March 14-20, 2007

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Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
Xerxes du Soleii: Rodrigo Santoro plays the scary king of the imperialistic, pre-emptive-striking Persians in '300.'

Feta Cheese

'300': Beware of Greeks wearing shifts

By Richard von Busack

A BLUNT colleague says that everyone who likes 300 is a moron. Not so! Anyone who takes it seriously is a moron. Such linguistic hair-splitting might be expected from us critical "philosophers and boy lovers," and so 300 famously slanders the Athenians in a manner that would have baffled the actual Spartans, who were as NAMBLAistic as any other ancient people. Those who prefer Athens to Sparta are less likely to be jazzed by 300's unignorable pro-surge message, any more than they will be dazzled by its static visuals, its shocking repetitiveness and its blockheaded dialogue. Three people are credited with the dialogue: How? One to buy Frank Miller's graphic novel, one to cut out the word balloons and one to paste them into the script?

Come with us to 400 B.C.E., where Greece is under threat from the Persians. These foreigners are a horde of Felliniesque perverts who control a menagerie of fabulous beasts, including a goat-headed man. In Sparta, where children are beaten if they sneeze and massacred if they have asthma, the rise of Persia is looked at with great worrisomeness. Some in the council advise bending the knee to the drag-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro with a shaved head, cheek piercings and a large cache of Maybelline). Despite them, 300 warriors of King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) head off for a last stand at Thermopylae—Greek for "The Valley of the Blue Screen."

Refusing to support our troops, Theron (Dominic West) leads the Spartan Defeatocrats while lusting after Leonidas' queen, Gorgo (Lena Headey). The ditherers sport white togas for purposes of identification—beware of Greeks wearing shifts. The film essentially consists of one long fight scene, with a narrator reiterating every blow thrown by "the greatest soldiers the world has ever known." The camera sticks almost exclusively with Leonidas, though. He strikes his poses, and the narrator tells us that the king is keeping his own council. Or else we're told what "the words of his voice" (actual quote) mean.

Butler, impressively helmeted like the SJSU mascot and squeezed into leather trunks, is another reminder of groundskeeper Willie's law: No enemy can defeat a greased Scotsman. Beefcake value aside, Butler really redeems himself from The Phantom of the Opera with his amusing, Sean Conneryish look of stolid bafflement and the baring of some 45 teeth in a two-hour-long war-snarl. One can't exaggerate the moronic seriousness with which director Zack Snyder serves up such lines as "Choose your next words carefully—they may be your last!" There was a way this movie could have worked, if it had been Lee Marvinized, making the Persians just a little less scary than Leonidas himself. But even downtown Sparta gets sugarcoated with scenes that look like an herbal shampoo commercial. The wall-to-wall digitization of the film makes it particularly flat, with silhouettes grunting under lowering skies that look like the glass-painted special effects of 1916. The film is true to ancient history only in the way it demonstrates what Will Durant noted, that the Spartan code "made vigor of body a graceless brutality because it killed nearly all capacity for the things of the mind"; 300 gives us vigor of body, but it exemplifies graceless brutality.

Movie Times 300 (R; 117 min.), directed by Zack Snyder, written by Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Michael Gordon, based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, photographed by Larry Fong and starring Gerald Butler, plays valleywide.

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