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What a glorious blood bath. Well, the blood bath itself is glorious, but everything else…

Actually, this wasn’t that bad of a film. Yes, it’s one long chase scene. Yes, the characterizations don’t go beyond two dimensions for most characters. But it’s tense (Olga Kurylenko as the Pict tracker is intense), and there is enough character in the film that you want these guys to live, though you may know by the onset of the chase who will end up dying. That part actually is pretty unpredictable until the end.

Most impressive about this film is the visual shots. It’s reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, with many helicopter shots over snow and grass covered mountains, valleys, and fields, each one more luscious than the previous. Some of it does get covered in blood, lots and lots of it actually (the main story covers the alleged disappearance of the Ninth Legion during the early 2nd century, which in this instance is caused by the Pict resistance in the north of England), with heads, legs, arms, anything and everything getting hacked and slashed. It all looks beautiful and gritty at once, which is hard to pull off but Marshall does it.

Actually, from what I understand, Neil Marshall directed The Descent, which was apparently quite good (that was the horror movie about women getting trapped in a cave with cannibalistic humans living there). It had great reviews apparently, but, given that it’s horror, the audience is limited. He has a good eye and feel for directing. Hopefully his next project that gets released stateside gets more exposure (Centurion lasted two weeks in Philly, for those keeping track).

So, see it for the flowing landscapes and the equally flowing valleys of blood. Enjoyable for what it is.

B-

I remember seeing this movie way back when it came out, three years ago this month, in the gloriously huge IMAX screen in King of Prussia.  I was stoked to be seeing it, and the $15 bucks was worth it.  I remembered leaving the film going “This movie was awesome!”

Three years.  Some of that awesome has indeed worn off.

It’s not to say that some of the movie is still in fact awesome.  The action sequences that begin roughly 40-50 minutes into the film are quite fun indeed, filled with overwhelming amounts of CGI bloodiness and Spartan kickassing their way through a Persian army thousands of times its size.  And the kick in the bloody hole in the ground, and every time Leonidas kicks the Persian messenger into the pit I scream “PUNT!”

This is an adolescent’s wet dream come to life in film.

Oh, but if I were an adolescent again, I would ignore everything that made this movie not awesome.

Well, before I get into that, I’m sure everyone knows the graphic novel that inspired the movie.  Written and drawn by Frank Miller (who had Sin City brought to the big screen by Robert Rodriguez, and who directed (quite badly) Will Eisner’s The Spirit), the story is a fictional retelling (fictional because I’m sure not everyone looked the way they did on the Persian side of things) of the Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 Spartans (plus a few thousand more Greeks who sadly didn’t get to fight at all) held off a Persian army numbered anywhere between 70,000 and a million (history can’t make up its mind on the exact number) for two full days before being defeated on the third day.  This inspired the Greeks to take on the Persians and helped win the resulting war.

That aside, the graphic novel captures the feel, in often exaggerated form, of that battle.  There are a few events that lead up to it, the battle itself, the betrayal of Ephialtes, and the last stand of the Spartans.  It was nicely drawn by Miller in a panoramic, wide-screen style that worked quite well for telling the story.  It read quickly too (around ninety pages can be read in roughly twenty-five miuntes).  It was short, sweet, and awesome, with very little in the way of waste (except, for maybe, that illogical hole in the ground).

The movie, faced with the problem of having a movie being far too short, added a subplot involving Queen Gorgo trying to influence the Spartan Senate into sending reinforcements for her husband (and had half the movie filmed in slow motion, but who’s keeping track of that?).  It really doesn’t work at all.  For starters, Leonidas started the war by punting the messenger into that giant hole of his (at least, in this depiction of events).  He climbs a mountain with no road or path to where various ugly looking and corrupt people interpret the Oracle’s message as “Don’t go to war or you’ll offend the gods” (done in English in the graphic novel, of course).  This scene itself, by and large, doesn’t work: how the hell does that evil Senate dude with his evil Persian friend (an especially fat one at that) make it to the top of the pathless mountain?  A secret elevator?  Stereotypical magic carpet (he is Persian after all)?

Speaking of evil Senate dude, he’s right.  He’s completely right in not sending troops to help Leonidas, since, you know, the king provoked a war without the Senate’s backing (see how democracy works kids?).  But, since he’s evil Senate dude, he’s corrupt.  He couldn’t care less about Leonidas, or Sparta for that matter.  He likes his Xerxes-faced gold pieces thank you very much.  This, of course, prevents us from seeing that he in fact is right.  But, oh well, he’s evil Senate dude, who cares?  He’s a bastard!

That really does take away from the movie, because by and large it still is quite impressive at times, mainly in the battle sequences.  Well, the first “single” shot sequence is mind boggling awful, but the second one (with the “I’M WITH YOU!  FOR SPARTA!  TILL THE DEATH!” guy and the Captain’s son) is much better.  And the decision to fight one on one with the Immortals once they collapse the Persian wall doesn’t make sense (especially when they form the phalanx at the end of the scene: couldn’t they have done that to begin with?  Would have saved you a lot more Spartans that way Leonidas (and it would have saved you from that slash in your eye too)).  And the gold encrusted rhino, and those gunpowder mystics… well, they were kinda cool, if they actually worked (um…).

Okay… maybe it’s not as awesome as it really once was.  But, hey, it looks pretty cool (really, it does), and the fight scenes, even if they don’t work in the narrative scheme of things, were still filmed pretty well.  Zak Snyder knows how to shoot a movie.  The decision to replicate the graphic novels visuals was a bold and worthwhile decision (shooting on the green screens before painting in the backgrounds).  Everyone looked to be having fun with the film too, before and after they were slaughtered in new and various ways.

But, well, is the film still any good?  Maybe if I were fifteen again, and had less of a mature brain (well, I was twenty-four, with a somewhat mature but still trying-to-figure-things-out brain).  Now, at twenty-seven, I’ve become overly analytical.  The above is the result of that.

But, hey, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing with these DVDs right?  I own them for a reason, especially ones that, in retrospect, aren’t as good as they first appeared.

That said, I won’t have any problems watching 300 again in the future (after I get through this project).  Maybe then I’ll shut off my brain and excuse the fact that there’s a giant frakking hole in the middle of Sparta.