The late American General William Sherman gave one of the most famous lines of all time when he said, “War is Hell” back in 1864. 300, the epic box-office-record-breaking film adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name by the legendary artist Frank Miller of Sin City fame certainly manages to make tangible that description.

Directed by Zack Snyder, 300 is a fictional account of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, where 300 Spartans led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) fought valiantly at the narrow cliffs of Thermopylae against nearly a million Persians in a gallant attempt to prevent Sparta, and eventually the whole of Greece, from falling into the hands of the mighty Persian Empire led by the self-proclaimed God King, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). Closely following Miller’s graphic novel which was first released in May 1998 as part of a monthly 5-issue comic book, it successfully translates the beautiful artwork in the novel onto the silver screen with a grandiosity never before seen.

The story unfolds through the eyes (or in his case, eye) of the sole survivor of the onslaught, Dilios (David Wenham), who was ordered by Leonidas to return to Sparta to regale the tale of the fallen 300 just before the battle was concluded following the betrayal by hunchback Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan), a Spartan by birth, who would have been executed for his defects, had his parents not fled from Sparta to save him.

Besides the story of the heroic struggle of the Spartans against the Persians, the action also shifts back to the city of Sparta where Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) finds herself in a losing battle against the cunning politician and “realist” Theron, in attempting to sway the council to unleash the might of the Spartan army to aid Leonidas and his small band of warriors. Her husband contravened Spartan laws by leading the country’s best soldiers to the slaughter despite the gods’ decree that Sparta mustn’t go to war during the Carneian festival.

The movie thrives in its bloodiest sequences, and the battle scenes are truly fantastic, no doubt aided by the well-built actors cast for the roles of the prized soldiers, the make up (you’ve got to marvel at how they made Xerxes’ elite guard, the Immortals, look so badly disfigured), the exotic costumes and the fantastic computer animation created by the film makers. And indeed, right from the first crunch when Leonidas and his men meet the invading Persians forces, the battle chaos is amazingly beautiful and the transition between perspectives and scenes, stunning.

One of the key attributes to the success of 300 must be the close adherence to the graphic novel by director Snyder whose only other claim to fame would be the 2004 horror flick, Dawn of the Dead. He must have realised that less than faithful movie adaptations of comics tend to flop badly. Daredevil, The Punisher and even Ghost Rider come to mind.

Instead, many of the scenes in the movie seemed to be plucked straight out of the frames of the graphic novel. The movie not only retains the colour tone and style that is highly reminiscent of Miller’s work but also its unique significance.

All of which combine to give a sense of realism to a movie that can be considered in some ways to be based on fantasy.

Butler in particular, pulls off a great performance as Leonidas, projecting the right amount of aggressiveness into a role that is highly testosterone charged. Not only does he possess a body that would put any superhero to shame, he also manages to portray Leonidas as a loving husband who struggles to show his love for his wife (because of his Spartan training) and a patriotic King who worries about the safety and future of not only his people, but of the whole of Greece.

And while some critics might argue that the film’s depiction isn’t historically accurate, my take is this, “We don’t give a hoot’s a** about the accuracy.” Hollywood tends to forgo history in lieu of entertainment, and there are times when 300 is an absolutely breath-taking combination of violence and emotion. Just sit back, relax and prepared to get enthralled by the arguably one of the greatest action movies of the year .

4 out of 5 stars for the movie
5 out of 5 stars for the blood, gore and utter violence.

Movie details
Opens: 8 March 2007
Runtime: 117minutes
Cast: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Dominic West
Director: Zack Snyder

All photos courtesy of Warner Brothers.