300 (2007)

Watchable

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on March 22, 2007 in Fayetteville Free Weekly.

300 is a fun-fest of blood, mayhem, and absurdity.

At its best, it is entertaining; when it's not at its best, it's pretty dumb. It's pretty dumb much of the time.

300's best qualities are the CGI -- vivid, imaginative, monumental battles -- the limited but effective performance by Gerard Butler as King Leonidas, and the iconoclastic spirit of graphic novelist Frank Miller.

300's worst qualities are the ponderous repetition of visual effects, the hack hack-'em-up script by three writers, and the god-awful performance by Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo. The negative qualities devour many of the positive qualities like a berserk CGI monster-rhino.

300 is the tale of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. when 300 Spartan warriors, supplemented by volunteers from the Greek city states, created havoc against Xerxes' massive army from the Persian Empire. The volunteers -- made up of sculptors and potters -- left the 300 to fight the last battle alone. On the surface it's a noble effort. It's also adolescent and masturbatory.

Director Zach Gordon, who contributed to the script, has an evocative eye for beasts-gone-wild and gore. At the end of the movie the credits should announce, "We harmed a multitude of CGI animals. Take that, PETA!"

Gordon exhibits a flair, but style with hackneyed substance has a limited threshold. We literary types who attempt to be "with it" often give the graphic novel a pass. But the graphic novel seems to have severe limitations.

Frank Miller, who composed Sin City and 300, has a brash, irreverent sensibility. But he's a craftsman, not an artist; his words do not keep up with his images.

Miller has some of the same gifts as Mickey Spillane, who once took pulp detective novels to great heights of popularity.

In 300 the heroic captain says: "I have filled my heart with hate."

Leonidas responds, "Good."

Mickey would love that.

What saves some of the pedestrian dialogue is Gerard Butler as Leonidas. He scowls and yells a lot, but at least he tries to invest his character with a vestige of personality. It's a bit depressing to see this actor -- who was so human in Dear Frankie -- limited by a mask in The Phantom of the Opera and the blue screen of 300.

Dominic West (of TV's The Wire) is miscast as the nefarious politican Theron. But the worst -- the film's fatal flaw -- is the headless performance of Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo, the wife of King Leonidas.

Granted the three writers have witlessly expanded the Queen's part in the movie 300 with wretched, banal dialogue, but she is perfectly suited to deliver it wretchedly and banally.

The writers probably wrote about her in their basements, where a real woman never ever appeared. Their concept is a blow-up doll -- blown-up with platitudes and plastic.

Queen Gorgo seems modeled on Katherine Harris of Florida. It's no wonder Leonidas went running away to war. But I wouldn't even fight traffic for her.

300 is another canard that turns "freedom" into all-purpose cliche. The Queen is just another warmonger prostituting "freedom." When she lectures the council (sure she would) about freedom, it has even less impact than if she was an out-of-her-depth pack leader lecturing Brownies or Cub Scouts.

Headey is an aberration -- a Britisher who can't act. Really can't act. She probably belongs at a frat party on campus. There she'd fit in.

300 is like whooping collegians at a frat party. They're having boisterous fun, but the beer goes flat. They guzzle it anyway.

300 is a cheap drunk.


You might be interested in reading my most recent reviews, all of my reviews from this year, or all of my reviews from last year.

For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).


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