The name Frank Miller has become rather well known over the past few years to a wider audience. After Robert Rodriguez hunted him down to get his approval to do Sin City his graphic novels are now becoming a film genre within themselves. So, with Sin City 2 coming and a 3rd one being planned it was inevitable that some of his other books were to be adapted into films. What Sin City had (besides the awesome Robert Rodriguez directing) was a sense of ultra realism that worked. Rodriguez said he never wanted to adapt the graphic novel into a film, but rather adapt film into a graphic novel. The result was a gritty film noir tale that utilized its style to create vivid and entertaining movie. 300 is a bit different, in fact a lot different. What they did was in fact take the graphic novel and stick into a movie and I can say right here that the visual style is amazing. The film as a narrative is pure crap.
Zack Snyder made his film debut by directing the very unnecessary remake of Dawn Of The Dead. So, did Snyder make a good film with 300? Not at all. The movie is nothing more than yelling and screaming, half naked men, and slow motion killing. It's as if a Ridley Scott epic was sprinkled with crack and dipped into a bucket of sepia paint. The tale is known to all, 300 Spartan soldiers take on one million of the Persian empire in order to defend their nation. All in all, that is exactly what it is with no strings attached. The characters are never established nor are they developed. The film is not emotionally engrossing or exciting because we don't care about these characters. The film is poorly structured so the impact of an impending battle is rather weak. Just compare it to the battle of Return Of The King. Okay, maybe an unfair comparison, but recall how much set-up and anticipation was had before the first sword was swung. Recall the first scene of Gladiator, before our characters were even established there was incredible anticipation and set-up before the battle. Snyder thrusts us into slow motion spear stab after slow motion spear stab. I swear, if this movie wasn't shot on digital they would have used all the film in the world because of all the high frame rates required for slow motion. I am not exaggerating when I say that probably 50% of this movie is slow motion, even the sex scene is slow motion. The movie is one crowning achievement in visual style, but for what purpose?
The only commercial appeal this movie has is its visual style, which sole credit goes to Frank Miller and Frank Miller alone. If only they used that visual style in a more cinematic way I think the film could have been so much more. The only focus here are the battle scenes, and while stunningly choreographed and amazingly shot they serve no purpose in the narrative. Another complaint I had was Tyler Bates' score. As a Hans Zimmer idolizer I love electronic and synthesized scores, but too much of anything can be bad. There are no thematic cues in the entire film and while Bates prove he can write grand and testosterone filled pieces he never structures them thematically. He even resorts to pure rock and roll at certain points in the film. All I heard was a composer trying to replicate the masterful success of Hans Zimmer and his fellow composers. There was a lot of Black Hawk Down in that score and a lot of Harry Gregson-Williams' style from Kingdom Of Heaven. Bates just scrambled it in together to make it as loud as the visuals. The movie is a spectacular mess, and I know about 90% of the people who read this review will disagree with me. It's not that I think the film should have been more intellectual to be better, it's just it was poorly structured and not engrossing as a narrative, and by the end all I had was a headache.
The film boasts a relatively unknown cast. David Wenham is probably the most recognizable since he played Faramir in Return Of The King. Dominic West plays a corrupt politician (yes, the movie tries to be political for about 2 minutes) and he is probably most recognizable from his roles in Chicago or the HBO series The Wire. Gerard Butler plays the king of Sparta and he does have a strong presence. Even though the movie is all shouting he does a good job as the anchor of it all. He is from Scotland so at times I felt like I was listening to a young Sean Connery, but I liked him in the role. The movie really only demanded physical fitness from the actors since there was little room to show what they could do.
Go ahead, disagree with me all you like but you have to admit that the visual effects are the only drawing point of this movie. Zack Snyder has proven he can make something look good with a computer, but he hasn't proven that he is a good filmmaker yet. Anyone can look at a picture and try to do the best they can to trace the lines and come up with something similar, but no matter how well you trace the picture it will never be what the original was. Shallow and flat characters and a poorly structured story make 300 only a piece of eye candy.