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Fantasy hyperbole

Movies | Hugely popular 300 is awash in gratuitous gore

Issue: "Building a city," March 24, 2007

In a lot of ways 300 has everything the testosterone-charged teen might like in a war film. Zach Snyder's new ancient war movie has an underdog army, macho warriors, beautifully gory fight scenes, slow-motion fight scenes (think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), monsters, bombastic and inspiring speeches that aren't too short. And stray breasts.

The breasts and bloodshed are enough to earn an R rating for this rendering of the famous Battle of Thermopylae in 480 b.c. The movie warrants that strong a warning. The nudity and gore are both gratuitous and can't be overstated-although few seem to be heeding the warning. 300 grossed $70 million in its first weekend-a record for a March debut.

Snyder's film opens by explaining Sparta's ingrained warrior culture. Boys are taught to fight to the death almost out of the crib. But then warrior cultures always need adversaries to make the training worthwhile. Enter Persia, the marauding ancient empire that had laid waste to much of the known world.

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Like his father Darius, Persian "God King" Xerxes has taken aim at Greece. King Leonidas of Sparta (played with machismo by Gerard Butler) plans to halt the Persian advance at a set of narrow cliffs that guard the way to Sparta. Leonidas has long odds. His forces number 300 while the Persians bring more than 1 million soldiers and monsters.

300 isn't so much historical fiction as it is a fantasy rendering of a historical battle. The film is shot almost exclusively on blue screen that provides a beautiful imaginary backdrop for fantastic fights. When one Spartan soldier is cleanly beheaded by a Persian cavalryman, his body lingers upright before crumbling to the ground in slow motion.

Critics have passed over the visual nuances of 300 in favor of panning the film for its false portrayal of the Persian fighters as a dark-skinned subhuman horde. It's not politically correct. But that's not the point.


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