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Written by Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Michael Gordon
Directed by Zack Snyder

Additional review writing by Trevor Adams

Spartan King Leonides: Pray that they are not so dumb.
Pray that we are lucky.

Have you ever heard of a little argument called, “Style vs. Substance?” If you haven’t, I’m afraid I cannot help you. You must stop reading now. No, seriously, of course you know the debate. In a visual world, what holds more relevance, the way something looks or what is ultimately being said? When related to film, some would argue that style can and should exist without the burden of having to show meaning, that a provocative, effective aesthetic can stand alone. Others would argue that beauty is only skin deep and that without meaning or attention placed on other areas of focus, one is left with an empty experience. In this review, this argument will be applied to Zack Snyder’s 300, a film that is drawing mass hordes of people to the theatre to feast upon its blood soaked violence, based on the Frank Miller (SIN CITY) graphic novel. Included amidst these masses are my roommate, Trevor Adams, and myself. Trevor will argue for style and I will argue for substance. Trevor has a background in animation and special effects and carries with him a childhood love for comic books and video games. All of these influences lent weight to his enjoyment of 300. If you’re a regular reader and you know me at all, you know that I am most satisfied by well-strung words that are given even more meaning by appropriate and innovate visuals. Trevor and I are two people with often similar views that left the theatre entirely polarized. Whereas he saw art, I saw a failed attempt.

TREVOR: Truthfully, I’m not so much a fan of blue/green-screen filmmaking. If the recent STAR WARS films are examples of using this technology to create an entire feature, why would I be interested at all in seeing this 300 film? 300 Spartans acting in front of a screen that would later be replaced by computer graphics just didn’t appeal to me as a concept. I blame the trailer for convincing me of otherwise. In its 2 minutes, I knew that this was going to become an important art film that would have to fight to assert its value. The frames are painted in a way that they create an astoundingly beautiful, living comic book. I’ve treated myself to reading a number of comics in the last few weeks and although the stories and dialogue make my eyes roll in a way that sometimes gets me dizzy, the drawings, color and composition keep me heavily interested and eagerly turning to the next page. 300 is no different. A single film frame can be worth a thousand words of script. The fight sequences are so strikingly rendered, I found myself at points begging for the director to slow down so I could absorb more of each and every frame … and in fact, at times, that was exactly what he did. My appreciation of this film lies not within the 300 naked Spartans or the violence they promote that brought on the comic book geeks and raving macho WWE crowd, but rather within the frames of perfection that I was given. I was so filled with love for what my eyes were witnessing, the style became the substance of this film.

JOE: It’s not that I cannot applaud 300 for its innovation and effort. The framing at times approaches a higher level of art and the tonality and quality of the film are engrossing, despite the obvious GLADIATOR influence. What GLADIATOR had that 300 does not is depth, a more personal sense of urgency and purpose. Spartan King Leonides fights with passion and love for his empire but his almost entirely faceless army fights blindly alongside him. 300 spends little time establishing itself historically and even less time developing its cast past their drone status so what you are left with is a bunch of boys in battle. It is violence for its own sake and its energy is not enough to overlook the banalities of their dialogue or the ridiculous fashion in which that dialogue is delivered. Even the look wears thin. As one fight leads to another with little to no other development taking place in between, the cheaper elements of the design unveil themselves. Gimmicky monsters appear to attempt new levels of excitement and the skimpy outfits and painted-on abs of the Spartans draw attention to the film’s thinly veiled intentions. 300 is nothing more than a stylized masturbatory fantasy of violence, blood and misogyny. In other words, it is pure Frank Miller.

TREVOR: The story is simple in 300. It doesn’t try to hide itself under any complicated military strategies, nor does it weave in any intricate politics within the Spartan government. Zack Snyder simply connects the simple dots of Frank Miller’s story and then beautifully paints his colors within and around those lines. It’s not that I couldn’t go on and on about the elements that bothered me in this film (i.e. the Golem-like ogre character; the horribly-acted Xerxes; or the simple fact that this was based on a Frank Miller comic book), but I‘d rather take the same approach I did in exiting the cinema: Focus on what I loved. No film is perfect, but there can be perfect moments. This film had about 300 of them.

JOE: There are certainly a select group of film and graphic geeks, like Trevor, who will see this film with the sole purpose of devouring its visual extravagance. It is their art and I do not begrudge them of it. As far as I am concerned though, when a filmmaker spends all of his focus on one element of style and allows for so many other formal aspects to just get by on their own, you are left with a hollow shell. 300 is beautiful but beauty fades fast when there is nothing underneath.



One Comment

  1. Hey Joe:
    Another great review. I called you the other day at work and someone said they’ve never heard of you… 😛 RSP Season makes people crazy.

    Talk soon.


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