertaking. It has the stunning visual effects of a video game, which is a good angle given that it is based on a graphic novel, after all. It totally reminded me of this strategy game my sister plays on her laptop which if I recall correctly is named "Empire Earth" or something to that effect.

The male actors (the warriors, anyway) are airbrushed with flexing abs and well chiseled bodies looking menacingly virile with their flowing crimson robe, heavy protective shield and elaborate head gear. The others (those in Sparta) are clad in their elegant white togas. Very believable performances from the dominantly male cast led by the Phantom of the Opera himself, Gerard Butler. His strong and very powerful personification of King Leonidas was quite humane. The fully bearded soulful yet passionate leader of the Spartans whose steely gaze can make you cower with fear. The rest of the male cast were equally effectively credible in their supporting yet very significant roles. The women the few we are shown (mostly Queen Gorgo) are resplendent in their Grecian empire cut flowing dresses with their tresses curled with flawless perfection. Costumes very appropriately depicting that long lost era. And these are just the Greeks or specifically the Spartans. You should see all those characters/creatures on the Persian side of the equation. Man, they were an eclectic mix. I'm at a lost of words on how to describe their whole lot (everything from Dervishes, Africans, Moors to Maharajahs riding massive elephants were thrown in). Special mention of course goes to this God like character Xerxes, the Persian king. He looked like someone you wouldn't want to encounter alone in a some dark alley. His shiny shaved head, his towering figure with a hairless body adorned by ornately designed accessories and all those piercings on this face. Yikes that must have required several hours of make-up and wardrobe set up for Rodrigo Santoro who was totally unrecognizable in his role. Heck even his voice was deep and creepy, he sounded like a kidnapper using a scrambler to disguise his voice when he is making his ransom demands over the phone. I did notice though that in some scenes where Xerxes was addressing King Leonidas it was pretty obvious Santoro was acting in front of a blue screen because his eyes were not totally focused on Leonidas' face. I guess it is can be difficult to be depicted as this 9 foot God who towers above everyone else. probably not Rodrigo Santoro's fault but some poor graphics guy who couldn't properly aligned Xerxes vision in the correct path.

As expected, a movie about a war would be filled with very violent and gory scenes. I've developed this tendency to actually be fascinated with violence unfolding in a movie but only when it is done with perfection and not merely added in for some cheap thrills. Of course being female, it is natural for me to cringe and even gasp at the sight of a stab wound, decaying human flesh or shriek when limbs are torn apart by a ravenous beast. But overall I am pretty impressed and in complete awe at the skillful manner, violence is shown in some movies nowadays. But strangely enough, I don't like watching horror movies where there are senseless gory and very bloody scenes - I prefer to be scared out of my wits psychologically instead of seeing bodies soaking with blood lying lifeless after a lengthy torture scene. Anyways, in "300" I practically cheered during those battle scenes well not out loud people might think I was some sadistic blood thirsty vampire. I mean in the execution of those fight scenes. The artistic way the blood lingers in the air after a spear is thrust into the opponent's body or the manner a head is decapitated and sent flying away from its body. The crunchy sound of flesh being stabbed with a sword or a spear. The sound of a shield pushing against another shield, that shrieking deafening metal to metal sound - it was all such a thrill to watch. It became more intense when Zack Synder, the director decided to insert really loud heavy metal music during those ferocious battle sequences. The loud crescendos adding to the amusement with good entertainment value.

It was also commendable that Synder didn't make us immune with consecutive fight scenes after fight scenes but instead decided to splice in the other subplots. Shots of Sparta where the Queen Gorgo desperately tried to rally more support for the warriors from the politicians. Boy, she was a feisty woman. I like how the director portrayed the Spartan women. Ever since I read about Sparta in high school, I've admired the bold and feisty nature of these Greek women. They might have been one of the first bunch of feminists in ancient history. Way to go! Another notable subplot were brief scenes in the Persian side where images of greed and total debauchery reigned with Xerxes right in the smack of it.

The dialogue were mostly laden with rah rah speeches of King Leonidas rallying his 'bodyguards'. Shots of extreme close-ups of a fully bearded King thrown in for good measure.

"We Spartans have descended from Hercules himself. Taught never to retreat, never to surrender. Taught that death in the battlefield is the greatest glory he could achieve in his life. Spartans: the finest soldiers the world has ever known".

As well as some funny one liners to break the serious tone of the combat scenes. The steady narration (I'm a big fan of narration in movies) was a nice touch. It felt like you were actually reading the graphic novel out loud and turning the pages being totally engrossed in your reading material.

I guess I am just rambling at this point so I conclude by recommending you watch "300" at your local cinema theater on a giant screen with a good audio system. Be prepared to be enthralled by some stunning visual effects but mostly be inspired by a tale of courage, valor and triumph and if you pay attention, you will discover it is also a love story. The love of one valiant King for his beloved Queen but ultimately it is the patriotic love of its finest warriors for Sparta.

"A new age has come, an age of freedom. And all will know that 300 Spartans gave their last breath to defend it."

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