Batting 300

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I caught this flick last weekend with my best bud Sean. Earlier this year, he had posted his Top 5 Films of 2006. When I tried to comment, I realized that the only way I could make out a Top 5 List of my own was to list every movie I had seen in the theater in 2006 – whether it was good or not. A decade back, I used to see a movie almost every week.

Now, I know the reason for the decline in theatrical viewership (after all, I am a Dad with two young children at home) but I don’t think my tastes were as discerning then as they are now. Actually, truth be told, when I do get out to the theater I usually position myself for the biggest spectacle while the nuanced dramas (which tend to be more fulfilling) are placed on hold for home viewing. Now that I possess a 40” LCD HDTV, more and more films will find their way to the home theater.

Anyway, all of this is prologue for my brief review of 300. From the clips I had seen, this flick looked like the sort of eye-popping extravaganza that demands my ass in a theater seat. Having read my fair share of Frank Miller’s comics (although I’d never touched 300), I knew what we’d be getting through a faithful adaptation of his stylized retelling of the 300 Spartan soldiers and their brave stand at Thermopylae. Simply put, blood and boobies. And lots of ‘em. To that end, 300 delivers.

I found 300 to be visually stunning but sterile. With digital backdrops replacing actual locations, director Zack Snyder employed a similar technique to the one Robert Rodriguez used on his 2005 Sin City adaptation – granting Miller that rare one-two punch of filmed adaptations that truly look like their source material. But the same problems I had with Sin City rear their head here. By filming everything against green screen and drawing the fantastic backgrounds later, the actors never fully feel like they are in the scene. They give it their all (Gerard Butler roars loud enough to make Zeus cower) but I was never transported to Ancient Greece. It’s the same problem evidenced in the latter day Star Wars flicks. When all King George had were painted Moroccan sandscapes, he had me believing I was in Mos Eisley. When he mocked Coruscant on his MacBook, he had me daydreaming about the videogame adaptation that I’d be able to play later that same day.

300 is composed of pretty pictures and that’s about it. It’s enjoyable to watch in the moment (some of the battle scenes are truly inventive) and I like Snyder’s approach to action filmmaking where he dispenses with the scattershot strobe show too many action directors employ for a virtual camera that starts and stops, drops to slo-mo before speeding along to the next engagement; allowing the viewer the opportunity to identify just who is stabbing who. The fight scenes were refreshing and I have no doubt that Snyder is a real talent behind the camera and a great visual stylist. His 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake remains a favorite flick of mine.

The problem with the film is inherent to Miller’s story, and to be fair, it’s not entirely Miller’s fault either. This is a slight narrative because it focuses solely on one minor event – a 3 day siege in which 300 Spartans were deified through their courage. To add some meat to the bones, Snyder introduced some subplots not present in Miller’s original graphic novel, including Queen Gorgo’s appeal to ‘Congress’ to send more troops (sound familiar). At the end of the day, this remains two hours of battling and after awhile, you simply feel battered.

As stated, I did enjoy the film while watching it but the enjoyment is fleeting. 300 just doesn’t leave the indelible impression that I felt when viewing other comic derived flicks. It lacks the gravitas of a V for Vendetta. For pure eye candy, this film is worth seeing once to take in those spectacular visions but those seeking a more compelling tale, I suggest an audience with Gladiator.

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Comments now closed (8)

  • One Minor Event??????One Minor Event????Please read my post at Jason’s Blog to understand the error of your ways, oh-not-so-wise-one!!!!!!!!!!!!!But, since you are movie-man, your error is forgiven, this once!!!!!!!!!

  • While I agree with your assessment of the film, Ed, I gotta go with Ronster on the “minor event” thing…the last stand of the Spartans at Thermopylae was considered an important event even in its own time. It did a lot for the morale of the Greek states and bought the Athenians enough time to prepare their navy for a pivotal victory a week later at Salamis, which lead to the eventual defeat of the Persians.

  • @Ronster – First off, man am I thrilled to see a Comment from you here. Always good to know people are reading the site and I think this may be your first contribution.

    And it’s a good one. You caught me and taught me (I took your advice and bounced over to the good ship Biggerboat.) I’d say that knowledge certainly makes me regard 300 in a different light.

    To be honest, I may have been a bit too tough on the flick. I was expecting a Lord of The Rings epic (could you blame me with that Gollum lookalike scampering around) and at under 2 hours, this film felt like it was a bit too short. I would have liked more story to back up the battles.

    If I have one issue that sticks it’s the digital filmmaking. Again with a Lord of the Rings comparison but those flicks – and their fantastic New Zealand locales – made me believe a fictional Middle Earth exists somewhere on this green Earth while the Mac rendered Greece in 300 looks as real as The Backyardigans. (Remember – I’ve got a 1 and 3 year old at home. That’s my only point of reference these days.)

    Anyway, welcome!!!

  • @JFCC: Read what I just wrote but truth be told – I shouldn’t have to go to the History Channel or wikipedia to address my ignorance. These filmakers these days need to spoonfeed my ADD-addled brain.

    Seriously though, I admit where I’m wrong but lets all calm down here. It was merely one line. I’m thinking more in terms of the narrative on display. It felt slight. I wanted more.

    That said – I still reccomend people see the flick. It is fantastic to behold.

  • Oh, and for a little perspective, I was prepping the next installment of my popular series – “My Favorite Things” – but I thought I’d give y’all a little preview. Without furth ado, here is “My Favorite Things – Top 5 Minor Historical Events”

    5. The Treaty of Versailles
    4. The Battle of Gettysburg
    3. The Flag Raising at Iwo Jima
    2. The Signing of the Declaration of Independence
    1. The Battle of Helm’s Deep (although, truth be told, this one was fairly entertaining as far as stuffy historical events go)

  • I agree the digital backgrounds looked fake. I can’t say I’m really a fan of this growing technique (thanks yet again, George Lucas).

    Like you said, I just don’t think you get as much out of an actor’s performance when they’re standing on a soundstage by their lonesome (with 300,000 virtual troops behind them) as you do when you have a real actor standing in front of 200 (say, Branagh’s Henry V). Seeing all those extras has to get you pumped up.

    Otherwise you have to act in a very technical manner, trying to imagine all those troops and theorize how you would respond to it…I thought Butler’s performance was a bit detached, lacking in any real humanity. Compare his scenes with his troops to the opening of Gladiator, where Russell Crowe walks a path flanked by hundreds of extras, stopping to smack the arm of one familiar face. It just feels more natural and, thus, more truly epic.

    Of course, Gladiator cheats later with its CGI-generated Rome, but at least they built a 1/4th-scale Coliseum.