300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE
About The Production
"For glory's sake. For vengence sake. WAR!"
In March 2007, the film "300" hit theatres worldwide, enthralling moviegoers
with its action-packed portrayal of Sparta's King Leonidas and his 300
brothers-in-arms who, though vastly outnumbered, heroically took their last
stand against the invading Persian forces, ruled by the God-King Xerxes. The
filmmakers, led by "300" writer/director Zack Snyder, brought the ancient legend
to life utilizing state-of-the-art filmmaking techniques, wherein the sets and
backgrounds existed entirely in a virtual world.
Inspired by the work of graphic novelist Frank Miller, "300" became a global
blockbuster, with its stunning imagery that set a new standard for the genre,
and unforgettable battle cries, which became part of the pop culture lexicon.
The film's success naturally spawned talk of a sequel; however, as Snyder points
out, there was one clear obstacle. "You saw the end of that movie-almost all the
main characters were dead, so I just felt that it was done."
There could not be a sequel in the traditional sense, but that did not mean
there were no more stories to be told. Snyder, who produced and co-wrote the
screenplay for "300: Rise of an Empire," recalls, "Frank Miller contacted me and
said he was working on an idea about an Athenian general named Themistokles, who
led the Greek Navy against the Persian Navy, which was commanded by this amazing
woman named Artemisia. When he told me it took place during the same three days
as Thermopylae, where Leonidas faced the Persians at the Hot Gates, and with an
equally significant outcome, I thought, 'Wow, that's very intriguing.' The next
thing I knew, he sent me an outline and some drawings and I said, 'Okay, we're
Producer Deborah Snyder notes, "What Frank came up with enabled us to revisit
the same time and place, while introducing new characters who are just as
inspiring and fun and have great depth to them. We wanted to up the ante from
the first movie with a really enjoyable ride that offers another level of drama
and, of course, tremendous action."
"The idea was to create a second story within the architecture of the first
film," says Noam Murro, who directed the film. "Thematically, it is in a similar
historical context, so it intersects with '300,' while coming from a different
perspective that is just as engaging."
Snyder reteamed with Kurt Johnstad, his writing partner from "300," to craft a
screenplay for the new film that, Johnstad emphasizes, "could stand alone, so
you won't need to have seen the first movie to follow the second. It runs on
parallel tracks that, every now and then, weave together. Not having to focus
solely on Sparta, we were able to widen the lens and involve the other Greek
city-states, particularly Athens, which is at the tipping point of democracy."
In addition to the Snyders and Johnstad, the film also reunited producers
Gianni Nunnari and Mark Canton, who initially developed and brought the original
"300" to the studio, and producer Bernie Goldmann, who also helped usher the
first film to the screen. They all agree that the story offered them the
opportunity to view the broader conflict that was unfolding at the time in
Greece. Depicting epic battles, brutal and bloody, the action shifts from the
land to the sea where the Greeks again face enormous odds.
Nunnari says, "It embraces the history in '300,' but Thermopylae was just one
fight in a war that lasted many years, so there was still a lot to explore in
the real and mythological stories of the time."
"That was the most exciting part," Goldmann says. "Zack and Kurt created a
script that complements the first movie, but it's an entirely different
battlefield. And these are not Spartans;
they are not professional soldiers who live for war. They are free men who must
make a decision to fight, and possibly die, for what they believe in."
Canton observes, "The whole Spartan concept of a 'beautiful death' was
stirring, but it was not a unifying philosophy. A unifying philosophy is the
every-man: the bakers, the potters, the poets; people who don't necessarily see
the world the same way but come together in a common cause. I think that is the
primary theme that makes this such a strong story."
Noam Murro, an award-winning commercial director, was chosen to take the helm
of this contiguous chapter of the "300" story after presenting his concepts for
the film to the producing team. Zack Snyder remembers, "He took the story in,
and then gave it back to us in a way that was emotional and engrossing. I was
intrigued and felt he would bring something fresh to that whole world, and he
Canton adds, "Noam is not only highly regarded as a terrific shooter, but he
also understands story and music and sound and is very technically skilled, so
it felt like a natural transition."
"He knew the challenge would be to make a movie that was respectful of the
first but stands on its own, and Noam met that challenge head on," Goldmann
states. "He is also a wonderful collaborator who surrounded himself with the
best team. He really welcomed their input and gave them the space to do their
best work, which I think only enhanced his vision."
The Greeks are called upon to fight under the leadership of one man,
Themistokles, who is part soldier and part politician and is using his abilities
as both in the pursuit of one goal. Sullivan Stapleton, who stars as the
Athenian general, remarks, "Whereas Leonidas rules Sparta in a very
authoritative, military style, Themistokles must be a great speaker to rally all
of Greece to fight as one. He knows, even then, they may be no match for the
Persians, but he loves his country and believes in this new idea of democracy.
The script gave me insight into what was at stake at that time."
Themistokles' very formidable adversary is Artemisia, who, Murro asserts, "is
also driven, but not by anything as idealistic as democracy; instead her
brutality is born of vengeance. They both believe deeply in their causes, as
different as they may be, and that makes it an interesting dynamic."
Taking on the role of the stunning but ruthless warrior, Eva Green says, "I
was able to do some research on her because she actually existed, although she's
quite a bit different in our film.
But a woman commander all those years ago was rather unusual, so she had to
have been exceptionally strong."
"It was fun to set up the circumstances for them to go at each other in this
fictionalized, mythological world," says Zack Snyder. "It's like a perpetual
motion machine; it just keeps feeding off itself."
Johnstad says, "One thing Zack and I have always been mindful of-and I think
Frank sets the bar high on this, too-is that this is a story that is thousands
of years old, but it should never sound thousands of years old. There is a
modern, aggressive quality to the dialogue; not only the male but also the
female characters have attitude and snap in a graphic novel sense. So there is a
certain luxury working with pieces that Frank creates because he writes cool,
hip, dark stuff that you can expand either backwards or forward on the timeline
of history, and it still resonates because it feels true."
In "300: Rise of an Empire," it is revealed how Xerxes became a God-King, a
metamorphosis in which Themistokles and Artemisia each played a significant
part. Rodrigo Santoro, who again portrays the magnificently adorned Persian
ruler, says, "In the first film, you had no idea where he came from, so seeing
his transformation brings more dimension to this character, and you understand
the power behind his throne."
Lena Headey reprises her role of the Spartan Queen Gorgo, who now acts as
both observer and leader. Deborah Snyder explains, "Gorgo is our storyteller;
it's her voice that guides us through the film. She is such a strong female
character and adds a whole other layer to the story, because she connects us to
the past and to the present."
As with the first film, almost all of the sets and environments for "300:
Rise of an Empire" were achieved virtually, meaning that everyone on the stage,
from the actors to the crew, had to visualize in their mind's eye what the
audience would be seeing. There was also the added challenge that the battles
would be waged on the heaving decks of ships at sea instead of on solid ground.
Nunnari offers, "It can be difficult to work on water in general, but imagine
having to create a large body of water on screen and then having to stage huge
fight sequences on it. A lot of new technologies went into making this movie."
"We wanted to shape the imagery so it was consistent with the visual language
of '300' but not exactly the same," Zack Snyder says. "We started asking how it
could live in the same realm while being completely separate. I think the
answers they came up with were very cool."
Murro relates, "From the beginning, Zack said the movie has an aesthetic that
stems from the first film but with a larger scope. He said, 'Open it up. Find a
new way.' And he was incredibly supportive of everyone's efforts to do that
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