Zach Snyder

  • The List
  • 13 March 2007

Spartan battlefield

Miles Fielder meets Zach Snyder, the writer/director behind an amazing new film adaptation of Frank Miller graphic novel 300.

Zack Snyder’s blockbuster adaptation of graphic novelist Frank Miller’s fantastical visualisation of the battle between a handful of Spartan warriors and the whole of the Persian Empire is wilfully divorced from reality. So it must have come as something of a surprise to the young American filmmaker when, following 300’s premiere at the Berlin Film Festival last month, press and public alike quizzed Snyder (pictured, centre) endlessly over the film’s political message.

‘They were obsessed with the politics of the movie,’ Snyder says. ‘To the point where they said, “You’re a fascist.” I was asked, “Is George Bush Xerxes, or is George Bush Leonidas?” I said, “There’s a strong argument for both sides. But the camp quality of the film - it’s an opera - hopefully lets you off the hook.” It was fun to have these people coming at me so strong.’

300 is a graphic rendering of the battle of Thermopylae, where, in 480 BC, Greece’s greatest soldiers repelled the invading Persian hoard and saved Western civilisation and democracy. The Spartans were lead by king ferocious Leonides (played in the film by a very buff Gerard Butler), the Persians by the megalomaniac god-king Xerxes. It’s possible to read the film as a piece of post-9/11 propaganda, though the fact that Xerxes has a booming American voice and commands a mighty mechanised army muddies that political reading. In any event, Miller’s source material, and the seven-year development period of the film, pre-date 9/11.

Snyder himself was more interested in the challenge of adapting the graphic novel. To this end, the film’s backgrounds were computer generated with the cast working against blue screens. That process gives the film both a stunning, hyper-realistic and a stagy, operatic look. ‘Frank Miller’s graphic novel is amazing,’ Snyder says. ‘I thought if I could make the pictures move, I could create a cinematic experience audiences hadn’t had before. We realised we could get a lot more bang for our buck if we used blue screens and CG. But it’s hard to do digital interaction, so the rule of thumb was: anything the actors could touch, a spear, a rock, a wheat field, was real. And that helped the actors, because they had a stage to work on. Again, almost like performing an opera.’

The precursor to 300 is Sin City, Robert Rodriguez’ adaptation of Miller’s noirish crime comics in which the only thing aside from the actors that isn’t made of pixels is the bar that Jessica Alba’s stripper dances on. Aside from the visual similitude of the films (and of the films and comics), the 300 and Sin City movies are faithful to the shockingly wanton amorality of Miller’s source material. ‘The morality of the Spartans is not a modern morality,’ Snyder says. ‘They kill the wounded on the battlefield, and their own children if they’re not born physically fit. You’re on this journey with the Spartans, and they’re your guides. It screws with the convention of morality. In Berlin, someone said, “Your movie’s black and white.” Really? How, then, do you recognise the amorality of the Spartans?

‘And that,’ Snyder says triumphantly, ‘ is what I love about the movie.’

300 is on general release from Fri 23 Mar. See profile.

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