Given the acclaim and success of 'Gladiator' and 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy, and the failings of 'Troy' and 'Alexander', it's a brave soul who would try a swords-and-sandals epic for size. But having shown he wasn't afraid to try and put his own stamp on a classic with his 2004 remake of 'Dawn of the Dead', American director Zack Snyder has decided to bring Frank 'Sin City' Miller's graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae to the big screen.

In 480 BC, Leonidas (Butler), the King of Sparta, faces the greatest challenge of his reign. The armies of Persian Emperor Xerxes (Santoro) are moving towards the province but Sparta's leaders refuse to sanction war. So Leonidas takes 300 of Sparta's best to make a stand at Thermopylae. Against the masses of Xerxes it's a suicide mission, but Leonidas and his men don't have a problem with not coming back.

Snyder's film lacks the emotional content of 'Gladiator' and the character-driven brilliance of Peter Jackson's 'Rings...' trilogy but fans of comics and action movies will still find plenty to enjoy here. Using the same 'digital backlot' techniques as 'Sin City', '300' is stunning to look at and the battle scenes would psyche up even the most underachieving lawn bowls team.

Where the film suffers is that all the attention was focussed on savagery (lots) and style (even more) with the script bringing up the rear. Snyder fails to give the audience characters that they really care about; Butler is no Russell Crowe and he's further hampered by some hammy dialogue and scenes which fail to pull at the heartstrings as much as they could. The longer '300' goes on, the more you think you should look under the cinema seat for a joystick, but as a video game, it's brilliant.

And as a spectacle, Snyder and his crew are world beaters – inspiring wide-eyed wonder and setting a new standard for those who follow. Their work will undoubtedly figure highly in next year's Oscar nominations, and should stay in the memory far longer than many popcorn blockbusters.

Harry Guerin