OK, how on Earth do you pick the bones out of this one? Well, lets preface it by saying that the night before I saw this, I finally, after many years, got to watch the Shawshank Redemption. This was a film that I had studiously avoided as something that is renowned as being so absolutely wonderful was bound to be crap. It wasn't - it was a mighty fine film which locked me to the screen for it's full length.
So I come to 300 and I have to say that on approaching the film I was more than a little trepedatious. I have, in the past, been quite outspoken about people who deride something just because it is popular or indeed who feel the need to pick minute holes in something like they are plucking the threads from the Kings New Clothes. 300 is made to be one of those films that will be derided and plucked. Essentially a suicide war flick it suffers from most of the audience knowing what will happen at the end and the trailer, rather than showing all of the good bits, being a rather neat condensed version of the film, like a 60 second Shakespeare. Add onto this the growing tide of 9/11-linkage bullshit that is rumbling towards the film and it is heading for a fall.
What I got was one of the most well realised visual spectacles I have seen on the big screen. Someone, somewhere, has really hammered home that there is a method to make comic adaptations look like comics and that it works. Sin City did it, Spiderman 2 did it, Superman Returns and Batman Begins did it and now 300 is all about it. The side-on representation of many of the scenes renders them in virtual 2-d, not wholly unlike the traditional greek art we see on cliched urns etc. It works really well.
The story itself is simple - and in some ways too simple - with the God King coming to crush the plucky Greeks and Leonidas going to standing in his way, against all odds. There are some side stories - the Captain and his son, the Hunchback, the reluctant Survivor, the pitiful Arcadians and the machinations of the Senate against the Kings (well fit) wife. Essentially it is, however, a case of 'next wave of soldiers/monsters please!'. At one point I had to physically restrain myself from shouting in my best Sean Bean voice 'They've got a Cave Troll!'
Looking at the criticism that the film gets, I wondering whether I'm simply being a little dim? Homophobic? In what way? Because they omitted the rampant man love in favour of some rather graphic woman love? Racist? Sorry critics but the Greeks are greek and the Persians were just about everyone else - you can't multicultural history to make it fit your holier-than-thou leftist sensibilities. Facist? Maybe...if you want to reclassify history to say that all warrior cultures who discarded the disabled were inherrently evil, then yes. However, you maybe missed out all of the other bits about fighting to defend liberty and freedom etc. as you were flagelating yourself with your well worn copy of Das Kapital?
There are some parts of the film that simply don't work - the witty 'winking at the 21st century audience' one-liners act to jolt you from your seat like a slap to any immersion that might have happened. You also need to be in the absolute correct frame of mind to let yourself drift into accepting the more fantastical elements of Xerxes entourage - but reminding yourself that this is the story of the battle as told by the Survivor as a rallying cry to his troops gives you the mental space to allow for some gilding of the storytelling lily.
There is, however, a great deal to love about this film. From a gaming point of view it adds another film to the growing lexicon of mass combat reference. Now in Pendragon when I reference a 'shield wall' everyone will know exactly what I mean! Some of the set pieces and little details within the combat were excellent. Got to love fight scenes where the shield kills as many people as the spear! I found the character of Leonidas likeable although I felt there was so much more to be done with him (and it's highly unlikely there will be a sequal...hehehe). Personally I loved the scenes back in Sparta because it undercut the classic view of Sparta being a warrior culture and illustrated that, when it counted, they were just like any other classical greek 'democracy'.
And finally, the film had what I absolutely require of a good picture - denouement. That was the payoff that mays the sacrifice of the 300 more than just the arrogant conceit of a ego-blown king. Thermopylae is one of the great 'battles against the odds' in human history, like Rourkes Drift and the Battle of Britain (and probably some non-British ones as well...) and the film paints it as such. I've had a quick scoot around Wikipedia (normal disclaimers about that as a source of accurate knowledge apply) and the film gets a great deal of the historical detail dead right.
So whats my final verdict?
As I was watching the film, I was thinking to myself - 'I should be getting more excited than this?'. I suspect that my expectations may have been a little too high for something which was a pretty simple proposition. However, in the cold light of day, I find myself endeared to what I saw more as a cinematic event rather than a rollocking good film.
300, it's good, but it's not the Shawshank Redemption! 7/10