Tak­ing a blood­bath

Finweek English Edition - - Openers - BY FRIK ELS frike@fin­week.co.za

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.

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