Well, for some reason I felt compelled to write a review about this movie now that I just got done watching it.
In the course of that fight Leonidas fell, having fought most gallantly, and many distinguished Spartans with himÖ
-Herodotus VII 224
When I first heard of this movie, I thought it would suck. Personally, I detested everything I saw from it in its pre-release stages. As it neared, I just cleared my mind, ready to see it, and just take it for what it is. Now, perhaps the most anticipated movie of its kind in some time, 300 attempts to regale the epic and crucial battle at Thermopylae, and the heroic and glorious destiny that the Spartans embraced, and I liked it for that. The premise for 300 is certainly nothing new, and it is not without its grand past backing it. Herodotus, some call the ďFather of HistoryĒ paid homage to the 300 Spartan soldiers at Thermopylae, and that homage has carried down to today. Although the movie is based on a novel by Frank Miller, it is obvious that Miller had to draw on something more than imagination. It is not supposed to be an historical account, so it does seem misguided to follow its accuracy, but I still did :). But enough of that.
Past movies, such as The 300 Spartans draw on some of the heart that this Polis, now on the cusp of the Classical Age, absorbed itself in. But instead of common film practices, 300 creates a dramatic and poetic Sparta and Greece, with riveting and stylized life and battle sequences. To some degree, this approach works quite well, but in some respects, it is lacking. But its weight carries it through, and it succeeds in the end.
Of course visually, this movie is in a realm of its own. The special effects create an awe-inspiring mood, and are far superior to those in Sin City. Color tones adjust the feeling and purpose of the scenes, where meaning is conveyed by more than just words, and action is pushed to a new level. Sometimes it is dark (such as the opening scenes), and sometimes it is far more optimistic. Regardless, the manner that this film is shot is remarkable. I had my doubts about this concept after seeing only one of the trailers, but those doubts were quickly put to rest. Also, the dazzling use of slow-motion and close ups sucks you in, whether it is in Sparta or in battle. From the beginning of Leonidasí life, we are transfixed in a world of grooming and visual spectacles that are unprecedented. When battle finally arrives, there is no holding back in suspense and brutality, which is a rather nice touch. Fictional elements (such as a minotaur-esque looking thing) bring in that mythological and legendary element which was pervasive in Greece back before the rise of Mycenaean civilization. You know it isnít real, but it feels and looks real. With panning shots and dramatization, a sense of scale is certainly achieved (and I love the line about sucking the rivers dry. Quality).
One thing that bothered me about the film is the use with underdeveloped symbols. Symbolism starts to take too much of a role that you really donít give a damn about. Gorgoís necklace, for example, doesnít really mean anything as a token to us, well, at least it didnít to me. It makes sense, obviously, but the impact is not all that great. There is also an oscillation of shots at the beginning and end within wheat fields that feels all too like those scenes in Gladiator without the heart. I guess by the end I donít care much for the Queen or her loss. But why is that?
I think, for a movie of this magnitude, there just needs to be more length! It is less than two hours long! Some comedies exceed this in length. Some dramas go far beyond this duration, and some of those still feel too short! For some of you, however, this is great thing, because long movies are boring and uninteresting. But this is a very historical moment, and it is being depicted with some absolutely outstanding visuals and amazing battle scenes laced with some witty fiction, so it is a shame it is not longer. Because of its lack of length, and its focus heavily on battle, it just sporadically tries to create some sense of characters aside from battle. Leonidas is the most developed (and when he falls, he does so in a rather glorious and gallant manner), but aside from that, it is hard to care much at all for the others. Likewise, the actual sense of what Greece was about is somewhat lacking. Then again, it is an adaptation primarily on Millerís novel, not Herodotus or even Thucydides, so these qualities werenít to be expected, but damn it would have made the movie so much better if it did. Pitty.
One of the redemptions, I find, is with the closing battle. I didnít expect that it would conclude with the Battle at Plataea, but it did, and well done too I might add. The movie flowed into it seamlessly, because this is after all, a narrative. It is a very well devised one at that. It is a transformation of one narrative, bringing in orientation, cause for battle, the life of Leonidas and his glory, and finally bringing the story to a close at the Battle at Plataea, all with one narrator/Spartan, Dilios, and at different instrumental points in the movie.
As the credits rolled, I felt impressed with the movie. It is a stunning action epic. For me, at least, the lack of development aside from battle toned down my liking for the movie a notch, but as the visual spectacle that it is, I was immersed, and I guess that is all that was necessary.