Saturday, March 10, 2007

Review: 300

I am not really entertained

Frank Miller’s comic book 300 is a stylised re-imagining of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. Greece, where the titular 300 Spartans, led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), stood their ground to defend their country from an invading Persian army of thousands despite objections from the Spartan councilmen. Meanwhile, Leonidas’ queen, Gorgo (Lena Headey, looking a lot like Connie Nielsen’s Lucilla from Gladiator) has to deal with the underhanded councilman Theron (Dominic West), who may be able to convince the council to revoke their decision and dispatch the rest of the Spartan army to support Leonidas’ position at Thermopylae.

Director Zack Snyder, who famously and miraculously escaped the wrath of Dawn of the Dead fans by actually doing a pretty good job with the remake, created a visual feast of a movie, similar to another Frank Miller creation, Sin City. His movie adheres to the imageries and designs from the book, but improves on them with a crisp, CG sheen over it. The director also carried over the book’s heightened sense of reality, menagerie of freaks and megalomaniacal displays of omnipotence. He was also successful in recreating Frank Miller’s trademark atmosphere of decadent sleaziness with the scenes involving Xerxes’ crib and the Ephors.

So, why is 300 only getting an Average rating from the Big Movie Freak, you say? As a picture book, or even a video game, the visual quality would have been enough to impress. But as a movie, despite all its flourishes 300 was surprisingly boring. Matching the action with equal excess were the lengthy stretches of expositions. Characters would stand in place and deliver long, dreary speeches that often stop the movie cold. They'll go on and on, and again and again with the same damn speech about strength and honour and whatnot like it wasn't clear enough the first time. It may have helped if veterans such as Sir Ian McKellen were reciting the dialogues instead of still-not-quite-there-yet David Wenham (playing narrator Dilios) and co. But really, even then the script would still be in dire need of a trim.

Speaking of David Wenham, who was Faramir in Lord of the Rings, at one point the movie did begin to look like a game of spot-that-movie, with not-so-subtle homages ranging from Rings (Giant elephants! Gollum!) to Zhang Yimou’s Hero (Arrows! Lots of them!). Even Tom Sizemore-lookalike Vincent Regan (the Captain) is playing the same second-in-command lackey role he had in Troy. This movie is more deserving of the title of Déjà Vu than that Denzel Washington picture from last year.

I have to admit: it has its moments. I liked the prologue explaining the harsh, badass Spartan culture, and I enjoyed some of the action sequences, particularly the first wave of attack, the one with the über Immortal and the final showdown. I appreciate the exaggerated, grotesque beauty of the Persian King and his minions. But overall, it’s a second-rate swords-and-sandals epic at best, no thanks to a fundamentally marring and overzealous script. - BMF