Friday, March 09, 2007

300 - Movie Review

300 - (2007)

Ye Gods! Where to begin? When we first heard about Zack Snyder adapting Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’sgraphic novel” (COMIC BOOK, JUST SAY IT!) version of the legendary Battle of Thermopylae – we admit we were excited. After all, we were fans of Mr. Snyder’s energetic and witty remake of George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead . . . yes, you read that correctly. It is one of the few remakes of a “classic” flick that while it may not have surpassed the original, certainly didn’t denigrate it. Although, we must pause to ask ourselves if it is possible to denigrate a Zombie movie, moving on.

We were certainly fans of that humpy piece of Scottish ass, Gerard Butler who was hired to portray the brave King Leonidas and once we saw the making of featurettes that began to crop up on the internet, we were sold! Woo-hoo! Large, muscley, sweaty men in leather jockstraps, flowing capes, pummeling the shit out of each other! What’s not to like?

Well, the short answer is everything. Here is a film that plays it so close to the source material, which we must remind you is a comic book, that it is absolutely trapped underneath the static rhythms of that pulpy genre. Now, faithful readers will recognize that we have nothing against a comic book flick, if they are made with a sense of style and vigor. In particular, we enjoyed the last Frank Miller derived piece, the neo-Noir stylings of “Sin City”. But Noir is such a visually expressive film genre that relies on the interplay of light and shadow; it could withstand its reduction to the equivalent of storyboard panels. History is quite another matter entirely.

For those of you under the age of 2,500, the Battle of Thermopylae has captured the minds of history buffs, military strategists, earlier filmmakers and pencil necked geeks since its truly awesome occurrence. As Xerxes innumerable forces descended upon the Grecian peninsula, roughly 300 of Sparta’s best soldiers gathered together with equally sparse neighboring armies to fend off the juggernaut of the Persian armies. They failed. But not before their names would be written on histories pages as some of the bravest and most devoted soldiers to have set foot into sandal. Despite their small numbers, they ravished the Persian armies before being betrayed by a fellow countrymen and ultimately succumbing to their bloody fate. A fate that would inspire their fellow Greeks to take up their mantle and finally drive out the invaders.

All of which should make for a great and grand tale of bravery, fighting the odds and heroism . . . and all of which is washed down the sepia colored drain of this miserably overwrought movie. Zack Snyder has opted to drench the film under the weight of CGI dross that ultimately depletes the movie of any sense of scope or pageantry. We simply never believe this movie is any deeper than a rough sketch. The invading armies appear to be leftover scenes from a handheld video game. While CGI continues to evolve, bringing with it the promise to capture untold “other worlds” scenarios, it will never replace the physically awesome sight of a landscape filled with actual participants. One glance at the thundering hordes streaming across the tundra in Sergei Bondarchuk’s 1968 version of “War and Peace” simply dwarfs the present day competition.

All of which could be forgivable if the film did not dare to venture forth into the heretical. The political arena. Now, to be fair, Mr. Snyder has gone on record as refuting any political overtones. Well, he is either blind to his own directorial vision or a damn fool. To make a film about Persians invading Greece, and to portray the Greeks as white bread muscle boys and the enemies as dark skinned degenerates is tantamount to declaring your membership in a neo-Nazi support group. Throw in needless declarations of “manliness” on the part of the Spartans and taunts and epithets of “boy lovers” and “mystics” to the opposition, and you’d be welcomed with open arms into any fundamentalist right wing church in the country.

300” is the epitome of negligent filmmaking in a time of war that not only manages to insult the current day political atmosphere, but to deny the complexities of the reality of war. This film may go down in history as the most blatantly obtuse piece of war propaganda since John Wayne’s The Green Berets”, made at the height of the Vietnam War.

While the cast may have certainly earned their bravery marks in the unearthly training sessions that produced such heaping mounds of abs, one wishes they had spent some time in acting classes. Gerard Butler may cut a dashing figure as their good King Leonidas, but his posturing and eardrum piercing habit of shouting each of his lines in monosyllabic grunts is off-putting to say the least. His fellow Spartans run the gamut of swarthy to sweaty, without ever breaking out of the phalanx of forgettable. Replace one churlish lout with the next, and the codpieces all blur into one.

Not that the remainder of the cast fares any better. Lena Headey seems to be channeling Lesley-Anne Down syndrome as Queen Gorgo, a woman more interested in the complicated crinkle of her garments than the thought of losing her husband, leader and city. Up until now, we had no idea it was possible to be out-acted by a CGI pillar.

As the duplicitous Theron, the normally attractive Dominic West is buried under makeup meant to project “menacing”, and begins to resemble a garden gnome. His idea of exuding sinister amounts to acting with his rubberized forehead and spitting out his dialogue with all the polish of an amateur porn star.

And speaking of porn, there is absolutely no excuse to what has been done to Rodrigo Santoro in the role of Xerxes. Arriving on a gilded litter meant to evoke Elizabeth Taylor’s entrance into Rome, bejeweled and pierced over every orifice and slathered with more kohl and Light Egyptian than Hedy Lamarr in “White Cargo”, he is instantly a creature to be pitied rather than feared. No wonder the Spartans scoff at this otherworldly ponce. It seems impossible that this would be the man who laid waste to civilizations with his legions.

It seems more likely he is the cinematic offspring of Maria Montez and Persis Khambatta.

300” may pretend to focus on the stylized visuals, and chest thumping testosterone antics of the main storyline but it is undone at each turn by the trivialization of its source material. Surely one of the most famous battles in mankind’s history deserves better than music video graphics slathered over a troop of shaved glistening hardbodies.

This is a history PowerPoint presentation filled with images from an all male strip club. Even gay porn versions of gladiator games have the good sense to include a “Money Shot”.

Has there ever been a “Sword and Sandals” epic ripe with such empty graphics? It was bad enough when the Spartans encounter their slain brethren crucified en masse upon a giant tree, and all we could think of was the poster design for Stephen Sondheim’s musical, “A Little Night Music”.

But nothing could prepare us for the mind numbing scene wherein King Leonidas ventures forth to a mysterious Oracle, guarded by a leprosy ridden caste of acolytes. While her contorted gyrations are meant to evince a liquid like state of mysticism, all it achieves is an anthropomorphic lava lamp quality.

Ultimately, that is the grand failure of “300”. For a film that is being lauded for its alleged creativity, it is decidedly bereft of anything original. Its sets and costumes seemed culled from central storage. The acting is wooden at best and laughable at its worst moments – of which there are multitudes. It’s difficult to decide who is worse, Butler as the one note posturing leader, or Headey who is practically asleep throughout her scenes. And why bother with a subplot of betrayal and greed when the masses of pimply geeks all came to see the big boys play with their CGI toys? A mock game of honor that makes us yearn for the days before “The Matrix” popularized the painfully trite slow motion blood spurting that has pitiably dominated every action flick in recent memory. The tale of the Spartans that inspired “300” will thankfully live past this films moment of infamy. Do yourselves a favor and go read Herodotus instead. Bless you all!

Directed by Zack Snyder
Screenplay by Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Michael B. Gordon
Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley

Gerard Butler as King Leonidas
Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo
Dominic West as Theron
Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes
David Wenham as Dilios
Vincent Regan as Captain
Michael Fassbender as Stelios
Tom Wisdom as Astinos
Andrew Pleavin as Daxos
Andrew Tiernan as Ephialtes
Giovani Antonio Cimmino as Pleistarchos
Kelly Craig as the Oracle
Eli Snyder as Leonidas, age seven
Tyler Max Neitzel as Leonidas, age fifteen

Cinematography by Larry Fong
Film Editing by William Hoy
Original Music by Tyler Bates
Costume Design by Michael Wilkinson
Production Design by James D. Bissell
Art Direction by Isabelle Guay, Nicolas Lepage and Jean-Pierre Paquet
Set Decoration by Paul Hotte



Post a Comment

<< Home