Directed by: Zack Snyder
Premise: An adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel. In 480 B.C.E., three hundred Spartan soldiers led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) face off against the invading Persian army.
What Works: 300 is a pretty amazing show of aesthetics and technical skill. Like Sin City, the film uses the look of the graphic novel in its design and adapts the literary source to the cinematic form. The battle scenes are a gorgeous ballet of violence, choreographed and shot in ways that merge the fascist aesthetic of Leni Reifenstahl’s Olympia with the stylized violence of Italian giallo horror cinema like Dario Argento’s Susperia. The result is a gorgeous but grotesque ode to masculinity.
What Doesn’t: The trouble with 300 is that the film stops at a superficial level. The picture is seething with masculinity, but unlike Fight Club, 300 does not penetrate beneath the machismo. Instead it stays on the surface, preferring to give its characters nothing to do but scream empty platitudes at one another and kill in exceedingly graphic ways. Viewers may wait for the political insight of Kingdom of Heaven, the character development of The Seven Samurai, the narrative texture of Hero, or the sense of irony in Gladiator, but there is simply none to be had. 300 has nothing to say about these events except that they were exciting and bloody, and that wears thin halfway through the picture. The comparison to Gladiator is apt, as 300 borrows the former film’s images, sounds, and flirtation with fascism, but where Gladiator offered subtle commentary and used fascistic imagery with a sense of irony, 300 fully embraces its fascism and that is troubling to say the least.
Bottom Line: In the end, 300 is a piece spectacle and little more. It runs a bit like a two-hour trailer for the movie that could have been. It will thrill and it will titillate, but for all its showmanship, 300 accomplishes very little.
Episode: #132 (March 11, 2007)