Monday, March 19, 2007

300 (Movie Review)

When you love history and generally despise film adaptations of comic books, the last thing you should see is a movie based on a graphic novel based on Ancient Greece

It certainly sounds like a recipe for disaster, though in the case of 300 I was pleasantly surprised.

But that's not to say the film is without flaws: there are many, in fact, and I often caught myself laughing out loud at things that weren't meant to be funny.

For me, that's usually an indication of an awful film. But with 300, there's no denying the bottom line: I was entertained — something not too many "action" films do for me these days.

If you've missed out on the hoopla surrounding 300, it's based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. The novel "comicalizes" a battle that occurred circa 480 BC, in which the Spartan king, Leonidas, traveled with 300 bodyguards to Thermopylae (central Greece). Though the Spartan 300 were not alone, they were the vanguard in a 3-day battle in which more than 100,000 Persians (led by King Xerxes in a quest for world domination) were unable penetrate the lines. For the duration of the battle, it's estimated that a mere 7,000 Greeks took on anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 Persians.

The Persians sustained insurmountable losses, in large part because of the military prowess exhibited by Leonidas and his 300 men on the front line. And that — with nary a nod to the other Greeks who "tried" to help — is the focus of 300.

I was impressed by how much (though not all) of the film was accurate, even as the comic book elements — which I hadn't really anticipated — were undeniable.

So why did the comic book elements catch me off guard? I had heard 300 referred to as the "new Gladiator," a film which was anything but comic. Thus, I had expected 300 to follow suit: a beautifully shot spectacle, rife with color and true-to-(ancient)-life characters.

Instead, there are half-human, half-monster giants; grotesque, wart-covered hunchbacks; and leprosy-ridden "Ephors" who oversee the Oracles.

But even these elements are an homage of sorts to the mysticism of the ancient Greeks. Their brand of polytheism lends itself quite well to the comic book medium, with its superheros and uber-villains.

In which case I couldn't also help but wonder how much of the "history" of this story — the "history" we read in those Western Civ textbooks — is true. I mean, how we know the words of Herodotus are free of the same hyperbole that marks this film?

But back to the movie: remember, it is really hokey in parts, and some of the jump shots made me cringe. The real entertainment comes when the Spartans are strutting their stuff in battle, the orchestration of which must have been quite an undertaking.



Anonymous said...

You mean Herodotus wasn't being unbiased? Can't be! *laughs* Still, history is written by the winners and Herodotus knew which side his bread was buttered on. It was an entertaining movie and I am betting going in you weren't expecting to give it a B. Still, it could have been a better movie if they hadn't had the jumpshots and made it a little less hokey. It is entertainment but it isn't really art. Nothing wrong with that. :)

Matt said...

I love how Iran considers this film psychological warfare. Man, they don't like anything!

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

BPP - It does at least offer an iota of intellectual stimulation, primarily because of its historical basis. That's a little better than those films that exist purely as modern day bread & circuses.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Matt - I'm glad you brought that up. I had wanted to mention it in my "review," but figured I'd wind up going off on a pretty sizeable tangent.

I can actually understand why a few in the Middle East could be upset by the imagery. It does paint some pretty awful stereotypes. But it does that for the entirety of Xerxes empire, which included parts of modern-day Asia, India, etc (in other words: if this is psychological warfare, then the makers of this film are declaring war on pretty much 4/5 of the known world).

Not to mention, it refers to one Greek ethnicity (the Athenians) as "boy lovers," and shows another group (the Spartans) throwing "weak" infants off of cliffs.

There's some truth to these statements/actions. But it's not without exaggeration, either.

I wish they'd pick up on that.

Woodrow said...

I NEVER watch movies, but I've heard so much good about this one that I might actually go see it. If I don't have anything better to do some day.

disgruntled world citizen said...

I keep going back and forth on this one. I kind of want to see it because it looks somewhat interesting, but I'm afraid that it won't hold together and that the produceers knew this so they made sure to "wow" the audience with SFX to hoodwink them into thinking the story is better than it really is, a la Matrix.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Woodrow - Never?! Goodness. I like to think I spend my time wisely otherwise... but I need to catch the occasional flick, too.

DWC - I liked the first Matrix. But I despised the second enough to not even bother seeing the third.