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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

[REVIEW] 300 (2007, *** 1/2)

“JOEY, DO YOU LIKE GLADIATOR MOVIES?” Why yes, I do, if they’re 300, with its rich, brute beauty. While keening early reports from a Berlin Film Festival press screening suggested that any woman seeing 300 (*** 1/2) ought to check their male dates for bi-curious pup tents, vet commercials director Zack Snyder’s second feature (after 2004’s Dawn of the Dead) is more than a homoerotic vista of rippling man-bulk. It’s a distinctly otherworldly tapestry, a bloody, violent storybook-look imagining of the 480 B.C. battle at Thermopylae, as well as blunt assertions on the nature of masculinity, war-making and murder. This is grandiloquent, bravura, exquisitely inventive movie-making, but since its subject is vainglorious battle to the death of civilization, one of several tempests in a 300_v234234.jpgcrackpot about 300, highlighted by a thumbsucker in the Sunday New York Times, is the venture that the movie is intended as commentary on the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Get this: war is war. “Remember why we died” is always a statement of sorrow as well as succoring of bloodlust. These figures, too, worried of “hold[ing] our gates” against “Asia’s endless hordes.” (Of course, no modern army would ever go into an incursion so severely undermanned or without necessary protective gear.) And while testosterone and heights of the visceral and viscera and suicidal doggedness are on display, and ideas of patrimony and honor are parsed with copious limb-slicing and decapitation, 300 is ultimately an admirable imaginative feat, drawing for style from Frank Miller’s graphic novel, but also the world of painting, the grammar of videogames, rock-ribbed rhetoric and the possibility of what millions of dollars can wreak out of one director’s mind and thousands of terabytes of computer memory. (Yet I cannot imagine a studio financing this gory work in a less bloody and fearful time.) Images: priests of the gods convening within an octagon-topped knob against a moon hundreds times larger than true. A redheaded oracle, pale beneath shimmers of sheer and smoke, hair the red-gold of koi, writhing to demonstrate both fever and erectness of nipple. Pale hairs on another woman’s belly by reflected blue light of an absurdly bright, near moon. (Female flesh is not neglected amid the sweaty flesh of fighting men.) An orgy by torchlight and hookah under the gaze of Xerxes that seems either a parody or celebration of the multiethnic sex-fray in Matrix Revolutions. Bull elephants twice-three times actual size backed off hillocks to the stony shore below. Golden light blighted suddenly by the rain of a thousand, thousand singing spears. Clouds do not scud but roil, women’s breasts are always in motion, red capes and draping swirl. The landscapes are peopled with taut beefcake bellies, but the 41-year-old writer-director’s camera dwells also on the the taut extension along ribcages as spear- and sword-bearing arms strain upward toward release. Snyder also delivers setpieces of extended sequence-shots that are stitched digitally from myriad smaller bits from cameras clustered near each other at differing focal lengths. You’ve not seen it all until you’ve seen this odd yet exciting effect. Fair history? (Snyder eagerly admits to refashioning of formations and tactics so that the battles would be more vivid on screen.) At the least, fine spectacle, po-faced and only lightly Pythonesque. (This review is of the IMAX version.)

(Ray Pride)

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