Tuesday, March 20, 2007

300 - Greece is the Word

300, or Frank Miller's 300, is an example of how to use CG in a way that will revolutionize the industry. Bluescreen and greenscreen were used in every shot. There was only one day of location shooting (the scene with the horses). Almost all of the photography was shot in a warehouse in Montreal. The film was shot over 60 days, but postproduction (putting in the visual effects) took a year. The film cost $60 million to make, and has made that up in only two weeks of release. It shouldn't be hard for studios to figure out that they needn't spend $100 million on a film that will barely bring in that much.

It's an affecting story as well. The movie is loosely based on Frank Miller's 1998 graphic novel, "loosely" because the novel didn't present the director with enough material, so more was added. 300 tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, when the King of Sparta led his small army against the invading Persians.

The Spartans have never been a people to embrace and love, at least from what I remember from History 101. Spartans are the ones who left their infants out to die if they were in the least disfigured or not perfect. Their children were taught to fight at an early age. And when they reached a certain age, they were to spend a determined time in the wilderness to fend for themselves.

What 300 does, however, is humanize the Spartans. We see how a mother (Queen Gorgo, played with sensitivity and strength by Lena Headey) can send her son to do this, how necessary she views this in his upbringing. And we see the tenderness of Spartans towards their children.

And I'm sure you'll agree that the best thing a movie can do is to deliver you into the heart of a time and country you couldn't visit. 300 does this with ease. We're there with the Greeks, fighting against the Persians with their conscripted armies and mutant beasts.

It's unnerving to see the violence, and disturbing to recognize that all that blood squirting everywhere never rises to cartoon violence, but seems ghastly each time you're forced to watch it. Director Zach Snyder doesn't apologize for showing the ravages of war, and such scenes mirror Frank Miller's graphic novel to the letter.

Yet Snyder employs several techniques that tell the discerning viewer that he or she is not rewatching history. The scenes have a real washed-out feeling to them. There are several scenes, many, that are slowed down for you so that you can appreciate exactly how far that spear has penetrated. It's stylized violence, not actual minute-per-minute mayhem. Yet pieces of reality seep in: King Leonidas' cape gets slowly frayed over time, his helmet sports gashes, his shield arrow holes.

Leonidas is portrayed by Gerard Butler ("Phantom of the Opera") as a lion. His voice carries great authority, his beard juts out as far as his pecs, and you think you'd follow him anywhere. You learn to care about this king, the sacrifices he makes, and his brave Spartan warriors.

Just a bit of warning, though (besides the warning about the violence): this is not history. Many liberties have been taken, from Frank Miller's ideas about how the Spartans defended their territory, to director and screenwriter Snyder's implementation of Asian fighting styles and formations, all of which was done for a better visual effect. This is a fictionalized version of the reason, many say, that the Greeks banded together to turn back the Persians once and for all.

300 is forceful, epic, surprisingly affecting, and way cool. Thumb's up.


At 3:35 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I couldn't agree more about the CGI. That this was all shot in a warehouse is mind-boggling. Great review!

At 9:55 PM, Blogger Ruth said...

"Greece is the word"????

Cat, even for you, that's a groaner.
Great review!


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