Monday, March 19, 2007

Reel To Reel: 300

Come back with your shield or on it!

How It Rates: ***1/2
Starring: Gerard Butler
Rated: R
Red Flags: Ye Olde Graphic Bloody Battle Violence, Two Sex Scenes, Nudity

300 is the perfect example of making a CGI movie without letting CGI become the star of the show. It is here to transport us back to ancient Greece, fill in the deathy beautiful backgrounds of massive armies and cloud the skies with swarms of arrows. But all the CGI in this picture is no match for the charisma of King Leonidas (Butler) and his 300 battle-hungry Spartan warriors, greatly outnumbered by the Persian army of King Xerxes at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. Challenges to the film's historic accuracy have emerged, and Iran has charged it with insulting Persian culture, but we'll leave those arguments aside. As a film, 300 is as exciting as it is visually dazzling and brutally bloody. It's the same sort of demented excitement I got from 2005's Sin City, which like this film is based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller.

The picture works because it instantly gives us an underdog to root for with patriotic overtones. Think of the bedrocks of democracy in B.C.-Greece and many will think of the Athenians, of Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato. Those Athenians could philosophize and write great drama, but the Spartans were the real fighters, the film argues, the true defenders of liberty in their red cloaks and battle-dinged shields. Spartans live to fight and fight to live. They feast on pain. Death be not in peace, but in the height of war, going out in a glorious stand. Can you imagine anybody willing to die with such anticipation and vigor? Yaaaaaaaah!

That sort of dedication is what makes the Spartans so mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Strategically, they're no slouches either, as Leonidas comes up with a plan to even the odds, forcing Xerxes' army into trap after trap. When strategy fails, that Spartan warrior culture takes over -- and look out. At times, it's like Clash Of The Titans merged with The Matrix, as scene after scene of slowed-down, sped-up battles plays out, if you don't mind the blood.

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