Saturday, March 24, 2007

Good boys (300 review)

Whatever it is you think about Frank Miller’s stories, it’s what you’ll think of the movie 300. Both of them being macho, blunt forces. I won’t actually venture much of an opinion here, as I think an audience’s opinion in these sort of cases is pretty much set in stone. I had a bit more pep before seeing it, but now having done so I can’t help but think whatever I said and thought was probably overwrought, equal to the outsized enthusiasm of the movie’s fans, and their righteous indignation at the equally overbaked (though mostly fair) critical reception, but more than this movie actually calls for.

I say this much: It was enjoyable, and quite often beautiful, if awkward and uneven. Still too timid by half, though sacrificing much less to visual fidelity with the graphic novel than other adaptations have…as people seem to confuse that with being faithful to the story.*

And also I have no reason to doubt the director and filmmakers when they say they didn’t mean any sort of Iraq commentary with it. It just means they’re sort of stupid. Either they’re dim, as they were genuinely oblivious to what adding “...politicians just send warriors to their deaths…” and that sort of line adds, as well as getting all that talk about Country and Freedom and Free Men (a little cute, historically speaking, coming from Spartans) from a computer program that punches it in...or cribbing from Braveheart...and what reaction that would garner. Or they’re kinda dim, and they saw the reaction coming and couldn’t come up with anything better to say. Weak sauce, folks. **

But let me follow Jonny America’s lead and leave you folks with a discussion question that thinking too much brought up. Frank Miller probably meant it his original work more as a straight meditation of warriors and heroism, but the filmmakers added a lot of Freedom and Country and Free Men stuff—but who cares about that? ’cause who’s against that?—But why ever appropriate history to this end, if one believes a story requires as much modification (it didn’t even, really) to tell this sort, or any sort of tale? It’s not as if that many historical field fans really pop out for these things and sell that many more tickets. (In 300, there are so many visual cues as to who is evil, that even in lowest denominator it seems unnecessary.) So what out it? Are there any noncommercial benefits that makes this sort of lazy storytelling worthwhile? ***

* Bit claustrophobic too, but such are the limitations of filming green screen and indoors…you can always sort of tell. Legend had that too…which come to think of it, Ridley Scott would be pretty good for this sort of thing.

** I don’t think it’s irresponsible, per se, to make a war movie in this climate and not have anything to say, just as it’s not irresponsible to make a movie about Marie Antoinette and talk about modern ennui, but it seems foolish and wasteful, and a bit willfully oblivious.

*** I want a slightly more complex answer than “It’s easier to film.” (Lazy storytelling also being cheaper.) Probably, that’s all there is though. Well, that and the public has only a small interest in knowing history.


Jonny America said...

I think that you may have got it backwards. They didn't appropriate history to tell the tale of Freedom, Country, and Free men, but they used the Freedom and Country nonsense to make the history tolerable for the audience. I can't comment with authority because I didn't see the movie or read the comic book. But, a cursory glance through history shows that the Spartans were problematic heroes at best, what with their massive hordes of miserable slaves and their bizarre antisocial society. And I'm sure that Miller didn't do a whole lot in his comic book to make the Spartans palatable for mainstream America. So, if you want the audience to back the heroes, even a little, you have to create a departure point that allows them to identify with the Spartans. What better theme to grab macho Americans (presumably the target audience) than Fighting for Freedom!!!! Raaar!!!!

Here's a discussion question that my thinking too much brings up: what better way to update this movie than making it about Taiwan versus China?

Think of it, tiny Taiwan--fightn' for Freedom--staves off the corrupt demon hordes of China. Yeah! In this flick, minutia of nationalism and international law would be cast aside in favor of simple nuance-free dialogue and brute force. Hey! Just like modern-day cross-strait relations!

Chengora said...

I am horribly sick right now, but in a moment of lucidity yesterday I wrote the following about 300:

I didn’t enjoy this movie as much as I wanted to, and I really wanted to like it. I was ready to overlook the rampant historical inaccuracies (as detailed in this article), which extend to more than just costume and custom. And I was ready t o look past the political overtones, which granting the director’s assertions that he didn’t want to have any politics in the movie, it nevertheless takes an almost deliberate, willful ignorance of the larger questions that the U.S. is dealing with right now.

But mostly, what disappointed me were the fights. I don’t think many people will share this opinion, but having been reared on martial arts films and sundry Western action pieces, the battles in 300 lacked energy and style. (Spoilers ahead) With the exception of the “giant” fight, 300 pitted skillful Spartans against ragtag Persians. It’s the common refrain of evil hordes being led by maniacal genius (or arrogant bastard), being stopped by a handful of righteous individuals who rely on their superior training and skills.

However, the fighting never goes beyond this. Nearly every shot is of a lone Spartan cutting his way through multiple Persians, killing with a single stroke, or perhaps a shield butt then thrust. In no sense, however, did I get the feeling that any of these Persians would give the Spartans what they hope for: a glorious death (which they say they want ad nauseum). There was no challenge, no fight between champions, no gradual weakening of one side, no filming of the strategy and larger goal of the action. Almost no question of threat and especially danger. (And did the Greeks even look to be breaking a sweat?) This shouldn’t be too surprising given that the Greeks are essentially taking a defensive posture, and viewers should pretty much know what’s going on before they walk into the movie theater. Still, the movie devolved into a question of how will this particular Greek kill the 30 Persians he’s up against at this particular moment. There was no drive for the killing, and the thrill of the spectacle of slow-motion bloodletting quickly fades after the first battle.

hcduvall said...

Jonny: See, that's why I mentioned Marie Antoinette, a historical movie that didn't need the changes because it wasn't about history. I know they had to crib stuff for something like Braveheart, because it was actually about William Wallace, but 300 is a soldier story in Greek drag, like Pirates of the Caribbean is a adventure movie in pirate drag, and not, you know, really about the the Spartans or age of exploration or anything. Actually, the story of the 300 is just an Alamo more visually suited to Frank Miller's style.

Chengora: The slow-mo was because of the visual impact, despite being a film, was in stills (mostly copied verbatim from the graphic novel), and not actual original film design. This is the sort of thing I mean when I say timid adaptation. The fights were oddly truncated though, but not much to be done, I think, when strength is so exagerratedly tied to the author's view of virtue.