Monday, March 12, 2007

300 review w/SPOILERS (not by me)

I haven't seen the flick yet, but I had to drop this review I found. It is a negative review and probably quite contrary to the other participants here. I'll drop my actual thoughts after I have seen it.

I know at least one person who will thoroughly disagree with this review. heh heh heh.

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A Movie Only a Spartan Could Love
The battle epic 300.
By Dana Stevens

If 300, the new battle epic based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside The Eternal Jew as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war. Since it's a product of the post-ideological, post-Xbox 21st century, 300 will instead be talked about as a technical achievement, the next blip on the increasingly blurry line between movies and video games.

Directed by Zack Snyder, whose first feature film was the 2004 makeover of the horror classic Dawn of the Dead, 300 digitally re-creates the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., where, according to classical history and legend, the Spartan king Leonidas led a force of only 300 men against a Persian enemy numbering in the hundreds of thousands. The comic fanboys who make up 300's primary audience demographic aren't likely to get hung up on the movie's historical content, much less any parallels with present-day politics. But what's maddening about 300 (besides the paralyzing monotony of watching chiseled white guys make shish kebabs from swarthy Persians for 116 indistinguishable minutes) is that no one involved—not Miller, not Snyder, not one of the army of screenwriters, art directors, and tech wizards who mounted this empty, gorgeous spectacle—seems to have noticed that we're in the middle of an actual war. With actual Persians (or at least denizens of that vast swath of land once occupied by the Persian empire).

In interviews, Snyder insists that he "really just wanted to make a movie that is a ride"—a perfectly fine ambition for any filmmaker, especially one inspired by the comics. And visually, 300 is thrilling, color-processed to a burnished, monochromatic copper, and packed with painterly, if static, tableaux vivants. But to cast 300 as a purely apolitical romp of an action film smacks of either disingenuousness or complete obliviousness. One of the few war movies I've seen in the past two decades that doesn't include at least some nod in the direction of antiwar sentiment, 300 is a mythic ode to righteous bellicosity. In at least one way, the film is true to the ethos of ancient Greece: It conflates moral excellence and physical beauty (which, in this movie, means being young, white, male, and fresh from the gyms of Brentwood).

Here are just a few of the categories that are not-so-vaguely conflated with the "bad" (i.e., Persian) side in the movie: black people. Brown people. Disfigured people. Gay men (not gay in the buff, homoerotic Spartan fashion, but in the effeminate Persian style). Lesbians. Disfigured lesbians. Ten-foot-tall giants with filed teeth and lobster claws. Elephants and rhinos (filthy creatures both). The Persian commander, the god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) is a towering, bald club fag with facial piercings, kohl-rimmed eyes, and a disturbing predilection for making people kneel before him.

Meanwhile, the Spartans, clad in naught but leather man-briefs, fight under the stern command of Leonidas (Gerard Butler), whose warrior ethic was forged during a childhood spent fighting wolves in the snow. Leonidas likes to rally the troops with bellowed speeches about "freedom," "honor," and "glory," promising that they will be remembered for having created "a world free from mysticism and tyranny." (The men's usual response, a fist-pumping "A-whoo! A-whoo!" sounds strangely fratty.) But Leonidas is not above playing the tyrant himself. When a messenger from Xerxes arrives bearing news Leonidas doesn't like, he hurls the man, against all protocol, down a convenient bottomless well in the center of town. "This is blasphemy! This is madness!" says the messenger, pleading for his life. "This is Sparta," Leonidas replies. So, if Spartan law is defined by "whatever Leonidas wants," what are the 300 fighting for, anyway? And why does that sound depressingly familiar?

Another of the Spartans' less-than-glorious customs is the practice of eugenics, hurling any less-than-perfect infant off a cliff onto a huge pile of baby skeletons. Unfortunately for the 300 at Thermopylae, this system of racial cleansing isn't foolproof: One deformed hunchback, Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan), manages to make it to adulthood and begs Leonidas for a chance to serve Sparta in the 300. Sure enough, when he's turned down, the hunchback confirms his moral weakness by accepting Xerxes' offer to join ranks with the Persians.

Meanwhile, back home in Sparta, Leonida's wife, Gorgo (Lena Headey), engages in some plot-padding political intrigue with the evil Theron (The Wire's Dominic West, looking particularly risible in classical drapery). Theron wants to persuade the Spartan council not to send reinforcements to the desperately outnumbered 300 (what is he, a Democrat?). The noble and sexy Gorgo finally gives herself to Theron in exchange for a chance to persuade the council. "This will not be over quickly," the villain warns as he pins her against a temple pillar. "You will not enjoy this." It might have been Zack Snyder himself whispering in my ear, and he would have been right.

In a classic example of the epic understatement known as litotes, Variety's reviewer observes that the picture's vision of the West as a heroic contingent of sculpted badasses and the East as a cauldron perversion and iniquity "might be greeted with muted enthusiasm in the Middle East." Replace the words "muted enthusiasm" with "a roadside bomb," and you've got yourself a tagline for the Baghdad premiere.

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic. You can write her at movies@thehighsign.net.

3 comments:

Nicky Fingaz said...

I saw the movie and ehhh. No matter what the intentions were, it nearly looked like a neo-nazi propaganda film (except the whites weren't nordic enough).

It admits to being historically inaccurate, but it is the way in which it is inaccurate that is the problem to me. It consistently makes historical errors that show The Spartans as good, the Athenians/other Greeks as weak, and the Persians as pure evil. Granted the Persians were the invaders and so would be the villains in this piece no matter what.

And the racial overtones are thick as heck.

Aesthetically it had interesting visuals. The constant fighting was a little monotonous and had none of the beauty of kung fu movies. I am biased towards kung fu movies, I admit it.

A little too much slo mo mor me.

Being a straight male, I didn't have to deal with the ogle/leer factor.

I didn't feel any attachment to these characters and didn't really care when they died.

I think much of my dislike is for this tendency to make war movies into good vs evil and without showing the collateral damage that happens in any real war no matter how just. Most wars are fought for the benefit of the rich of either country, but fought by the poor and middle classes of any country. I'm a war abolitionist to some extent so this is to be expected to color my POV.

Anyhoo. Ehhh - 1-2 stars.

Budd said...

I can see where you are coming from, but I disagree. The movie was great fun. The movie was told from the Spartan perspective by a story teller. It is expected that you make your side more noble and the other side less.

Going in knowing they were all going to die, I didn't have any attachment either. When it looked like he was going to quit, I got mad.

The movie was beautiful though. I liked the sepia tones. Although not coreographed as well as a kung fu movie, the action was plenty exciting.

WuoWho said...

Ahem-

as the alluded too "one person" I shall grab a clump of ripe sod and fling it heartly at the author of this review.

Smile

p.s. in a nutsheell
WHATEVER!

simple message- there are things in life worth dying for, principles worth protecting at all costs, and yes there can be true white hats/black hats in the o-ke corral gun fight.
were the Spartans completely pure and noble- doubtful, but I'd like to think that there were a few that upheld such ideals
could this depiction of a glorious last stand embolden some brave Americans to hold the line in Irag- unfortunately also doubtful, although I really wish it would
arethe racial depictions in the movie inflamatory- come on! I long for the day when people are truely so color blind that they don't immediately cry foul at vague hints. the reality of the nationalities involved in this historical event dictated the racial images portrayed.

last words= with the acception of the unneccessary, and repulsive nude scenes (why, oh why must filmmakers pander to the lowest common denominator) 300 simply

ROCKED!!!!!!!!!

nuf said