Taking a bloodbath
300 IS BREAKING all sorts of records. The film’s weekend takings in the US were $70m (R520m), making it the best ever March opening in Hollywood history. It beat the animated comedy Ice Age, The Meltdown for the honour. For the all-time record it’s also just shy of another computer generated (CGI) hit called Finding Nemo. 300 also features spades of CGI but that’s where comparisons with Ice Age and Nemo end. Completely so.
The other records that 300 has notched up must be in total blood spilled over three days, maximum number of slow-motion beheadings, spears piercing hearts, swords cutting throats and abdomens ripped open. The abdomen record is doubly impressive, as very few if any of those abdomens don’t come in the shape of a six-pack. A digitally enhanced six-pack.
300 retells the Battle of Thermopylae in 480BC, when 300 men from the citystate of Sparta for three days withstood a Persian army that numbered in the hundreds of thousands. 300 is based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, who also drew Sin City. Its film adaptation was the first to successfully overlay live action with CGI to hyper-real and often beautiful effect.
“With 300,” say the production notes, “Frank took an actual event and turned it into mythology, as opposed to taking a mythological event and turning it into reality”. I can almost go for that. Visually, 300 is sensational. It sucks you in. Like Mel Gibson’s Mayan epic Apocalypto, no matter how graphic the violence becomes, you’re not able to look away. However, the assault of 300 isn’t as relentless as Apocalypto and the stylised visuals ensure the experience isn’t as raw.
The film also spends a good time away from the battlefield and shows what can be achieved with the filmmakers’ visual style beyond beautiful death. Played by Rodrigo Santoro, Xerxes – the god king of the Persian Empire – is a singular blend of menace and charisma. And the decadence of his court tops anything Rome would later produce. The wanton teenage oracle, Leonidas, who King of the Spartans (Gerard Butler), consults before going into battle shows the Greeks and Spartans don’t lack in this department and just when you think you’d like to see more of Queen Gorgo of Sparta (Lena Headey), you do.
Thermopylae translates as “hot gates”. Indeed.
Don’t expect anything approaching a lesson in history or insight into the Spartan, Greek or Persian worldview. I haven’t heard the word “honour” repeated so many times in a film and the numerous speeches concerning “fighting for freedom” and “standing for democracy” soon become tiresome.
The Persian hordes obviously come off worst. So much so that Iran’s ayatollahs have complained that the film is just another example of the United States’ “psychological warfare” against the country and that 300 portrays the Persians as “monsters devoid of any culture, humanity and wisdom”. They would be right.
To make matters worse, among Xerxes’ army there are also a few mythical creatures, including a giant and the so-called “immortal ones”.
The drawn-out slaying of those belongs more to a Lord of the Rings- type movie and could have been saved for the computer game.
In fact, that’s my recommendation: fight your own battle for freedom, die your own beautiful death and get your own digital six-pack.