Comic books have always been an imaginative source for whimsical worlds of entertainment and diversion. Being both visual and textual has allowed them to be an amalgam of cinematic aspirations and literal sophistication. Recently comic book to movie adaptations, popular as they are today, have started to focus not just on capturing the themes, times and contexts but the exact comic book 'look', from the angles, to the colour schemes and even the tones, rendering the source material a perfect, readymade storyboard. Taking its cue from comic creator Frank Miller's earlier graphic novel 'Sin City' is director Zack Snyder's sumptuous cinematic feast '300', a fine piece of technically polished movie making and escapist entertainment.
The time in the film is 480 B.C.; the place, the battle of Thermopylae. Spartan King Leonidas (an intense Gerard Butler) leads his men against the invading Persian army, said to number in the hundreds of thousands. The Spartans on the other hand total a paltry three hundred, but they are soldiers of such single minded determination, ability and skill that they believe and convince us that will be able to match the oncoming assault. Using some crafty strategic thinking (holding off the enemy at the opening of a narrow mountain terrain) and effective battle formations (using their shields to create a giant armour), the Spartans fight an incredible battle, that is as unbelievable as it is valiant, and to use a word from the film, appropriately 'blood drunk'.
The combat sequences in '300' are outrageously choreographed. Lovingly filmed, mostly in slow motion, they showcase in great detail each attack of every Spartan soldier almost individually, captured in a manner that we as audience do not miss a single deathly blow, giving us some of the best face to face combats of recent time. '300' thereby has that distinction, a rare one if not an enviable one, of being a film where every frame is beautiful and complete on its own – much like each panel of a beautifully pencilled comic book. After films like 'Alexander' and 'Troy' it is refreshing to see bloody battles not from the vantage point of an aerial shot, but from level ground.
Miller's passive involvement with the film (as compared to his co-director credit on 'Sin City') only works in favour of Snyder, who as a result is allowed a certain level of creativity with back stories not explored in the original graphic novel. The Spartan queen for example is greatly extended in the film, as compared to her scant appearances in a few pages of the source, where Miller was more interested in themes of masculinity and power. The film too flirts with these motifs, but adds to them that glint of madness in the desire of every soldier to die for a cause, and their King's arrogance in flaunting the superiority of his race. The accomplishment of the film therefore isn't its authenticity (for there is little of it here, especially the warped view of the Persian enemy) or its rich subject matter, but its ability to both transmit and transcend its source material, while remaining faithful to the overall feel of the graphic novel.
The film probably used the services of many more programmers than film crew, but this is in all likelihood the result of cinema's evolving needs. Special effects were once the mainstay of films set predominantly in the future. They were used to create worlds that were completely new and wondrously imaginative but set in a time that was yet to come. With films like the 'Lord of the rings' trilogy and now '300' their use has gained wider application, and perhaps acceptance. This may very well be the future of filmmaking, and it's a pretty good one. - Faizan Rashid