Admit it, that’s what you asked when you realized Zack Snyder wasn’t directing the new 300 movie, being replaced by a relative unknown who had previously directed a Dennis Quaid comedy and multiple commercials.
As it turns out, the Israeli-born been on the shortlist for sequels for some time now, having at various points been in line to direct The Ring Two and A Good Day to Die Hard. It’s a good thing he waited – we may never know how well he’d have followed in those particular franchise footsteps, but he suits the world of 300 to a tee. (When I gave him my assessment of the movie as a boner in cinematic form, he literally high-fived me.) This is a man who gets what he’s making, and why.
Luke Y. Thompson: How’s it going today?
Noam Murro: Good!
LYT: I’m going to venture a guess that not a lot of people who watched Smart People would have said, “This guy’s next movie is going to be the 300 sequel.”
NM: Good. Surprises are good.
LYT: What was the process going from that to this?
NM: It’s a very, very – two very different films. And I’m, I guess, a little different as well. You know, I think that I grew up in a classically trained family – classical music. Opera is one of my biggest things, and I think that when I read the script for the first time – I saw 300 the first time, and I thought oh my god, they’ve created something that I’ve never seen ever before; a really inventive and operatic movie. And this was another opportunity to get my hands on something like that, and it’s like, for me that was – this is an opera on water. That, to me, was the greatest honor and challenge, and I’m humbled by the fact that I was invited to that party, and I’m eternally grateful to Zack and the studio for allowing me to do that.
LYT: How much freedom was there for this to be a Noam Murro movie, as opposed to this still being faithful to the Zack Snyder style?
NM: I think a lot. Zack and the studio, we’re, I think all of us as filmmakers were looking to do something new that had some of its roots still planted in 300, so really, the issue here was how do you advance 300 after so many permutations of that movie? And how do you create something that you’ve never quite seen before – that aspect, but also something that services – and rightfully so – something that was so seminal and so groundbreaking when it came out. So I think that was really the challenge, and that was the beauty – I hope you liked it.
LYT: Yes, yes. Well, 3D Imax is obviously one way you can top that. How obliged did you feel to top everything? Because it does feel like there’s sort of double of everything in this. There’s more blood, there’s more breasts, there’s more sex, there’s more plot.
NM: I think that was the idea. The idea was to put your foot down on the gas pedal and go. And that really was the freedom that we all got. That I had, in order to create it, and to the credit of everyone, I think that was really the want – we all wanted to go and create something that pushes the envelope as much as we can, in order to create something that you haven’t seen before, so more blood, and more violence, and more sex – yes, indeed.
LYT: Now for the original, Zack was very true to Frank Miller’s storyboard. But for this, I understand, you never got the complete comic book from him.
NM: No, he never finished it. But to his – to the testament of how incredibly influential he is, I think we all took that spirit and that aesthetic and that theme and ran with it. I think that it had enough of the presence of his work. It’s so dominant, and so incredibly important, that I think we were able to carry it out.
LYT: It’s funny that you can look at the blood splashes in this movie, and it’s so particular. You can say that that’s a Frank Miller blood splash.
NM: Of course!
LYT: It is exactly that kind. So as far as the actual historical record, how responsible did you feel to replicate the troop movements, and maybe the movements of the fleet of the original? Or did that even factor in?
NM: You know, I think that when you make a movie for the History Channel, you have one responsibility, and when you make a storyteller’s point of view on history, you have another responsibility. Part of what I said to myself and to everybody else and to the actors, is that I think that the issue here was always how do you make a historical film that makes you love history? Not just so that you make it accurate.
NM: And that is really the challenge. The challenge is to make history cool, and to make history beloved, and sexy and wonderful, and understand that the issues that we deal with today are the issues that people dealt with in history. I think that is really being seen and I think that that is really the beauty of it. I didn’t feel responsible to tell an accurate historical story. I thought it’s great to tell a great story that’s based on history.
LYT: As far as the battles, though, were there any that were particularly challenging based on what you knew of the record, and what you knew of how Frank Miller had drawn it?
NM: They’re all pretty complicated. The battles were a very clear architecture – the architecture of the battles themselves, and the architecture of the structure of each battle in relation to the other were all pre-designed. It’s all by design and definition. So it was a very specific way to go about it.
LYT: When you say that it deals with some of the same issues as today, what do you feel is the closest allegory to that situation today?
NM: Oh, I’m not saying it from a political point of view. I’m saying it more from just a personal point of view – the conflicts of people, between two people, between people and other people, and what does it mean to be a warrior? But mainly I think it’s the issue of the interrelationship between the two protagonists of the movie. That’s really what I think it was.
LYT: Also it’s – there’s a lot more sort of female power in this movie than there was in the first one. The first one was very, very male. In this, there’s almost like two female forces are opposed. Was that…?
NM: By design. I think that’s part of what attracted me to it, and that’s part of the beauty of the writing, is that we really introduced a female character that is unapologetic, you know. Part of what’s great about it. You know, there’s no Bond without a great villain. And there’s no – when you have a woman villain, a lot of times you feel that they need to be – for some reason, they need to be apologetic. And we didn’t. So, I think that’s the beauty of it. She’s a force, and she has ambition, and skill that any men would have, and that’s part of the strength of this movie, I think. You have a protagonist, a woman – a bad-ass woman – at the heart of it, and she’s unapologetic.
LYT: On a very minor note, one thing I noticed – because they showed 300 the original again in Imax…
LYT: …and I was watching it, and I could see the seams on the make-up of Ephialtes and the other giant. And on this one, the Ephialtes make-up was so much better.
NM: Yeah, we – time does wonders, and they had challenges that we could solve now, technically, and part of it was the learning curve from the original, and how complex that suit needs to be, and all that kind of stuff, so we perfected it – or tried to perfect it.
LYT: I know this may be a secret you don’t want to spill, but his giant eye – was that a motion capture, or was that a practical effect? It looked really, really good.
NM: It looked really good. It is a CGI. There was one there, and then we animated it, which now you can.
LYT: How hard was it to round up all the old characters together? Was there anyone that you wanted to get from the first film that you wanted to get but couldn’t? Like, maybe you wanted more Gerard Butler flashbacks?
NM: You know, I think that that was part of the design of the movie. I think that at some point there was discussion with Gerard, but I think that the architecture of the film lent itself to where it is now, and I think everybody was so excited to come back, that I didn’t see any issue with that.
LYT: The scenes with Gerard in it – are they footage from the first one that’s post-converted, or was anything new shot with him?
NM: Nothing shot with him new. There’s a couple of shots in there that you see him, really, and that’s from the first movie.
LYT: How much of the history did you study? I know you didn’t want to be bound by it, but did you read a lot of it?
NM: I’ve read enough to understand that you had to put it aside and just go with the good story.
LYT: I ask because one of my readers – one of my regular commenters and readers is a big history buff, and he says that there is some discussion in historical circles that the ancient Greek helmets were meant to be phallic.
NM: I wouldn’t argue with that. How can you? We can do it with reality and go, “Those helmets were meant to be phallic.” Sure! Sounds good.
LYT: I was talking earlier to the writer Kurt, and he mentioned that you added the rain to the marathon battle, even though it wasn’t historically there, because it looked a lot cooler and made it look Shakespearean.
NM: That’s right.
LYT: And we mentioned the shot of the horse rearing up and the lightning in its eye and the feet coming down on the head – that was your idea?
NM: I don’t remember what came in first, but yeah – the idea of putting first experience of the marathon battle was to show a new interpretation on the land battle, that you really have not seen before, so the lightning and all that was designed from the beginning.
LYT: And who came up with the sea monsters? Those were awesome.
NM: Writers! [laughs]It was written.
300: Rise of an Empire opens Friday.