Like watching a blood-drunk barbarian on a rampage, 300, like its title, drops the pretense of history—it purports to dramatize the ancient battle of Thermopylae between Spartans and Persians—and offers what can only be described as a mongrel mix of audio-visual fury. 300 is History hijacked by Horror.
One can discern what is happening on screen, though it doesn't make much sense except as a terror fantasy (it will surprise no one that this movie comes from the same person who directed the Dawn of the Dead remake). But it exists strictly to quicken the pulse for a few seconds at a pop.
That it does. A band of Spartan men go to war led by a king (Gerard Butler) married to a queen (Lena Headey) who insulted the enemy that marches upon their civilization, which is depicted as a haven for hateful half-savages. It's easier to follow who's who and what's what than one might expect, yet everything is hyper-exaggerated. 300 is submerged in style over substance.
The king kills the insolent enemy messenger, consults deformed mystics and their undulating nymph slave, mounts his wife every which way and sets out with his grunting group of soldiers to take a stand against the oncoming Persian zombies. It takes almost an hour before the bloodletting begins. The script is filled with words—tyranny, freedom, reason—that go completely unsupported and have no meaning. The Spartans, portrayed as snarling animals seeking hostility for its own sake, claim superiority over mysticism, but cartoonish mystics inflict real damage, thereby negating the power of reason over faith.
Faced with giants, monsters and Rodrigo Santoro as a transgendered God/king/queen in golden eye shadow, the doomed Spartans, who appear to shave their bodies, put up a helluva fight. But with a military philosophy—the Spartan king regrets that he has so few lives to sacrifice—resembling the Bush administration's foreign policy, the mighty Spartans lack the mind to match the muscle.
If sacrifice is noble, why bother to fight—why not hurry up and die? And why—oh, never mind, this latest message of Doomsday nihilism, which sidesteps history, serves one purpose: to validate chronic fear.
300 looks fake and it delivers action in that tentative, stagy, slow-motion, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon style. It deafens with noise, clatter and blaring guitar that sounds like Black Sabbath for the elevator and when heads start to roll, literally, it's hard not to burst out laughing, which is exactly what happened. Wild, radical and what the kids call Kewl? Not unless you're jacked up on mindless video games and are itching to fry some brain cells. 300 doesn't get past zero.
Intellectuals, comic book editors, cast and crew appear in features on 300's two-disc special edition. From conservative military historian Victor Davis Hanson to comics artist and 300 comics creator Frank Miller, the popular picture is lavished with praise and inspection as if it's among Hollywood's best pictures. The snap box arrives in a sleeve without printed material.
Historians, including an Oxford scholar who excitedly and favorably compares the Spartans to communists, hail the movie without providing a lesson in why this confrontation—a great victory for Western civilization—is important. They do, however, state facts, i.e., that the Spartans were taught to think and that they studied music, dance, mathematics and philosophy, that are not dramatized in the movie.
Miller, citing influence by hyper-violent director Sam Peckinpah among others, admits embellishing the Thermopylae battle's history with a worship of brutality. He sees the Spartans primarily as barbarians who were absolutely dedicated to warfare like Japanese samurai.
One of the most ridiculous extras to appear on DVD—a three-minute blur of sped-up images—serves no purpose. Director Zack Snyder appears throughout the features—which include three deleted scenes, an audio commentary and 12 shorts called "webisodes"—with most major cast members. Snyder cut one scene involving a midget on the shoulders of a giant because it was "too much," leaving one only to ponder how he justified the charging rhinoceros (defended by Victor Davis Hanson as "something foreign, evil and incomprehensible"). Elsewhere, Snyder praises an actress for improvising "all this made-up gibberish." It's that kind of movie.