I recall the first time I saw Gladiator in the theaters. I was left with a sense of bravery that made me walk just a little bit taller and with my chest out just a little bit more on my way back to the parking lot. It’s almost the stuff that can make a man decide on a whim to sign up that very day to go and serve his country during wartime. Russell Crowe was so charismatic as Maxiumus Aurelius. And the film has remained one the staples in my DVD library. It’s a showpiece. It’s the kind of movie that you pull out to impress folks with the quality of your display. There were several attempts in the time since the film’s release in 2000 by directors to try and capture that same sense of battle and courage on screen. Most failed. In this reviewer’s opinion, I think we just found a film that eclipses Gladiator in almost every way.
In a sense, it seems somewhat petty to compare Gladiator to 300. Besides the fact that they both deal with sword and shield ancient civilization combat, they are each great films in their own right. And in fairness to Gladiator, I’m certain that Riddley Scott’s directing of that film gave a lot of inspiration to the makers of 300. But I draw the comparison because 300 succeeds in revitalizing the spirit of Gladiator in a way that none since have been able to. Both are the kinds of films that will actually make me drag my lazy carcass out of the house to watch an experience in the theater that is well worth my nine bucks.
300 is a film that is based on the Frank Miller graphic novel dramatization about the real-life Battle of Thermopylae, which took place in 480 B.C. Frank Miller tells his dramatized story of 300 Spartan warriors who valiantly defend their country from the spreading threat of Persian rule brought on in the form of a million Persian warriors.
First and foremost, the film is a visual masterpiece. Much in the same way that Sin City was incredibly artistic in it’s attempt to provide the viewer with a moving version of the comic book, 300 is a breathtaking visual journey. I didn’t read the graphic novel, but one could watch this film and see the comic book like influence that Frank Miller brought to the screen. The film’s color scheme is incredibly drab and moody. You won’t get any greens or blues or yellows here. Just a lot of earth tones contrasted by the red capes of the Spartans…..well, that and the blood that spills across the screen. (More on that in a minute). The colors and digitized scenery succeed in giving this film a unique and unmatched style. When I was watching the film, I felt as if there were at least fifty or sixty unique shots that would be perfect for a desktop background. Although the subject matter is very destructive and warlike, there’s an unmatched beauty in the way in which the scenes are presented. This will be a film that will unquestionably adorn the top shelf of my DVD collection.
I’m sure that many of the more traditional and conservative (not politically conservative) reviewers will make much of the violence that takes place during the film. And there’s no doubt about it — this film more than earns it’s R-rating. But I think more is made about the violence in 300 than is probably warranted. First off, let’s face facts — wars do exist and they’re ugly. And regardless of the number of propaganda films, commercials and other devices used to trick people into thinking that there’s something glamorous about being a soldier, the fact remains that it’s hell. Without getting too political, there are many that were in support of actually going to war, but will criticize a film for it’s fictional depiction of war-like conflict. Whatever happens during the two-hour showing of this film pales in comparison to some of the horror stories that can probably be told by our men and women — many of whom are probably on duty as I write this review safely behind the covering of freedom that they’ve given me. So, yes – 300 is a violent film. But it’s a depiction of a historical war. And violent is what war is.
As hardcore as some the onscreen battles in 300 are, comparing it to some other violence onscreen reveals one significant difference. Yes, 300 is a violent film, but it’s not gruesome. There aren’t any guts hanging out. It’s almost Matrix-like in nature, as there’s blood. but not an excessive amount of blood, such as what you’d see in a slasher film or Saving Private Ryan. The violence is blended very well with the over-the-top style fanciful and legend-style narration of the film.
While the action in this film is great, there’s a story here as well. There’s some corruption and politics and even a bit of history — all which fit together very nicely with the action scenes. In fact, I’d argue that without the story elements, the film wouldn’t have been as great. No, it’s not an incredibly deep story. But it doesn’t really need to be. In my opinion, we get just enough story here.
The sad thing about a big budget action-adventure film is that often times great acting performances will go unnoticed. While there probably aren’t any Oscar-worthy performances in this film, I think that a huge part of this movie’s success goes to the performance of Gerard Butler. As King Leonidis, he does an incredible job of conveying the confident and capable nature of the Spartan army. In the theater, his lines got more than a few laughs as viewers were amused by his bravado. From the moment that he emerges on screen, he just takes control of the scenes with his charisma. I don’t know how I missed this guy in other films. He was in a few others that I’ve seen after looking at his filmography, but this movie should definitely propel him to greater heights. And if so, it’s well deserved. They definitely picked the right guy for King Leonidis.
To point out any weaknesses in the film would be like trying to find a minor nick or scratch on the piano-black finish of a Mercedes S550. I’m sure there are some weaknesses to be found here, but I was too busy enjoying what may have been one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen in the past two years. And to consider the fact that this movie is an original intellectual property and not a sequel is quite an achievement. Looking forward, I would be disappointed if a sequel to this film began production to try and cash in on some of the success that this film will undoubtedly enjoy. Instead, studios should let this film act as collateral for Frank Miller to dig into some of his other creations (both those that we know of and those he may not yet have revealed) and bless us with more of his vision. After Sin City, I was impressed, but attributed a lot of the film’s success to Robert Rodriguez. After this film, I’m convinced. It would be a dream of mine if somehow Miller could find his way into the directing or consulting of other comic book film releases. It almost makes me upset that they didn’t just wait for him before releasing a Daredevil film. Now we might never know what could have been if they instead let him deal with Daredevil in a much more gritty, “comic-booky” kinda way. Same goes for Batman. The Batman Begins series is in full swing. (The Dark Night — the second chapter in the new Batman series — is already filming). It appears as if studios have already plotted out the next 3-5 years of what happens to the caped crusader in films. But, oh, what could have been if they’d have let the guy who The Dark Knight best work on the series? <heavy sigh>. We’ll probably never know what could have been. (And no, I wasn’t a big fan of Batman Begins.)
But enough about other projects. Run – don’t walk – to see this one. While I didn’t choose the best theater to watch this film, even that couldn’t detract from the quality of the content. In a strange way, the grime and grit of the onscreen battles almost made my the sub-par film surroundings seem somewhat appropriate. That said, if you have a chance to see this one in high definition, or better yet, Imax, I’m sure it would be a treat. Hopefully by the time the DVD release comes out I’ll have the display of my dreams and I’ll be able to check this one out in all of it’s visual glory.
I don’t give ratings, but if I did, this one would get as high a rating as any that I ever gave. Now to wait until they take me for another $30 from me for the Special Edition DVD release. But you know what? I’ll gladly hand over the cash this time. This one is just that good.