Comic Book Movies 101: 300

Zack Snyder made quite an impression with his debut hit Dawn Of the Dead, a remake of the George Romero horror classic. When you remake a film this highly praised and not only get away with it, but also have people like it – you’re clearly doing something right.

From that moment on though, Snyder dumped everything that was arresting about his development as a filmmaker and went onto 300 which has much more in common with every film he’s produced since – cartoony special effects and an over abundance of slo-mo shots. I’ll tip my hat to the man for his Watchmen adaptation which was better than anyone had a right to expect, whilst still not perfect. More recently Sucker Punch hasn’t helped him ease the pain.

The problem with 300 is hard to pinpoint beyond the excessive slo-mo. And let me get that issue off my chest right now. Ok, so the odd slo-mo shot in an action scene can help with the impact of an adrenaline rush. But use it too often and it just becomes annoying. And Snyder is using it both in and out of the action. At the film’s opening a man on horseback arrives at the palace of our King in slo-mo. He then pulls a wheelie on the horse outside the main door, in slo-mo… Now, nothing has actually happened yet. The story hasn’t started and all we are getting is slo-mo porn. And the film does not get any better in that regard. I honestly think if you ran the film at a normal pace it would be half the length. That’s very telling as the story is literally that thin, not to mention half of the characters.

Beyond that the film is given a shitty sandy brown and gold grain to it to reflect the graphic novel. They’re trying to remain true to the text, but it does look a bit crap at times. And with all the back lighting and nasty visual effects, sometimes it’s unbearable.

I do have to give the film its dues and the men, all testosterone-y and amped up both look the part and deliver some great stunt and action work. It does get a bit repetitive after a while, but it’s a brave stab and brings us something that men can sit down and enjoy. Gerard Butler as King Leonidas defending his kingdom from his foe is suitably chiselled in the part – and it’s his presence that really lends this film all the power it has to give.

Back home his wife (Lena Heady) is playing political games with Dominic West’s sleazeball. It has to be said that firstly West looks a bit like Marky Mark in a robe, and secondly this whole subplot is all but irrelevant to the rest of the film. I think they just squeezed it in for the sake of extending the runtime further and giving Heady something to do for the women stuck in the audience. If she were more impactful as an actress it may have worked, but she isn’t, so it doesn’t.

Back on the playing field the blood is spurting at 48 frames a second instead of the usual 24. All manner of beasties are set upon this tribe of men who were born and bred for war (AAAAwoooo!). This all leads slowly to tragedy as the numbers dwindle and an eventual final confrontation with the self titled “God” Xerxes. A slight cut on the cheek and his power gets diminished, but no matter as the entire 300 legion has been killed, save for one, Dilios (David Wenham). Dilios it seems is the story teller of the bunch and it is his job as narrator and survivor to take the tale to the men (which he relates with a voice like Victor Meldrew) and then rally them up for another war.

In the right mood I can skip through this film as there’s something epic there worth peeking at. But in the main it just wasn’t handled well in terms of drama or pace. Others disagree and herald it as an instant cult hit. I won’t disagree as cult hits tend to have a love it or leave it aspect to them.

Steven Hurst

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