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Graphic novel 'Xerxes' blazes on the big screen.

"300: Rise of an Empire," told in the breathtaking visual style of the blockbuster "300," is a new chapter of the epic saga, which takes the action to a new battlefield--the sea.

The story pits the Greek general Themistokles against the massive invading Persian forces, ruled by the mortal-turned-god Xerxes, and led by Artemisia, the vengeful commander of the Persian navy.

The sequel to the 2007 hit '300' is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel 'Xerxes.'

Knowing his only hope of defeating the overwhelming Persian armada will be to unite all of Greece, Themistokles ultimately leads the charge that will change the course of the 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.

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 doing this.'"

"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 could stand alone.

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.

EMOTIONAL AND ENGROSSING

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 did."

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."

RISE OF THE GOD-KING

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.

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."

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 throughout production."

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Publication:Manila Bulletin
Date:Mar 8, 2014
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