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.