Contention on the Ancient Warfront

If you have a stomach for brazen sex and violence – and this movie will put many to the test – then “”300″” is a visual feast more satisfying to the warmonger inside of you than anything before or after it for many years. Never has a movie utilized so much of the screen. Every inch of every frame is such a stunning masterpiece that we can safely give cinematographer Larry Fong next year’s Oscar right now, without question. It’s that impressive.

The Spartans are huge – absurdly huge. These burly goliaths, clad in Speedos and red capes, put Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, even in his prime, to miserable shame. Each of the 300 men have a six pack that could grind a tank to dust – that’s 1,800 packs of skull-crushing abs. The Persians just don’t stand a chance. Hundreds of thousands are slaughtered on the tips of Spartan spears before a single Greco he-man dies. Half a dozen slow-motion rampages of blood-spraying carnage help the movie play out like a graceful ballet of gruesome maiming and horrible death. After the first few waves of Persian soldiers, the Spartans busy themselves by making a wall of corpses 20 feet tall, and the unlucky enemies keep on coming. But there’s no reason to pity these lemming hordes: As in all good action flicks where untold scores of baddies must give up the Persians’ ghosts to progress the plot, their faces are covered with long scarves, scary masks or full helmets.

The story is as simple as it gets: the bad guys are coming, and we’re going to stop them, no matter the odds. There is a historical basis for the story: the Persian king Xerxes’ failed campaign to conquer Greece, and the Greek play “”The Persians,”” by Aeschylus, about the cause of that defeat. But Frank Miller’s “”300″” stands alone. Many characters are entirely fictional, and even the real ones take on comic-book proportions, from a Spartan traitor who looks like Quasimodo on steroids to a godlike Xerxes, who towers several feet over the tallest Spartan.

The Greek template for the story was political for its time, exemplifying a pivotal Greek victory as a showpiece for the consequences of hubris. “”300″” is no different, lacing every line of the movie’s dialogue with political bias a la the current Iraq war. When not extolling the supreme value of freedom every chance they get, Director Zack Snyder’s characters like reminding themselves of the cost of freedom with the repeated line “”freedom isn’t free,”” and parallels with the Marine invasion of Iraq are palpable when the Persian campaign of terror arrives at the Spartan doorsteps and the Spartan king Leonidas (Gerard Butler) decides to lead an elite troop of hoplites to defend their country’s freedom. But his fellow leaders disapprove of his brash actions. Sound familiar? There is even a climactic plea by the Spartan queen before an assembly of senators, begging them to send more troops.

Despite the unnecessary politics, the movie doesn’t suffer because it remains true to its ultimate goal of providing its audience with an endless stream of kick-ass fight scenes and compulsory nudity. Unlike “”Gladiator,”” in which the plot drives the violence, the violence in “”300″” clearly drives the plot, and audiences seeking a serious look at war, or Greek history for that matter, should simply look elsewhere. “”300″” is really just about violence for the sake of violence, and nudity for the sake of nudity. If that’s what you’re after, then you can sit back and gorge on this visceral masterpiece.

No one involved in the movie has a very exciting resume. Snyder’s only significant claim to fame was the absurd romp in zombie land that was 2004’s “”Dawn of the Dead,”” and his co-writer Kurt Johnstad has nothing but forgotten independent films under his belt. Fong’s only experience has been in television shows. But they came together to breathe amazing life into Miller’s comic. The “”300″” comic book upon which this movie-theater powerhouse is based never received much acclaim, but it’s going to leave a dent in box-office sales like few before it, and movie stills are going to litter laptop wallpapers across chemistry classes for years to come.