Thursday, March 29, 2007

28th March 07 - 300

After a film drought (post Oscar – pre Easter holidays) my weekly cinema experience exploded back into action with a visually blasting film on a visually-blasting medium (Imax – an eight-storey screen). Talk about coming back with a bang. This was a crash, bang, wallop. In leather thongs.

Of course, you don’t have to see 300 at the Imax to get the full wallop effect. Visually this is a slick punch in the eyes. It’s an adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, like 2005’s Sin City, and the use of green screen and post-production fiddling means the ‘graphic’ is brought effortlessly to screen. While Sin City stuck to shades of black, white and red, 300 splashes out into the real world, but with a wash of tonal shades and an odd highlight here and there. The result is quite stunning, especially when you consider that the majority of the film was shot in a studio.

This stylish look adds one level of cool, but combine this with a story about some mega-hard Spartan soldiers (300 of them) standing up to an army of thousands, then add violence, a selection of large angry animals, PEOPLE SHOUTING LOTS and slow-mo battle scenes, and you’ve landed in the territory of ‘way cool’. Throw in semi-naked soldiers with air-brushed abs and big lovely thighs, and some elaborate lady nipples for the lads, and you’ve got a film ticking all the right boxes (on a list of ‘what makes a cool film’).

But such fancy pants additions don’t mean squat if you let things get out of control. Just look at efforts like the dire Daredevil. It’s like a hyperactive teenage boy has thrown up on screen. Thankfully, director Zack Snyder (responsible for the frenetic remake of Dawn of the Dead) keeps the reins tight. Battle scenes are awash with chaos, but rather than splurge on fast-editing craziness, Snyder focuses in – a fact I’m grateful of, or an Imax-amplified experience may have caused haemorrhaging. Instead we have scenes following one Spartan, mincing his way through enemy after enemy, limbs flying off in various stages of slo-mo and animated blood spraying the heavens at every slice. Or we stick in the middle of a scrum, heels digging into dirt, fear mixing with sweat, mixing with the Spartan’s insane love of battle.

For all the lavishness, 300 keeps its focus tight, and this is how it wins. Not too silly to be another nonsense flick for teens, but not so pompous that it becomes another Troy / Alexander / Kingdom of Heaven / King Arthur. These films struggled because the ‘serious’ bits were badly scripted and acted, and the battle scenes became unimpressive after a certain fantasy trilogy set the bar for massive battles – a bar that can’t really be beaten, since you invested 9 hours in the characters. 300 does have ‘speaky’ bits, but these are clipped – allowing you to get your breath back in preparation for the next battle, but not boring you to death.

Some critics have complained about the film’s historical inaccuracies. But really, to try and pull this film up on anything remotely factual is a futile task. This is a film based on a comic, featuring monsters, an enemy who is literally a giant drag queen, and a goat-headed man playing a flute. Worrying about history is trying to smile while watching Pirates of the Caribbean. Pointless.

Not that 300 isn’t flawed. The plot’s a little thin on the ground, the dialogue unremarkable, and if you tried to find any subtext you’d come across a frightening array of ideals (the Spartans are so powerful because they throw away their disabled babies… and there’s a disturbing correlation between evil invaders and darker skin colours). But hey – this isn’t trying to say anything (I hope). It’s certainly not trying to be anything other than a stylish graphic novel adaptation. Gripping, wowing and did I mention all the soldier’s thighs? 300 is a well crafted piece of work, and worth seeing on the Imax if you get the chance.

For being very cool but still keeping control, this gets one point, and it gets another simply for featuring a rhino. Therefore 300 marches in with CF2. Smashing.

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