Saturday, March 10, 2007

Movie Review : "300" is a visual treat.

 Frank Miller is a genius. I guess that fact is obvious to those of us who have read his graphic novels over the years. He created what is arguably the best Batman series ever (The Dark Knight Returns).

The rest of the world came to know of his genius when Sin City hit the big screen a couple of years ago and became an instant hit. The dark storylines and the imagery conjured up precise ideas and feelings - probably the ones that Frank Miller wanted everyone to conjure up in the first place with his Sin City graphic novels. Coupled with Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller crossed that hallowed line - adapting a great graphic novel into an even better movie while still retaining that essential touch which made the books special.

While not directly involved in the direction of "300", Miller's hands are visible all over the movie version of his graphic novel, which he created in collaboration with Lynn Varley. Although the movie version has been directed by Zack Snyder, the visual imagery, the story-telling and the composition of sequences tell a story that was exquisitely framed by Miller and Varley.

The movie is visually stunning and that is an understatement. As Sin City used color prodigiously, so does 300, but to the other extreme. While Sin City had just one or two colors embossed on an otherwise black and white canvas, 300 shows a riot of colors, but in a dim, blurred sort of way - almost apologetic that color seems to exist. Yet, the dimness and the grainy camera work shows sweeping scenes that capture your imagination like none other and forces you to gape at the screen like a 5-year old on his first outing to the movie hall.




Based loosely on the events surrounding and leading up to the battle of Thermopylae, Miller presents the brave sacrifice of 300 Spartans, led by their king Leonidas I, who faced the million-plus Persian army of Xerxes (as the movie and book puts it, "the collected armies of over a thousand nations") on their way to conquer Greece, and through it the rest of Europe.  Resting solely on their grit, determination, bravery (what some might even call stupidity) and superior military tactics, they fought to the last man and were able to hold off the vast hordes of Asia until the rest of Greece united and decided to take on Xerxes's might.

Miller has crafted in politics, corruption, greed, anger, fear, mysticism, sex, hubris, endurance, violence and war in ways that don't do anything but mesh in well with each other. The storyline presents the Spartans in a special, noble light - almost godlike in their adherence to their ideals and belief in their abilities. But it is Xerxes who believes himself to be a God among humans while the Spartans just consider themselves to be supremely conditioned, but humans nonetheless and holding on to their highest ideals of freedom and liberty.

The battle sequences - if you thought the rest of the movie was spectacular and stylish, then wait till you see the battle sequences. They grab your attention and not since The Matrix Revolutions or Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King has a battle sequence been this good, and in my honest opinion, this tops them all!

While there is blood and gore all round, you cannot turn your eyes away,, for fear that you might miss the tiniest of detail of the work of art which is being painted in front of you. Every single sequence in the battle sequences looks like it has been choreographed, but has that complete unscripted feel to it - like a real battle would have.

I do believe that the actors were chosen for (a) being over 6 feet tall and having sculpted bodies and (b) being able to maintain a stoic facial expression. There is no other reason to explain the lack of expression and sometimes dull acting that is visible in some parts of the movie. Gerald Butler seems to have some sort of multiple personality disorder, as different Gerald Butlers turn up in different parts of the movie - in some he is plain ordinary, while in others, he is able to carry his own.

Lenda Headley as the queen and Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes were superb - they acted like they belonged to their characters and showed that in an epic like what 300 is, there is a significant place for good acting.

On the flip side, some sequences from the book were missing in the movie, like the raiding party that the Spartans undertake to burn the encampments of the Persians, but that does not matter - for whatever reason, the movie had a shorter script and sometimes one has to live with that.

All in all, a fantastic movie and being a comic book fan, I am thrilled at the (more or less) faithful adaptation of the book and this is a movie which I would be proud to own on DVD. But before that happens, I forsee myself watching it multiple times on the big screen.

[Please Note : The images from the movie are courtesy of IMDB.]


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