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300

A Shot of Testosterone to the Head

300 is like a piece of liquor store candy. It's got no substantive value and two seconds after digesting it you'll forget all about it, but it's tempting and you just can't help yourself. A big budget marketing campaign in which the principle characters are displayed in captivating hues and enthralling poses with the words "Prepare for Glory", and the promise of Frank Miller's artistic genius are all one needs to be lured into the theater.

Directed Zack Snyder (who did Dawn of the Dead along with a handful of music videos and commercials, all of which becomes apparent five minutes into this movie) and based on one of Frank Miller's graphic novels, 300 tells the historically-based tale of the Battle of Thermopylae in which an alliance of Greek city-states defended their homeland against the Persian empire led by Xerxes (played here by Rodrigo Santoro) in 480 BC; the Spartans were key to the battle because they valiantly defended a narrow pass through which Xerxes was forced to traverse and as such bought the rest of the alliance valuable time.

In this cinematic interpretation of that historical battle, the alliance is scant mentioned and the spotlight shines almost solely on the brave 300 soldiers that were led by the Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler). Nevertheless, it is a grand tale suggestive of the epic poems of ancient scribes; indeed it unfolds as such through the narration of David Wenham who plays Dilios, a Spartan with the gift of oration.

It is highly stylized (though not as stylized as Sin City) and has a pervasive graphic novel feel to it. This is best illustrated through the movie's color palette of grays, bronzes and saturated reds and blues. In addition, several elements seemed to be have been inspired by Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings series: a Gollum-like character, creatures and people's similar to the Haradrim and a sparse script seemingly written by the likes of the reticent and enigmatic character Legolas who never seems to utter a single, full sentence -- much like the characters here.

The Spartans are obviously warriors, intellectuals they are not. It's a good thing the action makes up for the lack of lines. There are several amazing fighting sequences that are breathtaking in their choreography and style, particularly the first large scale fight at the mouth the mountain pass. It is here where the true militaristic talents of the Spartans come to light.

You learn about some of the cultural elements of this unique and fascinating culture through a quick run-down at the beginning but had a few scenes containing gratuitous nudity -- for a movie whose cast is largely dominated by men, there are an awful lot of breasts floating about -- been cut and more about the Spartan way of life been added to the mix, it would have made 300 a much stronger movie. As it is, most of the characters are caricatures of whom you know little. Ironically, the most complex and interesting person is Queen Gorgo played by Lena Headey.

300 is the kind of movie best enjoyed by adolescent boys, gay men and groups of female friends playing a drinking game that entails taking a shot every time a male character walks by with his abs a-rippling. That being said, the movie is sure to garner an instant cult following.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars