Film Review: 300

1 Comment


There’s little doubt that the original trailer for this film was one of the most exciting in recent memory. The totally original graphic look, the spectacular slo-mo, amazing cgi, pumping soundtrack–it all combined to get the blood racing. Unfortunately however, if you extend the trailer to a movie of 117min, what you get is one long film clip that ultimately makes you feel like you’ve binged on too many sickly sweet lollies, and leaves you desperately hankering for a film of substance.

Back in high school one of my favourite stories was the battle of Thermopylae and the Persian Wars, and I lovingly memorised ever fact and ever date from the period. I’d love to impress you with all that information now, but of course virtually none of it remains in my head. And 300 is certainly not the place to go to be reminded of the facts. It takes the basic story of 300 Spartans holding the pass at Thermopylae against the Persian army (here shown in insanely exaggerated scale worthy of Herodotus) and pretty much turns it into a two-hour slug fest. It sure must have been easy to adapt this film for the inevitable video game.

Some of the battle scenes have a balletic beauty, but as is often the case with these cgi extravaganzas, with the dial turned up to ’11’ all the time there’s no opportunity for light and shade, contrast, impact … even the loudest noise can lose its impact if it never stops. In a desperate attempt to sustain the volume, we get scenes of totally unnecessary brutality and garishness–the giant bondage mutant exceutioner, the lesbian dancing girls with bad skin (“decadent Emperor’s court–do we have lesbians?–check!”), the lovingly extended decapitation scene. The only point of contrast, a political subplot involving King Leonidas’s wife back in Sparta, feels like an afterthought.

What I really missed was a good script. Surely this kind of epic subject material cries out for equally epic language; speeches you can really get your teeth into, Henry V-style rousing stuff. Instead we greet endless variations of bland ‘here we stand!’ sentiment, actors throwing as much spittle into their shouts as possible to prove they’re being passionate. David Wenham, a strange choice for narrator considering his distinctive accent, annoyingly telegraphs every move in his voiceover as we see it. (“Leonidas was very angry”–yes, we can see he’s angry!) Considering the fact that the entire film was done on a bluescreen soundstage, the actors are perhaps to be commended for their performances, but it’s all too po-faced and mock serious (in true Frank Miller style).

I’m usually a cry baby when it comes to the heroic sacrifice theme, but I was left dry-eyed and unaffected by this film. Yes, it is spectacular (especially when seen in brain-melting IMAX format, as I did), occasionally beautiful, sometimes exciting. But it suffers terribly from having a completely hollow core, pasted over with flashy cgi and casual brutality. Please, give us some heart with our guts.

Two and a half piercings out of five.

One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Iain
    May 28, 2007 @ 18:13:07

    I totally agree. When Leonidas finally died it was a relief.