Amber Orand March 19, 2007 It should come as no surprise that 300 is reaping box office gold. The film is a startlingly stylish, artfully crafted retelling of one of history’s really great stories. It’s based on Frank Miller’s popular graphic novels, but don’t go to 300 expecting a comic book. What you’ll see will more closely resemble a spoken-word opera. Set in the Greek city-state of Sparta in 480 B.C., 300 is the story of King Leonidas’ personal battle—some might call it a suicide mission—against Xerxes, the powerful “god-king” of Persia. Sparta has an intensely patriotic and heroic view of itself as a society. Strength and courage are its most highly prized virtues, and soldiers dream of dying valiantly on the battlefield at the hand of an honorable foe. Little boys are taken away from their families and put through brutal training regimes and, when they get older, terrifying initiations. The result is an über-elite fighting force. These are not just soldiers; they are warriors. Leonidas, the king, is as tough as any of them. When King Xerxes of Persia sends an envoy demanding Sparta pay a tribute, the money isn’t the issue. Self- respect is. Leonidas refuses to submit to the more powerful king, even though he knows it will mean war. But the king does not have absolute authority; he must work with a council of representatives. The council refuses to send troops for a war with Persia, so Leonidas acts on his own authority, taking his 300 personal bodyguards to meet the Persians at the Hot Gates (Thermopylae). 300 was written and directed by Zack Snyder, who has only a handful of credits to his name, the most recognizable being his 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake. After his masterful work on 300, it is likely we will be hearing his name a lot more often. Shot in front of blue screens and worked on in post-production for more than a year, 300 is a design showpiece from the opening logo to the end credits. Color is used to perfectly beautiful effect—armor and endless wheat fields gleam in a watery, grainy gold sunlight while deep crimson robes ripple and pop on the wind. And then there are the bodies. Loincloths and velvet robes seem mighty impractical for fighting, but they sure do highlight those eight-pack abs nicely. But who cares what the Spartans really wore into battle? 300 is not about historical accuracy. It’s about history as we wish it had been: clear-cut, black-and- white, and wonderfully heroic. Our own times seem full of uncertainties and moral gray areas, so it is refreshingly empowering to imagine ourselves a past free of ambiguity and doubt, to immerse ourselves in a culture that can look death in the eye without flinching. The genius of 300 is that it is something we haven’t seen before. The beautiful, unusual styling, heightened drama, and heroic storytelling make for an experience far more visceral than what one usually experiences at the movies. It’s more akin to theater, and the influence of the classical Greek tragedies can be clearly seen. But theater doesn’t have technology like this. 300 is Greek tragedy on steroids. Zack Snyder may have created a new genre—the video game opera.
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