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March 20, 2007 > 300 - A Film Review

300 - A Film Review

By Jeremy Inman

I wanted to enjoy "300" more than I actually did. I'm not saying that it wasn't a great film; as far as historical epics go, it's on par with the likes of Gladiator or Braveheart. "300" tells the story of warrior king Leonidas of Sparta and three hundred of his mightiest soldiers as they stand, in the name of a free Greece, against an army of thousands of conquering Persians.

The action sequences in particular are unparalleled - causing even the most squeamish of viewers to gawk at the mesmerizing choreography of a slow motion decapitation in sheer amazement. The story is both noble and brutal; it's characters all at once believable and appropriately larger than life. For all of these reasons and more, "300" is unquestionably an excellent movie.

What made me want to like "300" more was that before it was an excellent movie, it was already an excellent graphic novel. My bias comes from my familiarity with the source material, which the film accurately represents virtually unchanged. Everything from the story to the visual presentation pays an extraordinarily tribute to the work of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley on the original graphic novel. Like Miller's previously adapted work Sin City, the producers of "300" opted to present the film as a direct translation of the original graphic novel rather than a new interpretation like Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films. The key difference is that Spider-Man, for instance, re-envisions the original comics by putting Raimi's unique twist on elements - the plot, its characters, and their motivations - whereas "300" adds nothing of its own to Miller's narrative, which has been circulating in comic shops and book stores for years.

So, if it's actually a one hundred percent loyal representation of the source material, great! How could that possibly be bad?

Well, I haven't decided how I feel about that yet. On one hand, the relatively small niche market of comic books in general and the work of Miller in particular get a lot more exposure than sitting on shelves in comic book stores where only the previously-initiated (such as myself) would even shop. On the other hand, should it really take a major motion picture with a multimillion dollar marketing campaign to get people to experience a great story which was every bit as great prior to becoming a film?

My worry is what happens to the graphic novel art form and comics in general when their main contributors begin to write their tales with silver screen aspirations already flashing in their eyes. Arguably, this has already begun; comics are presented nowadays with an increasingly "cinematic" appeal - elements like panels which resemble the widescreen aspect ratios of film, the elimination of the "thought balloon," and multi-issued story arcs which more accurately represent the acts of a motion picture screenplay. By now, the two art forms are inextricably entwined - it's only being a matter of time before every classic comic book (and many new ones) is greenlit for film production.

It's arguable that graphic novels in particular lend themselves to big screen treatment. These stories are released as a finite number of parts and are not ongoing like mainstream monthly titles such as Spider-Man, Superman, X-Men. One might suggest that the length, pacing, and narrative structure of a graphic novel make it especially suitable for film adaptations and therefore a logical next step for stories that emerge from the genre. My fear is that with more and more of these stories picked up as films and then pushed into the mainstream, what happens to the burgeoning young Frank Millers, whose work does not conform to what is currently considered marketable or filmable? Will they have a chance in the spotlight of a genre gaining positive exposure and readership as a result of the saturation of films from similar works, or will they be relegated further into the realm of obscurity?

Whether or not films like "300" hurt or help the graphic novel art form is open to debate, but has little bearing on the fact that "300" is indeed a magnificent motion picture. Audiences who haven't read the graphic novel will find themselves delighted with this tale of honor, glory, and sacrifice masterfully recreated by Zack Snyder and co. So too will those of us who have read it, even if it's not necessarily anything we haven't already seen on paper.

Directed By Zack Snyder
Rated R

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