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Volume 35
Issue 10
 
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Frank Miller's 300: Abs of steel, gore galore
Frank Miller's 300: Abs of steel, gore galore
by Lorelei Quenzer - SGN A&E Writer

300 Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West and David Wenham
Opens March 9


300 is a shot-by-shot homage to Frank Miller's graphic retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae. If your ancient Greek is a little rusty, don't worry: the script isn't as dedicated to history as it is to Miller's vision. The scene: it's 480 BC and the Persian Empire is expanding. When an envoy demands that the Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) pay homage to their God-ruler Xerxes, Leonidas declines rather forcefully by spectacularly killing the messenger. Despite the advice of his Oracle, Leonidas assembles a measly contingent of 300 Spartans and takes off on what he assumes will be his last march. He chooses to make his stand at the narrow pass at Thermopylae; if the Spartans can hold their ground, the Persians will be routed until a larger army can be assembled. There's a non-historical, non-Miller sub-plot that has Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) trying to win more troops for her hubby, but otherwise 300 is all battle, all the time.

Granted, Miller, the man behind Sin City, is a genius when it comes to composition on the 2-page spread, and I'm sure he's a storytelling tyro in the world of the graphic novel. But while the film's comic book style can be breathtaking, it's also slavish to its origins, proof that it's entirely possible to have too much of a good thing. After all, it might take you - what, 5, maybe 10 seconds? - to scan the panels depicting a battle, including reading the brief dialog. But that same scene in real time? Imagine the approach of thousands of Persians, stumbling across a field of bodies. Now imagine it frame by frame, in slow motion. It's crap like this that overflows the reels of 300, testing the audience's patience and humor.

Then there's the unadulterated violence. The blood spatters widely and often, and the body count is more than 300. Slash after slash, jab after jab, thrust after thrust& I think one beheading per movie is enough, don't you? Director Zack Snyder (2004's Dawn of the Dead), in the throes of film foreplay with Miller, clearly doesn't. The action is relentless, to the point where it approaches pornography. Even the imposing Persian army is overkill. In addition to the sideshow freak that is Xerxes, the invaders throw everything but the kitchen sink at the Spartan forces, including an ogre, an armored rhinoceros and a bevy of digital elephants. All of which the Spartans rout, flexing their mighty - sigh - rippling muscles.

Butler (the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera) doesn't do any singing, thank goodness, as the Spartan king Leonidas. He does walk around half-naked - and, in one scene completely naked albeit mostly in shadow - roaring, stomping, and practically pawing at the ground. I swear I felt his spittle on my forehead every time he yelled at the enemy. Speaking of near-porn, I hadn't realized David Wenham (Van Helsing, The Lord of the Rings) was so buff. As the story's narrator a little of his croaky voice goes a long way. You'll probably have a giggle after his character, Delios, loses an eye - relax, this isn't a spoiler; when we first see him his eye is gone, so you know the story is being told in flashback - but I don't think the laugh is intentional. I'd still huddle next to him in a phalanx, any day.

But back to the sheer buffed-ness of the cast: there are hundreds of chiseled abs in this movie, and double that number of rock-hard thighs. These are Spartans, after all; manly men who spend the snowy winters in shiny leather bikinis and little else. Men who march off to battle, muscles glistening with perspiration; comrades in arms, dressed in less than most of us wear in the shower. Men who&. Whew. Gotta get a sip of water and fan myself for a moment.

As the Queen, Headey (Imagine Me & You, The Brothers Grimm) brings a warmth and intelligence to the film despite the dialog she is saddled with. Ever the Spartan wife, she abjures her husband to return home either carrying his shield or carried by it. Lines like that are easier to take from her than from Butler, who should carry a spittoon, or Wenham, who needs a good salt gargle. Then again, who cares if they can talk? The men are terse. And buff. They carry naught but their spears. And shields. And pecs. And wear shiny speedos. They yell and flex and march and flex and grunt and flex and&. I need more water. I have to admit: sometimes too much is just right.

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