Mythic Spartan battle awes with aesthetic violence

John Manalang

Combining the epic bloodshed and mythology of “Gladiator” with the film noir style of “Sin City” into a single movie would not compare to the visceral, sophisticated and sadistic world of “300.”

Based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, who also wrote “Sin City,” “300” tells the legendary Greek tale of the battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 Spartans battle more than one million Persian Army soldiers. King Xerxes of Persia, played by Rodrigo Santoro, leads his army to the shores of Sparta to conquer the land, but Spartan leader King Leonidas, played by Gerard Butler, defies his demand for surrender. The Spartan rebellion propels the movie into a frenzy of battles, where classic swords-and-sandals fights turn into an endless whirlpool of bloodshed.

Bloodshed is what “300” is all about. In scene after scene, the audience witness decapitation and dismemberment. The cries of death echo constantly, as fallen fighters leave whatever is left of their carcasses behind. The painful clashing of blade and sinew leaves no rest for anyone who wishes for survival. The battle scenes in “300” make the movie “Troy” look like an elementary schoolyard fight. It sounds like outright carnage, but gruesome wars were a reality for the Spartans.

Miller and Director Zach Snyder have crafted a faithful adaptation that truly captures the essence of battle. Every battle scene is bombarded with blood, agony, more blood, despair and conquest. But the violence is depicted artfully.

With the exception of the characters, the entire movie is produced using cinematic graphics and special effects. But the artificial environments do not saturate the film. They provide appropriate settings in which the events to unfold. Although the film’s hue is somewhat bleak, the characters and the impact of the battles resurrect the charm of the film. The graphics may not be as extravagant as in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but they are a key part of the film.

Unlike “Gladiator,” in which political decisions carry the story, the plot of the film flows through violence, eroticism and lore. The film is packed with so much action that the director decided to put the lovemaking scene near the beginning. The film teaches no important life lesson, nor does it require audiences to pay close attention to the plot to understand what is going on. It is all about seeing 300 Spartans kick ass.

In “300,” Spartans know how to kick ass. Trained since they are seven years old, Spartan men carry on the ancient lore of achieving a “beautiful death.” Fierce and showing no emotions, Spartans are simply born to kill.

King Leonidas, a badass who does not say goodbye to his wife and child when he leaves for battle, somehow always remembers to enjoy an apple after a vicious fight. Butler’s character resonates with the charisma of a true leader. He is an icon, a man so well built that he embodies a walking monument of glory. King Leonidas refuses to show the vulnerability of his character. Wise words come out his mouth, though there are some lines in the movie he delivers with exaggerated expressions.

Persian King Xerxes is an eccentric and unconventional figure. He has more body piercing and wears more eyeliner than an emo-rock star. He has an unusually deep voice for someone who is not as big as the other soldiers. Santoro’s character is portrayed exceptionally, as he intentionally creeps and disturbs the audience. Xerxes has all the traits of a classic movie villain – a tyrant giving off a cold, manipulative and deceiving aura.

King Leonidas’ wife Queen Gorgo, played by the beautiful Lena Headey, personifies the ideal Spartan woman – strong, wise, and sensual. She is the king’s confidant, advisor and only love. She pleads with the Spartan council to support her husband’s battle throughout the movie and even takes desperate measures to get her way. In her conflict with Theron, one of the council members played by Dominic West, Queen Gorgo is shown outwitting the dastard.

The movie’s soundtrack definitely supplements Zach Snyder’s film vision. Written and produced by Tyler Bates, who also composed for Snyder’s remake of the zombie-horror film “Dawn of the Dead,” the soundtrack mixes Mediterranean influences with an orchestral sound. The result is a unique, enigmatic sound that begins every scene with an incomparable experience.

A movie jam-packed with special effects, “300” lacks of a slight bit of authenticity, as Spartans seem as though they use Bowflex abdominal toning machines in their training. The lack of interesting filming locations makes the film lack the quality of films like “Gladiator” and “Lord of the Rings,” which were shot in exotic locations.

“300” is a glorification of violent battles, with little realism. This is not a movie to see to get a brief history of the Spartan wars. That is what books are for. But if the desire is to experience war, come prepared for bloodshed in its most raw form.