Brutal is the only way to describe Zack Snyder’s 300. It is a movie filled with blood, guts, and cinematic beauty. Coming from a graphic novel, written by Frank Miller, it could be hard to capture the emotions of this movie on a reel of film. But Zack Snyder and his team make that job look very simple.
The fourteenth scene of this movie shows how an action movie should be filmed, taking different approaches to hits, stabs, screams, war cries, and everything else a good action movie should have. This is the most famous scene from the movie, in which Leonidas and his 300 warriors first fight against the Persian armies of Xerxes. Beginning with Leonidas coming down from the hill where he speaks with Ephialtes, the deformed and outcast wannabe Spartan warrior, and giving a battle order to Artemis, his loyal friend and Captain, this scene lasts approximately five minutes and eight seconds. The end of the scene comes when Leonidas pulls his sword from the body of a dead Persian as the camera tilts up.
The scene, as well as the entire movie, seems to be tinted with different colors. In this particular scene there is a golden hue about everything. When the first wave of Persian soldiers come around a bend on the cliff, where the battle takes place, the sky is shown with the sun casting rich gold onto their battlefield, this adds to the dramatic effect of this particular battle. The next shot pulls back from Leonidas’ helmeted face to reveal his loyal followers behind him with tall spears in the air. Here we see an extreme contrast of the golden tone of their skin and the darkness of the shadows. The horse hair on Leonidas’ helmet is almost unnoticeable because of how dark it is. We can also see this with the capes that the warriors wear. The light that is directly on the cape makes it appear to be almost a strawberry color but where the cape is tied around their necks, it is almost black because of the shadow that is cast from their heads and helmets. The two colors that mainly appear in this scene are red and gold. Audiences will associate these two colors with royalty and warfare which adds to the epic fight that is taking place between two giants of combat.
One thing that must be remembered about this movie is that it is intentionally over-the-top while still remaining true to the history books. Whether it’s the executioner with blades for arms, the enormous height of the god-king Xerxes, or the earthquake effect of the Persians readying battle formations that occurs at the beginning of this scene; all of these things help to show the devastating power of the Persian empire that only a few Greeks are about to face. To help add to this over-the-top quality, a well constructed musical score is introduced at the time of the Persians wrapping around the bend of the steep cliff which helps the brilliant color of gold play its dramatic role in the picture. With low, resonating bass drums, crashing cymbals, all male chorus, and trumpets doing their part; anyone would get the sense of epic war and waning hope for survival. The bass drums are intended to be a nondiegetic aspect, but they almost sound like war drums, which would be used by major armies in ancient times causing these drums to toy with the line between the story world and the filming world. Another musical quality of the scene is when the Persians sound their trumpets for the charge, this also plays with the line between diegetic and nondiegetic aspects in this film. The music stops when the Persian army crashes into the Spartan shields making the watcher focus on the screams and cries of the soldiers until the Spartans stop allowing themselves to be pushed back by the barbarians and dig into the sand. They then use their shields to push the front line of the enemy off of them and stab into their flesh with sharp spears and deadly accuracy. The low tone of the drums picks back up as well as the trumpets and horns when the next row of Persians slam into the shields of the Spartans. The score in this scene ends when Leonidas and his men break ranks and take on the Persians that have not yet been slaughtered and a variation between slow motion and real time speed takes place in a single shot.
The cinematography throughout the movie is both technical and innovative, following the guidelines of camera work and allowing for more exciting methods of filming the action that takes place in this amazing battle scene. An example of one of the innovative aspects of the scene is where we first see Leonidas in his helmet. The camera is first focused on his eyes then zooms out to reveal the soldiers standing behind him. This could have been done in many other ways, such as having a more open shot showing the soldiers in ranks ready to fight with their helmets on, however this would not have been as intense as showing their leader ready to fight and giving a speech to his men to raise morale in them for the fight which they are about to engage. Another innovative technique that is employed is when the Persians first crash into the Spartans. The camera is set within the group of Spartans which allows us to see what the Spartans would see, allowing for a type of point-of-view shot, even rocking back when the impact of the collision is first felt. Also, there is a shot where one of the Spartans is cut by a Persian spear and he takes his revenge by stabbing the Persian with his own spear. We never see which Persian it is that cuts the warrior; we only see his spear point. Then the camera is set back far enough to see between two columns of Spartans, the one who was cut and one that we must acknowledge is there without ever really seeing him. At this point we see the angry Spartan take his revenge on the Persian who committed the atrocity. Yet another example of innovative camera work is when there is a cut to the camera set high in the Hot Gates, where the battle takes place, and there is a slow tilt up revealing the massive numbers of dead Persians and the red-caped backs of the Spartans advancing forward. This helps to show how the Spartans are like a swarm of locusts destroying the fields of Persians in front of them, slowly but surely. Finally, there is a long shot focused on Leonidas as he moves through the Persians killing one after another. This shot lasts for a little over one minute but varies between slow motion and real time. In this shot, the camera zooms in and out and moves along with Leonidas as he moves forward. There is one point in which Leonidas throws his spear into the body of a Persian and the camera follows the spear through the air. When the spear lands in the body of the Persian, the camera moves back to Leonidas and is covered for a brief moment by a Persian approaching the Spartans. The Persian is out of focus at this point, providing evidence for the conclusion that the type of lens used for this shot may be a telephoto lens. This makes for an astounding final shot for this scene and also proves to be the most famous shot of the movie.
The biggest aspect of editing in this scene is the amount of slow motion shots that are used, as well as the computer generated special effects. There are three shots of the Persians running toward the Spartans which are all in slow motion. This helps to show the drama of the scene and the emotion that is felt by the participants in the battle, as well as slows down the momentum of the action allowing the audience to feel and see everything that happens. There is another shot that moves between slow motion and real time, in which Leonidas takes on a number of Persians by himself. This allows the viewer to see the strength, speed, and ability possessed by the warrior king. The shot only moves to slow motion when he comes to face his next victim showing his technique and shear ferocity. There are a few instances of CG used in this scene, such as the spear that is thrown hundreds of feet from the Spartans into the body of a mounted Persian officer who tells them to surrender. This could not possibly happen for a two reasons; the first is the most obvious in that the actor would die. Another is that it would not be physically possible to throw a spear the distance that is shown in the movie. Another instance in which CG is used is when four Spartan spears are thrust into the body of one Persian soldier splattering blood and moving smoothly back out of his body. Also, in the shot where Leonidas takes on the Persians, he slices off the leg of one of them and blood flies through the air. While these things are obviously computer generated effects, they add to the over-the-top quality of the movie, like all the other editing techniques that are used, whether it is the obvious cuts or the hidden ones.
This scene is the most famous of the movie and rightfully deserves it. This scene shows the ferocity of three hundred warriors fighting for their survival from a tyrannical ruler who is bent on world domination. Zack Snyder and his team have done a wonderful job putting this scene together and making it as epic as it possible while still following some conventional rules and playing with others. 300 is a cinematic giant and the fourteenth scene is a great example of why it remains absolutely astounding.
300. Dir. Zack Snyder. Perf. Gerard Butler, Rodrigo Santoro. DVD. Warner Bros., 2006. Film.