Sunday, March 11, 2007

300-- The Battle of Thermopylae Pass

For those of us who grew up reading the Greek and Latin classics, the story of Leonidas and the 300 Spartans was certainly the stuff of legends. 300 men hold off the entire Persian army under Xerxes for a considerable period of time, inspiring all of the Greek city states to rise up and resist the invaders in an even more all out battle later at Platea. I have actually always wanted to see a movie about Spartan culture and its 'warrior' mentality and fierce independence, a culture that defies most modern notions of machismo by having women who were educated and trained to be as athletic and ferocious as the men, in many cases. This culture was so freedom loving and fiercely independent that they had a hard time even co-operating with other Greek city states, even when their independence was on the line.

With this story line, Frank Miller (of Sin City fame) brings to the screen an action thriller in comic book style and color (sepia tones and reds, with some scenes reminiscent of Gladiator) with larger than life action and characters and hyperbole. Surprisingly enough it works rather well. The story is only minimally diddled with, and there is very little filler, or unnecessary sub-plotting added. The focus of the movie not surprisingly is on Leonidas, a few stirring speeches he makes, and the battle scenes themselves. There are of course CG action sequences that are larger and more dramatic than life, and we have the usual gargoyles that show up in comic books, but not actually at the battle of Thermopylae. But then this was not intended to be a documentary, but rather a hyperbolic dramatization.

For what it is, this movie is stunning, especially in terms of cinematography. The scene with the prophetess on top of the mountain, or the emissary confronting Leonidas, or Leonidas confronting Xerxes are hard to get out of your brain. There are of course some gory scenes, but the movie is not gore galore, or gore for its own sake. Miller is depicting the brutality of war, especially in such a primitive form. There is too much graphic violence for young folks in this movie, and it is indeed graphic and grainy, earning its R rating for violence. My son suggested it be seen as Miller's Braveheart movie. Fair enough. That's a good analogy, though there is less pathos in this movie, and certainly more buff warriors showing off their washboard abs. And there is also far less star power in this movie, which makes it all the more effective in some ways. Particularly well done is the story telling of the relationship between Leonidas and his wife and Leondias and his leading warriors.

Clocking in at under two hours, this movie doesn't really have any dead zones or filler, and it is so visually gripping and difference that there is always something to get your attention. Don't expect this movie to win any Oscars, except for pioneering cinematography, but it is a well done movie of its particular genre. As it sits atop the movie charts at present one wonders how much this movie is meant to play to the warrior instincts or mentality in parts of our own culture. Whether it is or not, the Spartans were absolutely the Marines or their day, making ordinary warriors look weak and vulnerable. You will have to decide whether that whole approach to problem solving is itself a strength or a weakness, but no one could question these men's courage and commradry in the face of overwhelming odds.

9 comments:

scott said...

Great post. It added some balance to all the men's groups I have been going to that stress the warrior mentality of the "lost Christian male". What is your take on the Wild at Heart book and the whole genre of men's ministry exempilified by such groups at the Men' Fraternity out of Little Rock? Wolud love to hear your comments on same.

JD Walters said...

Yes, nice review, but I feel I should point out that Frank Miller wrote the graphic novel, but he did not make the movie. The movie is directed by Zach Snyder (with creative imput from Miller, to be sure).

Shea said...

Hey Ben, this post is just to warn those who have not seen the movie. I saw it opening night with the rest of Starkville, MS. It was a great movie and I felt that Christians should feel ok going and seeing it (Adults, because of the violence etc.). But the warning is concerning the sex scene that Leonidas has with his wife. There is other small bits of nudity, but this one goes on for a minute or too and may be a little edgy for some. I didn't have a problem with it personally but I can see how someone who may be struggling with "sexual things" may be put in a bad position. Again the movie was great!

Bob Bliss said...

Ben, thanks for your review. As soon as I saw the first trailer I knew that this movie would be first on my list of "must see movies." One of my teachers used the phrase "then we'll fight in the shade" on more than one occasion. Thanks to Shea for the warning. I'm looking forward to seeing this on the big screen.

Michael said...

300 is getting more good press than it deserves. I just did a review of 300 over at Highbrid Nation is you care to read it. In the end it was just another movie that did not live up to the hype to me. Can we say "poor man's Gladiator"? Most people will likely disagree with me though, lol

The Vegas Art Guy said...

Wow, with all the different reviews, some good, some poor and some in the middle, now I'm definitely going to have to check it out. Thanks for the review...

chad said...

With Frank Miller coming out of the comic closest (with Sin City) this is yet another movie that really does a good job translating his signature comic style to the big screen. There was a great article about some of the CGI of 300 in the last issue of wired magazine.

I think that to a point this movie can be "viewed" as some sort of Christian warrior mentality, but I think it is dangerous to really try to use this movie in that vein. Can we let art be art?

Eric said...

I agree, nice review. This year has produced two must see movies so far: 300 and Black Snake Moan. Both have taken some heat for the visuals but each have a great message, one of freedom and the other of redemption.

chad said...

i really dug the redemptive theme inside black snake moan. I know in my previous comment I said something about letting art be art and not looking to hard into things. But Black Snake Moan was pretty obvious in it's themes. I really liked the pastors character and the relationship that he seemed to have with people.