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'300' remains an exhilarating action epic

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2007 got off to a slow and uninvolving start in the world of movies, but then again just about every year starts off that way. The question is, when will be excited about going to the movies again? With the start of each year, I can't help but wonder if I will ever bother going to a movie theater again with all the crap that's out there and with people still answering their cell phones while I’m watching a film like "King Kong."

Gerard Butler portrays the mighty King Leonidas.
Gerard Butler portrays the mighty King Leonidas.Warner Brothers
Movie poster for '300'
Movie poster for '300'Warner Brothers

But now things are looking up. So far we have had David Fincher's "Zodiac" and Craig Brewer's "Black Snake Moan" which both reinvigorated the world of cinema with fresh approaches on overdone genres. Both were great and reminded me why I like going to the movies in the first place. Now we have Zack Snyder's "300" which is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel on the suicidal battle of 300 Spartans against Xerxes and a Persian army of thousands. After watching this one, I’m endlessly excited for what is coming up next on the silver screen.

This is a movie my friends and I have been waiting to see for what feels like ages. Ever since we saw the trailer, our collective response to it was:

"I'm so in line for that!"

I went with some friends of mine after we finished our workday, and we were all like giddy school kids trying to contain our excitement with very little success. We haven't been this enthused about seeing a movie for the longest itme. A balls out action movie with all the fury of the fight? Bring it on!

Well I am happy to inform that "300" does not disappoint. Those expecting a character driven epic might be somewhat disappointed, but at the same time they will not be able to deny that this film is a feast for the eyes. Visually, this is one of the most original looking movies I have ever seen. It succeeds in created a world that is all its own and is not a film that can be easily compared to others out there.

The director Zack Snyder is well known for his brilliant commercials and for his filmmaking debut which was the remake of "Dawn Of The Dead." That proved to be one of the very few horror remakes that was actually worth seeing, and it had a lot of serious thrills as well as Sarah Polley . "300," however, is a much larger undertaking and it proves that his work on "Dawn Of The Dead" was no fluke.

I have not yet read the graphic novel by Frank Miller that this film was based on. One of my friends at the screening said he had and confirmed that it was very faithful to the source material. More than anything else, I was taking in by the visual elements of this movie. Snyder finds an amazing beauty in a bloody and war torn battlefield as limbs and heads are chopped off with reckless abandon.

Seriously, there are some images which had me wondering how the filmmakers pulled them off. There is a tree the Spartans come across that is strewn with the men, women and children that the Persians have slaughtered. There is a wall that the Spartans ended up building with the bodies of those they eviscerated on the battlefield, and they end up pushing them onto the next wave of fighters that are sent to destroy them. Then there is that big barrage of arrows that are launched at the heroes of the movie. Now I have seen this kind of shot in other movies like "Gladiator" or "Hero," but I never experienced them with as much awe as I did at the sight of them in “300” as certainly would have impaled the men in various places were it not for their rock hard shields (and those things sure did take a beating).

The other thing I wanted to point out is that you actually feel the action in “300.” The sound design is brilliant as it captures a sword being struck down into the ground for all to hear. You feel the booms and the hits with the thundering force that they are given. Most action movies these days don’t have that same effect. I don't know about you guys, but I am sick of being such a passive observer of action and battles in movies. Engage me in it emotionally as well as visually or don't bother making it!

Now with a movie like this, you'd think that they would push the visual effects over everything else and that acting would be an ever so distant priority. George Lucas, however, did not direct this movie and it shows. “300” has a superb cast of actors, and none of them have a weak moment throughout this film’s entire running time.

At the forefront of is Gerard Butler who plays King Leonidas, the one who leads his army of Spartans into a battle he knows they may not survive. But surviving was not the point. It was a battle of courage, an uprising against an oppressive force that wanted the subservience of all. Gerard's eyes do a lot of the acting for him here, and they show a soul prepared for battle without fear or hesitation. You believe it when Gerard says it, but it’s his eyes that do most of the convincing. As always, it’s the eyes that serve as a window to the soul.

Dominic West, best known for his work on HBO's "The Wire," plays one of the most despicable villains in recent memory with his portrayal of Theron. I remember the vicious hatred that boiled in me when I saw a bad guy on screen whose life was devoted to really screwing up the hero’s for their own personal amusement. But not to worry, he does get what he deserves (painfully I might add).

But don't think that “300” skimps on the female characters because it certainly does not. Lena Headey plays the Queen to Leonidas, and she quickly proves to be every bit his equal. She is no pushover and is no more intimidated by a Persian messenger than her husband. When the messenger looks at the king as if he needs to shut his wife up, she replies:

"Spartan women give birth to real men."

Burn!

Now I can see the PC people off in the distance taking this movie to task for the way it portrays its characters and the barbarism many are forced to endure throughout, but this movie takes place in a time that none of us were ever a witness to, and it is a far different period of history when compared to what we are going through in today’s modern world. Who are we to say if “300” is historically accurate? Does it even matter?

“300” also shows children being trained to become fighters at a very early age. There is no time to wait before becoming a warrior nor is there any time for stories or teddy bears or lullabies. As the movie quickly shows, these people had to get their fight on from the get go. Those PC people are bound to overreact to this and say this movie encourages violence and indicates that it is the answer to all our problems. Well maybe back then it was because I don’t recall anyone trying out diplomacy back then. Besides, how can you be diplomatic to a leader who wants you to bow down before him and demands that you be his slave? I don't think I would have a lot of patience for that.

I have also been hearing a lot of moaning about the dialogue not being all that great here. Now look, I love great dialogue and I get sick of stupid dialogue more often than not, but I believe it when people say that dialogue often times is one of the least important aspects of a film. Even the most clichéd of lines that gets the typical snickers from the audience here are given a strong reading by actors with intentions that are never in doubt. Besides, David Mamet cannot write every screenplay on the planet. As much as some of us would like to obligate him to that, in the end that would be completely unfair (it is tempting though).

So how about that? This is one hell of a bad ass action flick! It's a movie where you would expect see something like this in the end credits:

No wimps were harmed during the making of this movie as they were advised not to audition for it in the first place.

Either that, or you would just find yourself exiting the movie theater sarcastically saying to yourself:

"That wasn't violent enough!"

Also, despite the fact that “300” will perhaps be viewed largely as a guy flick, I think women will get a kick out of it as well. In fact, my friends and I ended up running into this one woman who was in her 60s and while she admitted that she was cringing through a lot of scenes, she also said that she loved how the movie portrayed courage and honor regardless of the consequences.

So I guess it is safe to say that "300" was well worth the wait, and it is an action epic that will not soon be forgotten.