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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bald eagle returns to Philadelphia after 200 years
By Jon Hurdle Mon

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - America's national emblem is nesting in Philadelphia for the first time in more than 200 years but it may be on a collision course with developers.

A pair of bald eagles, a species that has recovered from the brink of extinction in the last 40 years, has built a nest in a former Navy yard on the south side of Philadelphia, the sixth-largest U.S. city and where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were written.

"They have eggs in the nest and you can tell they are incubating by their behavior," said Doug Gross, an endangered bird specialist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The birds' survival may be threatened by plans for a $150 million produce market and a new marine terminal in the Navy yard, and by an expected move to lessen the official protection of the eagles because of their strong rebound.

The state agency checked official records of breeding bald eagles in Philadelphia and was unable to find any over the last two centuries, said Jerry Feaser, a spokesman.

The bald eagle, depicted on the Great Seal of the United States, was almost wiped out by the pesticide DDT and by habitat loss in the mid-20th Century but has come back thanks to federal protections and improved water quality.

The U.S. population has grown to about 7,000 pairs from a low of 487 in 1963, the service says. In Pennsylvania, there were 117 nesting pairs in 2006, up from two or three in the early 1970s, Gross said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced it will decide whether to remove the bald eagle from the federal list of threatened and endangered species by June 29.

The appearance of breeding bald eagles in the midst of an urban area like Philadelphia is an exciting development and particularly welcome in a city so important to early U.S. history, Gross said.

"This national symbol is now nesting in what used to be the capital of the United States," Gross said.

Battle over Bruno the bear's body
By Steve Rosenberg
BBC News, Berlin

Bruno the bear, 25 June 06

A diplomatic row has broken out between Germans and Italians over a bear shot dead by Bavarian hunters last summer.

Rome is demanding Bruno the bear back, claiming he is Italian state property.

But despite a request from the German government, the Bavarian state environment minister is refusing to hand the brown bear's body over.

Bruno wandered from Italy to Germany via Austria and was gunned down after eating 30 sheep, four rabbits and a guinea pig.


Bruno took a tragic wrong turn in becoming the first brown bear to have been spotted in Germany for 170 years.

Bavarian hunters ended his life - but not the story.

Nine months on, the Italians are demanding Bruno's body back. All 100kg of it.

But the Bavarians have blown the idea that Bruno is Italian state property out of the water.

As far as they are concerned, since Bruno died on Bavarian soil - the carcass is theirs to keep.

They plan to stuff him and put him on display in a local museum.

Germany's federal government tried to intervene on the side of the Italians.

But the Bavarians will not budge.

As for the late bear himself, as long as Bruno's fate remains unclear, he will remain in a freezer somewhere in Bavaria.

Group finds toad the size of a small dog
The Associated Press

DARWIN, Australia - An environmental group said Tuesday it had captured a "monster" toad the size of a small dog.

With a body the size of a football and weighing nearly 2 pounds, the toad is among the largest specimens ever captured in Australia, according to Frogwatch coordinator Graeme Sawyer.

"It's huge, to put it mildly," he said. "The biggest toads are usually females but this one was a rampant male ... I would hate to meet his big sister."

Frogwatch, which is dedicated to wiping out a toxic toad species that has killed countless Australian animals, picked up the 15-inch-long cane toad during a raid on a pond outside the northern city of Darwin late Monday.

Cane toads were imported from South America during the 1930s in a failed attempt to control beetles on Australia's northern sugar cane plantations. The poisonous toads have proven fatal to Australia's delicate ecosystems, killing millions of native animals from snakes to the small crocodiles that eat them.

As part of its so-called "Toad Buster" project, Frogwatch conducts regular raids on local water holes, blinding the toads with bright lights then scooping them up by the dozen.

"We kill them with carbon dioxide gas, stockpile them in a big freezer and then put them through a liquid fertilizer process" that renders the toads nontoxic, Sawyer said.

"It turns out to be sensational fertilizer," he added.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

By Jon Meacham

April 2, 2007 Issue - He was exhausted, but he wanted to talk to his daughter, and the only way to do that in Fallujah was to write a letter. "This war is not like the big war—there are no big sweeping maneuvers with hundreds of tanks pouring over the border and so forth," Army Maj. Michael Mundell told his 17-year-old, Erica (nicknamed "Eddie"), on Friday, Oct. 27, 2006. "It's a fight of 10 man squads in the dark, of ambushes and snipers and IEDs. When I go out to fight, it's usually with less than 20 men ... And I go out to fight almost every day."
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The pace, he admitted, was punishing.

"We are weary, Eddie, so very weary. I can't tell you how bone tired I am. There are times when we get back in and ... it is all I can do to drag myself from the truck and stagger up here to take off all the junk I gotta wear ... " His tone briefly brightened as he thought of Erica's life back home, where she was a senior at Meade County High School in Brandenburg, Ky.: "Tell all of your friends and your teachers that I said hello from Fallujah. I am doing well and our battalion is considered the best in the brigade. We are fighting the enemy and hopefully winning, though that is difficult to measure." He signed off with a pledge: "Never forget that your daddy loves you more than anything and that I will be home soon." Mundell could not keep that last promise. At a quarter to 2 on the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 5, 2007, he was killed by an IED while on patrol in Fallujah; the casket was closed at his funeral in Kentucky.

Never forget that your daddy loves you: As a soldier, husband, father and casualty of war, Michael Mundell is one of at least 3,230 Americans who have died in the struggle for Iraq. He was 47 years old and left behind his wife, Audrey, and four children, all under 18. By itself, Mundell's story is sad but familiar, even predictable. Wars have always made women widows and children orphans. When Mundell was laid to rest in a hillside cemetery in Irvington, Ky., he joined the solemn company of America's fallen warriors—men and women who become objects of veneration, commemorated, in Lincoln's words, as the "honored dead" who "gave the last full measure of devotion." They are garlanded and buried beneath white marble, revered but silenced.

Yet they still have stories to tell, stories that bear hearing, and remembering. In letters and journals and e-mails, the war dead live on, their words—urgent, honest, unself-conscious—testament to the realities of combat. What do they have to say to us? This special issue of NEWSWEEK is an attempt to answer that question. We have collected the correspondence of American soldiers at war in Iraq, accounts written not for the public but for those they loved—wives, husbands, children, parents, siblings. Each of the warriors whose words are excerpted here died in the line of duty. Each of their families chose to share their stories with us, and with you. "It's become very important to me that these soldiers and Marines are viewed as individuals with lives, dreams, experiences and families," says Terri Clifton, whose son, Marine Lance Cpl. Chad Clifton, was killed by a mortar in Anbar province. "They aren't cardboard cutouts in shades of red, white and blue."

No matter where one stands on the decision to invade or on the conduct of the conflict over the last four years, the Iraq War is indisputably a curious thing. For the first time in the experience of any living American, we have sent an all-volunteer force overseas to advance our interests for a prolonged period, and virtually nothing has been asked of the vast majority of those who do not have loved ones in the line of fire. The bargain is hardly fair. If we take the president at his word, the men and women of the armed forces are fighting and dying over there so that you and I will not have to face mortal danger over here.

The administration may be right about this; it is impossible to know now. As wrong as the White House has been about the premise of the war (the presence of weapons of mass destruction) and about the way we would be received (as "liberators," in Vice President Dick Cheney's formulation) and about the conduct of the conflict once Saddam fell (we were unprepared for the sectarian bloodbath), history moves according to its own rhythms, not according to news cycles or presidential terms. Despite the depressing state of play on the ground, things may yet turn out better than most Americans suspect—or fear.

The families who co-operated with NEWSWEEK did not do so to make unified political statements; their views are as divergent as the broad public's. "It's not an issue of being antiwar or pro-war, anti-Bush or pro-Bush," says Larry Page, whose son Rex died in action. "The real issue is that our young people are there, and they need and deserve our support. My son said to me in one of his phone calls from Iraq: 'Dad, we've taken the fight to them. If we don't fight them here, we will fight them on the streets of America. They proved that at 9/11. We don't want IEDs and suicide bombers on the streets of America.' My son and 3,000 others bravely gave their lives so that you and I could live in liberty and freedom." That is one view; there are, to say the least, others. "The words of our fallen soldiers bear silent witness to their valiant effort to do their best on our behalf," says Paul R. Petty, who lost his son Christopher. "They have not been defeated in battle, but neither were they given the wherewithal to achieve the desired result. Ill-conceived notions of a foreign culture led us to believe we could accomplish our goals easily and on the cheap." The point that unites them is grief—and the centrality of the human story of war.

History, like memory, is selective. Reporters observe; historians imagine; aging soldiers spin threads of experience into tapestries of story. Veterans who come home and talk about what happened can never really re-create what it was like, or even what it really felt like, for, as Shakespeare noted, old men forget, and what they do not forget they tend to "remember with advantage." This is not to say that the survivors embellish on purpose. It is to say, though, that memory is not always a reliable witness. Painful details are suppressed; context is lost; events are elided, often unconsciously, in order to make the inchoate choate.

The kind of history in this issue is the most bracing kind of recollection, for it is barely recollection at all. It is more like collection, as the warriors record what is happening to them virtually as it happens. The result is a window on Iraq we have not had before: the bravery, the fear and the chaos of war, and the loves and hates and dreams and nightmares of the warriors. Things are incredibly busy, then they are not. The Iraqis are welcoming, then they are not. The war is going well, then it is not. The mission makes sense, then it does not. Here is Mundell, in late August 2006: "This will be short, as time is very short, as usual.

"The happenings of late: we continue to get mortared, with an occasional RPG shot at us thrown in for fun ... A little girl was killed yesterday in a cross fire between our Iraqis, the Marines and the bad guys. Sad.

"Folks, I am very tired. We seem to be doing little, the city is mostly trash, rubble and AIF [Anti-Iraq Forces], and frankly I am tired of being a walking bull's-eye for anyone with an AK and nothing better to do, which includes most of the populace, apparently. We have found three IEDs before they could explode under our trucks.

"Sorry this isn't funny or upbeat—there is nothing funny or upbeat to talk about right now. People are dying like flies here and I am sick of it."

The warriors whose voices you will hear are, like Mundell's, more often interested in survival than in grand strategy. "A lot of people are ready to go home," said Army Sgt. Patrick Tainsh shortly after the invasion in 2003. "They can't wait to eat pizza or have a Dr Pepper. It doesn't matter to me. Nothing matters except to do my job and bring my guys and myself home. Not for pizza and for D.P. but for sanctuary." They are unsentimental, and have little patience for frivolity. In the fall of 2006 Mundell's radio operator, Joseph R. Pugsley, read about an animals' rights protest over how Ben & Jerry's treated the chickens that lay the eggs for the company's ice cream. He could hardly believe it. "Joe feels that these people have entirely too much time on their hands," Mundell reported home. " 'God, are they stupid! Get a life'," Pugsley said. ("There was more," Mundell added, "but most of it was rather obscene.")

The violence is pervasive, inescapable. "My tank took another RPG this a.m. for a grand total of 8," Army First Lt. Kenneth Ballard wrote his mother from Najaf in May 2004. "It has turned into almost a game of sorts. They shoot, we get hit, we shoot back, killing them most of the time, only to repeat it all over again somewhere else in the city."

And so it goes on, and on, in places like Najaf, Baghdad, Fallujah and Anbar province, places that are only names on the news. It is difficult for many Americans to explain how all the pieces of the war fit together, or what separates a Sunni from a Shia, or what a stable Iraq would look like. This has been a strangely contextless conflict. There is no consistent narrative, no battles to follow or specific victories to pray for. We do not have a president to tell us these things, for George W. Bush has chosen to forgo the example of the greatest American war leader of the 20th century, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who spoke often of the war, of its progress and its perils. "The news is going to get worse and worse before it begins to get better," Roosevelt told the country in February 1942. "The American people must be prepared for it and they must get it straight from the shoulder." Sacrifice was shared, and no one was exempt. All four of FDR's sons were in uniform, as were those of his chief political adviser, Harry Hopkins, who lost a son, Peter, in the Marshall Islands.

A year after Fort Sumter, the philosopher John Stuart Mill contributed a piece to Harper's Magazine entitled "The Contest in America." Army Maj. David Taylor, who was killed in action on Oct. 22, 2006, always carried a quotation from the essay with him; it was found in his effects after he died. Mill's argument: some things are worth dying for. "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things," Mill wrote. "A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for ... is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

What emerges from the following pages is the sense that the fallen are better men, and women. "We are really fine so long as we have each other over here," Ballard wrote home, and he meant it. Nations go to war over ideas and politics, but minds can change and politics may shift. By their very nature, matters of state are fluid and inconstant. What is constant in war is the humanity of the warrior, and the pain of those left behind, who reach for hands they can no longer touch and listen for voices they can no longer hear, except in the words you are about to read.

Unless otherwise stated, all images are courtesy of the troops' families.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Dumb, noisy - and in love with violence
The film of Frank Miller's graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae is a bloody, bone-severing spectacle that's more stirring than it has any right to be
By Sukhdev Sandhu

Heads will roll: 300 tells the story of the epic battle between a tiny
band of Spartans and the massed ranks of King Xerxes's Persians

Zack Snyder's 300 has been rained down on with the slings and arrows of critical contempt. Not without reason: this adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel about the 480BC Battle of Thermopylae between the Spartans and the Persians is dumb, noisy and totally in love with the violence it depicts.

Still, if you thought the action in Apocalypto was tame, you will love the bloody, bone-severing spectacle on display here. Anyone who thrills to the sight of freshly decapitated heads spinning across the screen or of soldiers spearing each other in the eye will have a great time. If you think that means mainly adolescent boys, well, Snyder would agree; filmmakers, he said recently, "need to get in touch with their inner 15-year-old boy".

What a great story this is. The Spartans, a race of hard-bodied, buttock-clenched warriors, go head-to-head against tawny, fleshpot-loving pansies under the control of King Xerxes. It's the kind of clash of civilisations that Samuel Huntington and neo-cons have been talking up these past few years. One small problem: the Spartans number only 300, plus a few auxiliaries, while the Asiatic hordes are over 250,000-strong.

Gerard Butler, last seen in The Phantom of the Opera, plays King Leonidas, who, even as an infant, was taught that boys will not be boys but Athenian-scorning, abs-flexing, digitally-enhanced six-pack-sporting man-mountains with a tendency to bellow rather than to talk at a sensible volume. And to roar grand statements about the need for freedom and honour, and the importance of living in "a world free from mysticism and tyranny". Not a hint of a smirk passes his lips: this, whatever its many failings, is a film that is deadly earnest.

Snyder, together with his fellow writers Kurt Johnstad and Michael B Gordon, spends a little more time on Leonidas's love life than Miller's book did: his wife Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) is told by ratbag politician Theron (Dominic West) that more troops will be sent to the Spartan frontline if she sleeps with him. But the real love interest in this film is that of the camera for the soldiers' breeze-block pecs and sweaty brows. It shows us each wound and cut and grime-smear with an attention that is close to rapture.

300 is guilty of visual flatness. The actors performed their parts against blue-screen backdrops. It shows: too many frames are static, looking like panels lifted straight from the pages of Miller's novel. It's all very well for Snyder to respect the original comic book; it's another to create a celluloid pastiche of it.

The CGI effects, tacked on to Larry Fong's hit-and-miss photography, seem cheap and nasty, transparently pixellated and lacking dynamics. Many shots appear to be based on Athena posters and old Guinness ad-campaigns. Battlefields look as if they have been laid with portions of Shredded Wheat, while the rising dawn resembles a bottle of 1970s face-cream. Clomping music and a fussy voiceover don't help matters.

Yet 300 picks up as it goes along. Who could resist fight scenes between bare-chested Spartans and war-rhinos, metal-masked "immortals" and firework-pelting Mongols? Who wouldn't laugh at a hunch-backed ugly having a gaggle of swarthy lesbians nuzzling their breasts in his face as a reward for swapping sides?

One doesn't have to be a perpetual adolescent to marvel at the scene in which the Spartans fell their enemies by pushing a mountain of corpses over them. Matrix-style slo-mo is used to potent effect in the culminating face-off. By the end, you feel - almost - moved by the sorrow and the pity of this mother of all battles. Who'd have thought it?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Graphic battle's a triumph
Ilford Recorder

THE TWO may have been in existence for roughly the same amount of time, but 100 years on, the motion picture has at last caught up with the infinite visual possibilities of the comic strip.

At least, that's how it feels after watching 300 (15) - Dawn of the Dead director Zack Snyder's adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel.

Miller's is a name that will be familiar to fans of Sin City - a cinema hit two years ago - but comics fans have been savouring his work for the best part of three decades.

He cut his teeth writing and drawing superheroes Daredevil and Batman before creating his own characters. But 300 marked a departure as it was "based on true events" (as film folk would put it).

It is a ferocious retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae, in which the Spartan king Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and 300 of his finest warriors fought to the death to stem an invasion by Xerxes and his million-man Persian army.

Facing insurmountable odds, their courage and sacrifice inspired the other Greek states to unite against the Persians, effectively drawing a line in the sand for western democracy as we know it.

What does need to be said about this film is that it is astonishingly violent. Which is fine in the context of the battle scenes, provided you can stomach a beheading or two.

Here and elsewhere, the use of live actors against computer-generated backgrounds has enabled Snyder to bring the look and feel of Miller's book to vibrant life.

Effects-laden as 300 is, it only rarely feels like you're watching a cartoon. Instead, here is a film with an atmosphere all of its own, with fine performances from all the lead actors, and a script honed to a cutting edge during the seven years it was in the works.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Free Lance-Star



Though this is a battle epic few can match, there's a beauty and a noble nature to this film.

It's the kind that comes from total commitment to a cause: here, the notion of a free and unyielding Sparta.

That's delivered in this film through gleaming biceps, rippling abs, thrown spears and arrow-riddled shields, all wrapped up in more testosterone than has ever before been squeezed into a single film.

While some might dismiss this story of 300 brave Spartans holding off hordes of Persians at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. as just another battle flick, most won't.

With Gerard Butler creating a King Leonidas we sympathize with and pull for, each frame of this movie that echoes the tone of "Braveheart" is beautifully shot and artfully staged.

When the Spartan king we've seen formed in the crucible of a warrior's upbringing goes against a horde so large it fills the horizon, it seems a death wish.

But as the film proceeds and the bravery and tactics of the warriors show them to be almost Herculean, it's hard not to pull for them.

Yes, the film is bloody and filled with men being speared, cut, shot with arrows and more.

But unlike modern-day gorefests awash in blood, these battle sequences almost have an animated, comic-book feel. The action often proceeds in slow motion or on a screen where all colors but black and red seem to fade from sight.

From wheat fields to the narrow pass where Leonidas bids his wife goodbye, the screen is alternately ablaze or doused with dark hues where battle rages.

All in all, it's more than you'd expect from any 300 a filmmaker could muster.

Rated R for graphic battle sequences throughout, some sexuality and nudity. [RF, RA, M]

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Truth, justice, and the Spartan way
Zack Snider’s 300: surprisingly conservative despite outrageous violence
By Matthew Leon
The McGill Daily

Nearly naked Spartans will run at you if you go see 300 at the IMAX.

Fans of circus sideshows, carny tents, and anatomical protuberances, rejoice; your spectacle has arrived. Odds are high that you’ve seen the trailer for 300, Zack Snyder’s rightist retelling of the battle of Thermopylae. With its machine-gun shots of a beardy, bare-chested King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) endlessly bellowing “SPAAAAARTA,” 300 is best experienced in an IMAX theatre, where a single Hellenic nipple can occupy the real-estate normally reserved for swirling galaxies and belching volcanoes. It is just what its trailer calls it – “the first movie event of the year.”

There’s not much more to this flick’s story than what you’d catch in two hot minutes of YouTube action. Like the cartoony, neo-conish view of the world its director seeks to promote, 300’s colour-coded Manichaeism makes The Lord of the Rings trilogy look like an exercise in subtlety. This time around, the forces of good are incarnated by an army of painstakingly depilated Spartan he-men, and the bad guys don’t just wear black, they are Black! Or at least, the warty, deformed hordes of Asia are led by African generals, along with a harem of convulsive lesbians, an enormous mutant rhino, and some kind of bloated omelette catastrophe with lobster-claw hands.

Pierced, polished, and looking absolutely fabulous in golden chain-mail skivvies is their leader, the androgyne emperor Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), whose voice plays Barry White to Leonidas’s Screamin’ Jay. All he asks is that Leonidas make one measly bow in supplication in exchange for rule over all of Greece, loot beyond his wildest imagination, and probably some lesbians, too. Sounds like a sweet deal, but hey, wouldn’t you know, the Spartan king isn’t quite ready to get on his knees. Within half an hour, Whitey’s mowing down the dirty coloureds like it’s Black Hawk Down 2. Yeehaw!

Based on the Frank Miller comic of the same name, Snyder’s fratty fable plays fast and loose with history – which isn’t a problem in and of itself. Snyder claims that he wanted to tell his story in the manner of a chest-beating campfire fable meant to rally the troops. As if to drive the point home, the entire ordeal, like some curling match from hell, is constantly narrated by some recent graduate of the Spartan school of redundancy (“His shield was heavy! His target was far away!”)

In interviews, Snyder has dodged questions regarding the political orientation of his film, claiming that he intended to draw no parallel to the American situation in Iraq. But his own record as a director suggests otherwise. In his previous film, a brilliant (no, I am not being sarcastic) re-engineering of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Snyder swiftly neutralized the original’s leftist moral payload. Fair enough. Romero’s anti-consumerist message would come off as awfully trite in the post 9/11 shop-till-you-drop frenzy.

But this time around, Snyder has taken the opposite strategy, foisting a new series of political intrigues on his source material. In the film version of Miller’s tale, Leonidas is fashioned into a warrior renegade who must break the law of the land to go preserve the mantle of civilization. Sound familiar? What’s more, while Leonidas is off spilling eastern blood in the name of all that is White and Pure, his Queen is embroiled in the machinations of the traitor Theron, a self-described “realist” (read: Democrat) secretly in the service of Persia.

Of course, most people will come to 300 for the pretty pictures, and I can’t think of a more deliciously campy work of warnography to hit celluloid in the past ten years – if ever. And that audience will be carnally satisfied by the film’s barrage of digital antics, with each slo-mo severed head – and there are plenty – giving off a triumphantly ejaculatory spurt of blood. And Snyder throws in more than enough show-stopping shots; besides the aforementioned lobster/omelette, watch out for the tree made of human flesh. Not that you’d miss it.

Yes, 300 is pretty. There is even a grotesque kind of beauty, call it reverse-Dada, to the Bosch-inspired fresco of corpses that flashes before the film’s finale. And so what if this may be the most racist, politically regressive blockbuster in recent Hollywood history? It’s fun. And that’s what counts, right?

300 is playing at various theatres across Montreal. For theatres and showtimes visit

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

INTERVIEW: Gerard Butler for '300'
A chat with King Leonidas himself.
By Brad Brevet

Aside from special effects, blood, raging rhinos and an elaborate imagination one thing necessary to bring the film adaptation 300 to life was an actor that could take the lead role of King Leonidas and own it. Director Zack Snyder found his man in Gerard Butler and by the time the film is over you too will believe in the Spartan King.

Before now Butler was known as a good actor, but his talents were limited to either smaller films, smaller roles or what some may call "more artsy" films, which includes 2004's The Phantom of the Opera in which Butler played the singing spectre. He played Dracula in Dracula 2000 and carried out roles in Reign of Fire, Tomb Raider and Timeline, but it wasn't until now that he forces you to remember him and believe me when I say, you will remember him.

Along with several other online "press" I had the chance to sit down and chat with the Scottish star. Enjoy!

How do you approach a character like Leonidas, who in the book is between history and myth? How do you prepare for a character that exists between those worlds?

Gerard Butler (GB): There's always an element of balancing that has to go on. I think that it's really trying to strike a balance between many things without getting too caught up in the different technical elements. I've never come across a character quite as powerful and intense and as charismatic as this guy, and as bad-ass, I mean, he's a fucker. Yet, you know that you have to rise to that element that it goes past even epic and it becomes comic book. But at the same time, to only do that and never give him a heart and a soul, then the whole thing means nothing. It involves choosing your moments.

For me, I really focused on becoming as big and as strong and as confident in those things as I could possibly be. Even doing a lot of working out just before the takes, and constantly doing that. Every time I trained, it made me feel more like a Spartan, more like a king, more like I was impressing my men and more like they would be willing to follow me. Also, that fire is burning inside you, and then you can go completely the opposite way. I literally walked around Montreal with my shoulders back and my chest up. Just that feeling of real inner-confidence.

Then you can fun with the other things because it was actually difficult to suck all that in and let out... He had a lot of things going on. There's an arrogance there, there's a confidence, there's a humor, there's a dryness, there's a passion, there's a certain amount of humanity, and then, the guy is a nut job. I mean, he's crazy, and there's a fearlessness that borders on insane. To try to get all those in, with a man who really doesn't talk that much was a challenge, and then to do it all in front of a green screen. There's a way of doing it and there's a way of talking about it and as you can see I'm not very good at talking about it. [laughing]

Those were really your abs in the film?

GB: Yeah, I tried to borrow someone else's, but they wouldn't give them up. That was seven months of training.

There was always a part of me going, 'Okay, am I going to stop doing this?' But I really was really kind of happy and surprised that I kept it up. I kind of became, I think, a bit addicted to it or perhaps addicted to the advantages it was giving me. Because after a certain point, I never once felt silly or strange standing in my cape, that started to become, just a couple of days after putting it on, one of my biggest allies. Wearing that costume and feeling so strong and that your body was an intimidating factor and an inspiring factor for your army, as we all were. I mean, you're surrounded by probably a few tons of muscle, and when you pull that together and pull that spirit together and have nothing but focus and belief and pure intention... the power of that! You become a thousand times stronger. It actually makes sense that you could hold off an invading army that doesn't have that belief, that are in disarray, that you could hold them off quite easily.

In terms of creating a character, is it harder if you're behind a mask as you were in Phantom of the Opera?

GB: I've had to play characters where there's a difficulty of expression. Maybe that's what I like to do, though. I started acting kind out of nowhere, I started in theater, and actually my biggest thing when I started acting was people were always saying, 'Great, but bring it down. Bring it down.' And the more I brought it down, the more I started to trust what I could genuinely feel and say the less that I did, then suddenly roles like Phantom became a beautiful thing to do. To try and say so many things while one, singing, and two, wearing a mask, means that you have very little ways. It's really in the eyes.

It's the same with Leonidas in some ways because he can't be expressive in a modern way, throwing his hands around, winking - you lose all of that. To me, if there was one moment in this film, if you were to see him suddenly be weak, the audience would lose faith in that. So, no matter what else you were trying to express, it would always have to come from a foundation of absolute power and strength and solidity and gravitas.

At what point in the production, did you realize this movie was going to be incredible?

GB: When I saw it. [laugh] No, I almost want to say that I had a kind of psychic feeling about it. Before I even knew what it was about, when Greg Silverman at Warner Bros. said, 'Have you heard about this movie 300?' I don't know what it is, but just the title, 300, was so simple and strong. It's like a strong guy with a shaved head - this is it, here I am, I'm not hiding behind anything. That was the one advantage of the Phantom by the way - you could also hide behind that mask.

I kind of knew there was just something cool about it. Then they explained the story and I was like, 'Wow!' As you know, it's my kind of story, but it also felt like a story with a twist, the way our heroes formed their morality, their methods, between each other and against the enemy. Then I took a look at the graphic novel and saw the three-minute piece that they did, I thought, 'Oh my God, this is insane. If this could be even a tenth of what I saw in that test, with the story that already exists here, then we're on to something really cool.'

They had a hard time green-lighting it, and sometimes that's a good thing because you know what you're not making is something mainstream. You're making a vision, and that vision often really has to be impressed upon people. People have to be turned in and clicked into what that vision is.

Which was another great thing about the film because I feel like Warner Bros. just kind of said, 'Alright, listen, Zack [Snyder], you obviously get this. This is a lot of stuff we don't really get at what you're trying to do, but we trust that we have something here. So just go off and do it.' In that respect, it often felt like an independent film. We were just doing our own thing. I was amazed at some of the changes, big changes, that we would come up with, just through our conversation on set. We were about to film and it's like, 'Why don't we cut all that?' or, 'Why not I just don't say all that? It's probably going to be more powerful.'

What was the training regime like?

GB: I trained seven months, pretty solidly. I was doing six hours a day. I took the film trainer, but I also kept my own trainer. It was kind of a political decision because they didn't want me to have my own trainer, but I knew I had to increase bulk as well. For me, just for me. So I did that, and I also trained with two of the stunt guys two hours a day here in the Valley. It was like 120 degrees outside, it was so hot. Then I did the same in Montreal, I took my own trainer outside the film and then this crazy Venezuelan body builder called Franco LiCastro, who had views on everything, but it was great. He just became like my little buddy. He was so passionate about my training. I trained with everybody I could. And I kept it up and I pumped in between all the shots as well to feel all that intensity. I did a lot.

How much of the film is you and how is your stunt double, especially in that long sequence where you take out like 20 guys?

GB: That's all me. All me.

Was that in one shot?

GB: One shot, yeah. Yeah. But you know what, we took a whole day filming that. Maybe there's a break half way through it, but we would do it the whole way through. Literally, that is me. My stunt guys said - they did The Matrix and The Bourne Identity and I really clung on to this fact - they said nobody in any of those films had to do a piece this long, uncut, with this many moves. I mean, that took a lot of training, and I almost didn't do it.

It took half a day just to set up this special rig. Zack said, 'I think we're going to have your stunt man do it,' and I died. Because I knew I was ready. He hadn't seen me do it. But then he said, 'Go ahead, rehearse it a little bit.' Then I ended up doing it, and it was such a blast. Then there was a problem with the rig, that it came out of focus. There was a problem with a mirror. It was a new rig that had never been used before - three cameras. So ended up having to shoot the whole fucking thing again. That was depressing, but it actually came out even better.

How carefully was it choreographed?

GB: Very carefully, I must have done it about 500 times, training, and yet still mistakes would happen every time. To be honest, that's actually what makes it what it is. At a point, you would go, 'You know what, if this was to look so smooth and perfect, it kind of takes away something from it.'

The first day I did it, there was something amazing about that. It was full of mistakes, but was so raw and hyped, the mistakes made it look even better. Thing went wrong and I'd go, 'How cool does that look, that I hit him in the balls instead of the stomach?' Honestly, sometimes, I hate to say it, but you pick up an injury and that was the stuff that looked really good.

You talked about how your costume helped with the character. Did it provide any difficulties, just wielding that shield or the mobility issues?

GB: A lot of chafing the groin area. You know what the weird thing is, and I don't want to sound like a pussy because I trained really hard, but the cape, if anything - if you were to say, 'Hold up that tape recorder,' that's fine. But if were to say, 'Hold that up for 16 hours,' it gets pretty hard.

The cape is actually very heavy. When you first put it on, you don't think about it, but you naturally have to tense your shoulders to wear it and by the end of the day, you'd be just lifting it up to get some relief from your neck. I had knots in neck, down my left side, because this was where the heave part was. During the fight sequences, the cape would twirl and you've got 50 guys running toward you, and you've got the sword like this [stabbing motion and he acts as if the sword is stuck], and you know that it's 45 minutes to set up the shot again if that doesn't happen. Yet, there's a guy coming at you with a spear and if you don't do that and he fucks up, then you have a spear in your belly.

A lot of the times, the sword would just stick on the cape because this cape would fly all over the place. We fought twice the speed in this film. Normally in a film you would do bang, defense, bang, defense. [He motions as if sword-fighting.] This was [faster now] bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. And it was one, two, three different guys. It was kind of crazy.

By Devin Faraci

Zack Snyder has had to really earn his respect. The guy came out the gate with a remake of Dawn of the Dead, for the love of God – that’s a big obstacle to face. And he pulled it off, somehow – the movie, while nothing near the original, works on its own as a zombie film that happens to be in a mall. Then it turned out that Snyder’s a real geek, a dyed in the wool fanboy himself, so his nerd cred went up.

This Friday it’ll go through the roof. His adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 is unrelentingly gorgeous. And he didn’t just make a hack and slash picture – Snyder’s film is a real movie, with a plot and characters and everything. I know, that sounds like it’s faint praise, but I really expected a lot of wacky camera and CGI action and not much else. The guy surprised me twice now.

Can he surprise me a third time? The next project for Snyder is the long-delayed, potentially cursed adaptation of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. I’m a strict Paul Greengrass partisan when it comes to this film – I think the approach he had before Paramount shut the project down and it went back to Warner Bros is the best way to handle the film. But Snyder talks a good game, and even if I find some of his ideas for the film suspect, he has the passion and the belief to pull it off. Hell, I’ve underestimated him twice already.

I visited you guys on set in December 2005, and I saw what you were working with – the blue screens, a little bit of dirt and a bunch of half-naked guys. Watching the movie it’s easy to forget that they’re not actually anywhere but a soundstage – how did you get the actors into that headspace?

It’s funny, because they know the scene and we’ve talked about what’s supposed to happen, but the thing I think the actors is capable of and what you hope they do is that when they’re in a scene together the reality comes from the other actors in the scene. The other actors are basically going, ‘Listen, if I can be emotionally true in this scene and I can be emotionally true, we can get each other through it.’ It’s when they were alone that they had a hard time.

A hard time filling in the blanks?

Yeah. I would be like ‘OK, that pipe is the Persian army! Those lights over there, that’s your guys!’

Why did you want to stick so close to Frank Miller’s book? So many people approach adaptations with the interest of putting their own spin on the material, but you were very, very faithful.

Listen, the truth is I personally think that Frank has such a strong voice that I don’t personally lose anything. As a director, the movie’s going to go through you – there’s nothing anybody can do about that. I think the idea that you would change Frank’s book, to me, it’s a mistake because what’s missing in movies, especially in Hollywood films, is a true perspective or point of view. And frank has such a strong point of view, such a particular way of telling a story, that for me it’s just an awesome opportunity to do something that never gets done or seen. As a filmmaker I can’t stress how important that is to me, to get at themes and pictures that are unique.

Frank’s point of view is very unique, and he also has a very pointed politicial and worldview. Do you find that Frank’s point of view in 300 mirrors your own beliefs?

I would say that it is more extreme, probably, than my own beliefs [laughs]. But I didn’t want to water it down because of my own personal take. I thought it was important for the audience to have Frank’s experience, and if you’re going to get his pictures but not his heart in it, then it’s me being the censor between the audience and Frank, and I didn’t want to do that.

As faithful as you are, some of my favorite bits in 300 the movie are not in 300 the book, like the rhino attack. Where did that stuff come from?

They came from a variety of places. The rhino I got from a story from my friend. He had been in Africa with an African guide, and he told him a story about having shot a Cape Buffalo and it sliding right to his feet. I thought it would be cool to put it in the movie. It’s not in the either, by the way. It’s just a little storyboard sequence I had drawn, and I just shuffled it in with the rest of the storyboards. When we came to shooting, everyone was looking at the boards and said, ‘Wait a minute, where was this in the script?’ and I was like, ‘It’s not in the script!’ Slightly unorthodox, but it works.

That sort of answers a question I was going to ask – when you’re working on the blue screen stages, you can be freer and make things up on the day.

That’s not necessarily true. You can certainly make things up on the day, but sequences like that I had drawn three or four weeks before, when we were planning. It just happens that there’s a lag time between the storyboard and the script itself. You write the sequence and then you have to visualize it, so you sit down and draw it frame by frame to see what the shots will be. That’s where it gets inventive.

Now, on the set I will say that with a little bit of green screen, what you can do is, you can play with geography in a cool way. If we were out in the field, you can’t do that really.

I guess word on the street is that you’re going to bring this kind of fidelity to Watchmen and sticking close to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s original work. Is that true?

Yeah. I feel like where we are with the script right now is, in some ways, the closest that it’s been in any iteration to the graphic novel, in the sense that we’re trying to keep as much of the things that make the graphic novel awesome. That goes to everything: 1985, R-rating, everything. Which, by the way, it was never going to be before.

It was a PG-13 previously.


Is Warner Bros happy with an R?

No. They’re mad at that. T hey don’t want an R-rated movie, but they’re cool with me. They’re like, ‘OK, if that’s what you think, Snyder. But it’s a bummer.’ [laughs] They have to leave a lot of money on the table.

Right. You can’t have the 15 year olds in there.

Exactly. But on the other hand, Watchmen is Watchmen, and I said, ‘Guys, the reason this movie works is that it’s counter. It’s anti.’ I believe audiences are ready for what’s the next step of the genre. It’s an exhausted genre right now, at least that’s what I believe.

That’s interesting, because while Watchmen has been under development for decades, but the book is a critique of the superhero genre, and you couldn’t have done that on film until now, when audiences are very used to the conventions of the genre.

Absolutely. That’s the cool part about it, for me anyway. Your movie audience is basically where your comic book audience was when the graphic novel was written – you’re basically in a place where you can make a satirical comment about a superhero and the audience will get it, because they have the frame of reference.

I’ve heard some interesting rumors about Watchmen, that the cast isn’t going to be like 300, which is a bunch of actors who aren’t marquee names, but rather that you’re talking to some very big names.

You know, we are and we aren’t. I gotta say I think we are when it’s appropriate, but it’s not driving the movie. There were some people who I was considering who are big names, but it’s exactly that at this point – we’re just talking about it. When you’re in the early stages of talking about a movie what happens is that everybody goes, ‘Tom Cruise! Brad Pitt!’ That’s the first conversation, and then you end up with the actual people that are going to be in the movie.

I heard rumors that Tom Cruise was actually interested.

He was interested. I did talk to him for quite a while. To be honest.

Ozymandias, would that be the role?

That was the role.

You’ve got the Watchmen adaptation coming up, 300 is an adaptation, you have the remake behind you – is there an original Zack Snyder movie coming?

There is [and it just got announced. Click here to read about it]. I have a concept and I’ve been working on it for a little while. Hopefully it’s a culmination of everything in some ways. I like it, anyway.

What’s the dream project for you?

The dream project for me would be to make an R-rated Star Wars movie! That’s the dream project. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but it would be awesome. And I know there are a lot of people out there who would be into that.

I think you would be able to get people to come to that movie.

That’s all I’m saying. George, if you’re listening…

Have you talked to George about the Star Wars TV show?

No… what’s that?

They’re working on a live action Star Wars TV show.

Is it going to be on the networks? What’s the deal with it?

He’s going to license it out, like what he did with the Prequel Trilogy. He’s going to own it and let somebody air it. Would you do TV?

I don’t know. Right now, probably not. We briefly talked about making a zombie TV show, but it never came together. I like TV, I watch it a lot!

A lot of people have said that Watchmen should be a mini-series or whatever, but my feeling is that you want production value with Watchmen. The fans want to see it awesome and they want a lot of it. It’s hard, and it’s a trade-off, if you want it to be as good as it can be.

You’re really going to shoot the Tales from the Black Freighter, huh?

That’s my hope. My hope is to shoot the Tales from the Black Freighter as a supplement for the DVD, for the ‘real’ Watchmen.

Anybody else approaching this material, that would be the first thing they’d cut. It’s interesting to see how you’re approaching this – keeping that in really shows how you’re thinking.

For me it goes back to the why of Watchmen. The why of it is almost like what I was saying about Frank’s point of view. It’s funny, because Watchmen, politically – I don’t think Alan Moore could be any more opposite of Frank Miller. I think it gives you a little bit of an idea of how I approach it; the fact that I go from Frank to Alan shows that to me it’s about the work, what they work is, what they’ve done with the work and what it represents. They’ve both, in their own way, innovated, and they’re both geniuses in this convention we call graphic novels or comic books.

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