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Exclusive Set Report: Blood, biceps and bluescreen in ancient Persia...

Total Film

October 2006

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Blood, biceps and bluescreen in ancient Persia...

Gerard Butler is standing on top of a wall fashioned out of corpses. A scarlet cloak, brown leather codpiece, bronze helmet and sandals all that stand between him and the elements – the beating Greek summer sun, the swirling wind sweeping through the canyon. Fortunately for Butler, said elements are all on a hard drive and he’s inside a Montreal soundstage surrounded by greenscreen walls.

Taking its cue from Sin City, 300 will be the second Frank Miller graphic novel to get the live-action-mixed-with-virtual-backgrounds treatment. Rather than monochrome hookers wearing hardly a stitch and yellow-toned psychos stalking an urban noir hell, director Zack Synder’s 300 will have hardnut ancient Greek soldiers wearing hardly a stitch and Samurai-dressed Persian opposition occupying a fantasy riff on ancient history. It’s about the Battle of Thermopylae in 5th-century BC Greece, when 300 bad-ass Spartan warriors fought ferociously to hold off an army of 300,000 Persians. It’s not just the belief-defying heroics of a bunch of rock-hard Greeks: if they hadn’t defied the invading army of Persian emperor Xerxes, we might be conversing in Farsi right now (the legend is that the Spartans’ feat inspired Greece to band together and led to the first democracy). But forget the politics – this is a Frank Miller graphic novel directed by the puppy-dog hyper-director of Dawn Of The Dead (with Watchmen next on his slate), about a bloody gigantic scrap involving all manner of flesh-slicing weaponry (limbs, heads, eyes – they’ll all be flying through the air).

And it’s got ninjas! Well, sort of. Snyder echoes Miller’s fast-and-loose approach to historical accuracy by dropping in manga and Samurai references. Xerxes’ elite fighting squad, The Immortals, look like ninjas in kabuki masks. What’s more, Xerxes is going to be nine feet tall and a Gollum-like Greek traitor named Ephialtes will roam the landscape. Heading up the Spartan army is King Leonidas, played by burly Scotsman Gerard Butler, who’s grown some thatchy facial hair and pumped plenty of iron to convince as Sparta’s steely monarch.

He and his comrades are also enjoying the muscle-enhancing attentions of 300’s bronzer-equipped make-up team, who touch up the actors’ six-packs between takes. “They line up like beauty queens before the big contest,” laughs producer Mark Canton. “They all want their definition pumped up.” The fact that they’re clad only in cloaks and leather pouches makes you feel like you’re on-set at some softcore gay Czech porno film – probably no bad thing when it’s time to market the DVD. “I’m exhausted by semi-naked men, to be honest,” jokes Snyder between takes.

From what Buzz has seen both on set and at the recent Comic Con presentation, 300 will rival Sin City for creating a rich, stylised but believable world. Snyder sat us down to show us a couple of nearly-completed sequences on his computer, and with the bronzed skylines, sepia mountains and the Spartans’ signature blood-red cloaks, it packed a thrilling visual punch. “I’m so pumped about this film,” he gushed. So are we, Zack, so are we...

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