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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Review of 300: Rise of an Empire

 

300: Rise of an Empire                                                                                                                                                                      Off OO Off with their heads!                                                                                                                                                                Released in 2D, Real D, 3D and IMAX 3D, and seen at IMAX, Wadala, Mumbai, on 5th March 2104, 300: Rise of an Empire is a blood and decapitation orgy (one of the production companies that made this spectacle is appropriately called Cruel and Unusual Films), full of sweeping camera movements, high and wide angles, slow-motion fight scenes and hundreds of ancient battleships in combat, all shot in dark grey tones.

Based on Frank Miller’s latest graphic novel Xerxes, and told in the visual style of the successful 300, this new chapter of the epic saga takes the action to a fresh battlefield—on the turbulent sea—as Greek general Themistokles attempts to unite the kingdoms of Greece (Athens, Sparta, etc.) by leading the battle against the marauding Persian forces, led by Artemisia, the adopted daughter of Zoroastrian King Darius, who died at the hands of Themistokles. (Incidentally, Darius and Xerxes are the names of a quite a few Irani men belonging to the Parsi-Zorastrian faith, who had migrated to India after the Irani-Muslim kings came to power there; modern Iranis pronounce Xerxes as Khashayar).

Australian Sullivan Stapleton (Gangster Squad) is cast as Themistokles. He doesn’t quite look the ferocious fighter he plays, and struggles with an accent. Eva Green (Dark Shadows, Casino Royale) as Artemisia is ruthless and impressive, but in her case, the physique>character mis-match is even more pronounced and the accent really clipped. Lena Headey, even frailer, reprises her role from 300 as the Spartan Queen, Gorgo. This time, her role is more of a cameo, with a heroic finalé to make it worthwhile. Rodrigo Santoro is present again as the Persian King, Xerxes. Gifted with a rich voice (ignoring another accented entity), terrific structure and a deadly gait, he commands attention, but his role is kept to a minimum, perhaps with an eye on another part of the saga. Keep your eyes peeled, and you might catch a fleeting glimpse of Gerald Butler, who played King Leonidas in the earlier film.

Zack Snyder says he hadn't really considered making a follow-up to his 300 until Frank Miller, the author of the graphic novel on which it was based, said he was working on something. Snyder then co-wrote, and co-produced, 300: Rise of An Empire, along with his wife Deborah and Miller himself. He was to direct it too, but when the time came to shoot the picture, Snyder was working on Man of Steel, so Noam Murro was brought in.

Murro is best known as a commercials-maker and the director of the Dennis Quaid-starrer, Smart People. Snyder can take credit for some good dialogue and quite a few unintentionally funny lines as well. In terms of screenplay, the events are cyclic and predictable, particularly the entire segment when Artemisia confronts and taunts her generals. War games at sea and strategic manoeuvring by the two sides are more cleverly done. There is barely one shot of the 300 referred to in the title, and no real Empire rises during or at the end of 300: Rise of the Empire, albeit the concept and ideal of freedom is always worth dying for, and was worth dying for, even 2500 years ago. An unusually long introductory voice-over becomes tedious as it drags on.

Maybe it is true that all Athenian fighters fought bare-chested even against heavily padded opponents, yet, in a film, this appears quite silly. Even more incredible is the fact that every time their semi-naked warriors engage their well-protected foes, the foes fall in one blow. So why waste money on worthless protective gear? must be the Athenian logic. The film benefits from some good music pieces by Junkie XL and there is also a surprise track, Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’.

Some breath-taking cinematography and vertigo inducing high precipices, captured by Simon Duggan in stunning 3D, add to the worth of the film. However, in the climactic scenes, the men in the ships are clearly visible as animated figures or cut-out/clay objects. In the copy we saw, there were millions of yellow blobs floating around on the screen, apparently fire-moths, but they could equally well be light, bouncing off, or reflecting from, a host of sources. It was distracting. Titles were not easy to read, placed on unsuitable colour backgrounds and peculiar angles, often at the top left corner of the curved screen. Make-up and get-up has been given serious attention, with a hunch-back character being its prime example. Editing by David Brenner and Wyatt Smith keeps the length in control. However, as collateral damage, some part of the continuity is lost.

300: Rise of the Empire does not seem to know when enough is enough. Considering there is a Central Board of Film Certification in operation in India, and explicit and semi-explicit sex is not allowed on screen, it raises the question: what about such gory blood-shed, shot with high-speed cameras, the dozens of decapitations, birds and fishes feeding on human remains? Is all this acceptable?

[Pssst: Don’t anybody dare mention Emperor Ashoka and the Battle of Kalinga within ear-shot of Zack Snyder, Frank Miller or Noam Murro].

Rating: **1/2

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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