Battles! Blood! Zack Snyder and Frank Miller Screen Footage From "300"
Author: Brent Simon
It's a story of such stark contrast and extremes, the 480 B.C. battle of Thermopylae, where the King of Sparta led his thus-numbered band of soldiers against an advancing Persian army numbering several hundred thousand. The resultant three-day clash is said to have inspired all of Greece to eventually band together against the Persians, and thus have helped usher in the world's first democracy. So it's no surprise that the same story also inspired one of most innovative and creative minds of comics' last several decades.
"I was just a little kid when I saw a much earlier film version of the story, a much tamer one," says Frank Miller. "I was maybe six or seven years old, and I sat there next to my brother, who is maybe all of two years older, and right toward the end I turned to him and said, 'Steve, are the good guys going to die?'"
"The story haunted me ever since," Miller continues. "For me it redefined everything a hero was. So years went by and I told myself, 'When I'm good enough I'm going to do this story.'" He did, of course, and now his graphic novel adaptation, "300", serves as the source material for a bloody, eye-popping big screen treatment next spring.
Warner Bros., whose film is set for release on March 9, hosted a special mid-week preview of around 12 minutes footage from the project, with both Miller and director Zack Snyder ("Dawn of the Dead") on hand to answer questions regarding the fruits of their labor. The footage shown included the Persian army's arrival by windswept sea; a tense confrontation between Spartan ruler King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and Persian king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro); and a black-and-white love scene between Leonidas and Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) that comes across like the steamiest perfume commercial that could never make it to the small screen.
The centerpiece of the showcase, though, was what Snyder referred to as "Battle One" -- the Spartans' bloody, synchronized rejection of a Persian frontal assault, replete with intermittently slow-motion-captured bloodletting and few acrobatic amputations. "Well, I like violence," notes Snyder with cheery aplomb.
The genesis of "300" dates back a number of years. Snyder describes his initial meeting at Warner Bros. as an enjoyable but typically speculative Hollywood affair, the sort where massive amounts of enthusiasm usually dissipate before the afternoon's next coffee break. (At the time, it wasn't known whether Miller would be receptive to parting with the project's film rights.) The next day, however, Snyder got a call, and the ball was rolling? sort of. "At this point, [Warner Bros.] was getting ready to make "Troy" and they were not very into a movie about Greece," Snyder notes, "because they had [Wolfgang Petersen and] Brad Pitt, and I had me and a graphic novel."
Flash forward several years, and you have Miller bestowing high blessings on Snyder's work. The film's Montreal production was a 60-day headlong dash, with an old, cavernous train factory serving as headquarters, despite the fact that 90 percent of "300" is set outdoors. It's here that the movie's hybrid style -- part live action shot against green screen, part rotoscoped and painstakingly tinkered with in post-production, and all shot by Larry Fong, a former classmate of Snyder's at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design -- most benefits the material, which, in its heavy saturation, does frequently look like a comic panel come to life.
In another element faithful to the tome, much was also made of Xerxes' extremely striking and idiosyncratic appearance -- a bald pate and elaborate jumble of piercings, straps, bracelets and other jewelry. "What I wanted out of Xerxes when I was drawing the comic book was to have a figure that would show the sheer size and exotic qualities of a very rich, very pleasure-oriented culture," explains Miller. "As I worked on him, he just got taller and taller, with little ringlets all over him, to the point where I was driving my painter Lynn Varley out of her mind. The idea was to get across the opulence of the Persian Empire in contrast to the very stark, severe look of the Spartans."
Snyder kept the look intact, much to the initial chagrin of Santoro. "Rodrigo wouldn't shave his eyebrows," he says with a laugh. "Everything else he was game for."
Over at IGN Movies there's more "300" coverage, including meticulously detailed descriptions of scenes screened during the preview: "Visually stunning, forcefully dramatic and beautifully acted, this is the sort of cinema that makes fanboys and film snobs alike foam at the mouth."
With a snippet like that, how can you not check it out?
"300" wages box office battle March 9, 2007.