Thursday, 6 March 2014

'300: Rise Of An Empire' takes to the high seas

The idea for '300: Rise Of An Empire' came from comic creator Frank Miller, who was working on a follow-up graphic novel to 300, titled 'Xerxes'.

The idea for '300: Rise Of An Empire' came from comic creator Frank Miller, who was working on a follow-up graphic novel to 300, titled 'Xerxes'.

This 'sequel' looks beyond the valiant 300 Spartan warriors in the first movie.

THIS is not Sparta. Well, it sort of is. There’s bits and pieces of Sparta, some of Athens and other parts of Greece, but for the most part, 300: Rise of An Empire (ROAE) is not exactly a sequel to 300.

“It’s not a straight sequel,” said Zack Snyder, co-producer of the movie and director of the hugely popular 300. “They kind of overlap, which we felt was more interesting than say, a zombie movie about 300 Spartans! Which is kind of a great idea too ...”

Speaking about the movie during an international press conference in Los Angeles, Snyder said that the initial idea for ROAE came from legendary comic creator Frank Miller, who was working on a follow-up graphic novel to 300 titled Xerxes (to be released this month as well).

“With 300, they all died and that was it,” he said. “Then Frank came to us and said he was interested in this other story about the Persian commander ... and the next thing we knew, we had a movie to make!”

Unfortunately, Snyder had already committed to making Superman movie Man Of Steel at the time, so he was unable to take on the directing reins himself.

Enter Noam Murro, a relatively unknown director best known for his acclaimed work with commercials, and whose only feature film in his resume was 2008 indie flick Smart People, starring Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker and Ellen Page.

“I saw the first movie, and it was mind-boggling to see something like that. I think it really changed the way you see these movies made,” Murro said. “The question with this movie was how to take it forward, visually and story-wise.

“I was very fortunate to get to work with Zack. He’s a filmmaker who allows you freedom to create and expand as you want, and can still be a sounding board to whom I can come back to with questions. Zack understands where to let go and where to hold you back.”

A naval engagement in 300: Rise Of An Empire.

The film sees Rodrigo Santoro reprising his role as Xerxes, the God King of Persia whom the 300 Spartan warriors fought so valiantly (but ultimately futilely) against in the first movie. It also stars Sullivan Stapleton, Lena Headey, Eva Green, Callan Mulvey, Hans Matheson, and Jack O’Connell.

As the title suggests, ROAE is about the rise of Xerxes to the Persian throne, and his invasion of Greece. Running somewhat parallel to events that take place in 300 (certain scenes from that movie as well as some returning characters help to frame this timeline neatly), it expands the world of 300 to a wider scope, taking us out of Sparta to see what lies beyond the Hot Gates that King Leonidas and his brave 300 soldiers fought so hard to defend.

Just as 300 was based on the historic Battle of Thermopylae, this follow-up also spends much of its time around two pivotal battles during Persian’s second invasion of Greece during 480-479 BC - the Battle of Artemisium, and the Battle of Salamis.

Historical accuracy

In the movie, these two battles are naval engagements fought between the Persian fleet led by the ruthless Artemesia I of Caria (played here by a formidable Green), and the united Greek forces led by Greek war hero and general Themistocles of Athens (Stapleton).

The opportunity to take the fight to the seas was also one of the factors that convinced Snyder that this was a movie worth making.

According to Snyder, Murro had pitched the idea of having a sea battle that would use some of the language of 300, that would then expand into a bigger thing.

“That was all I needed to hear, and that’s what he did!” said Snyder. “Then when Kurt (Johnson, co writer of the script) and I started to do the writing, we just sort of inserted the idea that the story of first movie existed somewhere far away.”

At first, it may seem like Xerxes may be the focal point of the movie, but it quickly becomes clear that the actual pillars of ROAE are actually the two female characters – Headey’s Queen Gorgo of Sparta, and Green’s Artemesia.

Headey, who spent most of the first movie talking to the Spartan Council, may have slightly less screen time this time, but her role is no less important. Besides being the story’s narrator for most of the movie, she also gets to see some sword-swinging action as well.

“That’s why I came back!” she said with a wry smile, adding that the two characters are out for revenge in a different way, and that affects the way they fight. “One is morally questionable and the other is morally strong. I think there’s a difference there in the way that each one would fight.”

Being the only female leads in a sea of topless, muscly men, Headey and Green found it a bit distracting at first to be on set.

“In the beginning, you can’t help but look! But after a while, you get a little bored of it,” Green said with a laugh.

If Eva Green looks familiar to you, that's because she played Bond girl Vesper Lynn in Casino Royale.
If Eva Green looks familiar, it's because she played Bond girl Vesper Lynn in Casino Royale.

The 33-year-old French-born actress, best known for her role as Bond girl Vesper Lynn in Casino Royale, will also be appearing in the upcoming Sin City: A Dame To Die For.

Despite her recent slew of comics based roles, however, she said that it didn’t matter that a movie is based on a graphic novel.

“I don’t think of it as a graphic novel. For me, it’s a script and story,” she explained. “This was a chance for me to play a very physical character, kind of a samurai figure fuelled by revenge.

“It was quite exciting to be able to fight with two swords, and feel like a man. It’s very empowering. I’m so far away from this character in real life, so it’s fun in a weird way!

Given that both 300 movies are based on graphic novels that are also loosely based on actual historical events, how much were the filmmakers concerned with historical accuracy?

“One of the things both films do is to tell a story that is told by a storyteller. In this film it is Lena’s character, and in the previous one it was David Wenham’s character,” said Johnson, adding that that allows the filmmakers to then push the envelope of what is historically accurate.

“You can push the limits of physicality and emotional and go up a 150% to not try to make a realistic film, but a more hyperrealistic film, more fantastical ... and push all the boundaries in the way we are telling the story.”

300: Rise Of An Empire opens in cinemas nationwide on March 6.

Related story:

Delving into Xerxes

Tags / Keywords: Entertainment , Entertainment , 300 , Rise Of An Empire , Lena Heady , Eva Green , Noam Murro , Frank Miller , Zack Snyder


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