When Zack Snyder’s 300 was released back in 2007 it proved to be an absolute goliath at the box office. Featuring a new and distinctive visual style that involved the use of a lot of green screen to create a more comic book-like effect, the film shattered March box office records of the time with a $70 million opening, and ultimately made more than $450 million globally.
Now, after many years of development, the movie’s sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, is finally nearing its release date. But while we’re still a couple of months away from seeing it in theaters, back in the summer of 2012 I got a special sneak peek at the film when I got to fly to Sofia, Bulgaria and, along with a small group of other movie journalists, had the chance to visit the set.
Based on a script by Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, who also co-wrote the first movie, the sequel is inspired by the real Battle of Artemisium, the great naval battle between the Greeks and the Persians that was fought concurrently with the Spartan battle at Thermopylae. The story will follow the tale of Athenian general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) as he works to unite the armed forces of Greece against the invading Persian forces. The film will also delve into the history of Xerxes, the god king of Persia (played by the returning Rodrigo Santoro), and introduce Artemisia (Eva Green), the commander of the Persian army who is fueled by vengeance against the Greeks.
It was that vengeance that was at the center of what we actually got to watch being filmed. Set on board Artemisia’s ship, the first version of the scene featured Green emerging from behind a curtain and being followed by armed guards. Shouting to her men about the urgency of defeating Greece she proclaimed, "Show no mercy! Give no quarter! Today the last of their ships will be destroyed. Multiple takes were done of the scene, all with slight variation. At first the final line was merely whispered, while in later takes it was shouted with authority. The last version that was shot actually featured no dialogue at all, and weirdly enough it was that one that Murro seemed to like the most.
Snyder’s 300/ will long be remembered for its unique visual style (as well as loud proclamations regarding a certain Greek city-state), but for sequel director Noam Murro that is both a blessing and a curse. As the man responsible for the overall look of the movie, the filmmaker had to find a way to both maintain an aesthetic consistency while also being sure to leave his own artistic stamp on the material.
"I think we’re guests to a certain extent, Murro said when asked about the challenge. "I have responsibility as a guest to honor the house. I remember when 300 came out and it was just one of those things you just went, ‘What the fuck is this?’… Part of what makes this interesting, I think, from a thematical point of view, from a visual point of view, from any point of view really, is this is not a, this is a second story to a building. This is not a copy of suburbia. We’re not just building Type A building again. We’re building a second story to something that is complex."
Of course, as a co-writer and producer on the film, Snyder has also left his distinct mark on the sequel, and his presence behind the scenes inspired the new director. Most important in Murro’s mind, however, is that the Man of Steel filmmaker let him make the movie that he wanted to make. "He gives you the freedom and the wisdom and, really, if you pressed me I couldn’t tell you one bad thing about that relationship."