Wednesday, March 28, 2007

300 (Particle Man)

Previously, Frank Miller gave us Sin City, an experience so amped-up and over-exaggerated that, while it doesn’t really hold water from an objective standpoint, was one wild ride while it was being viewed. Now we have 300, also from the deranged and ingenious mind of Frank Miller. Miller actually had little to do with the movie, unlike Sin City, where Robert Rodriguez gave him a co-director credit even though he never once manned a camera. But the Miller-ness is still intact, and 300 simply oozes style and drama.

Director Zack Snyder, whose only previous feature film was the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead (I didn’t see it myself, but I hear it was pretty terrifying), creates a story that’s hammy, over-dramatic, and one-dimensional, exactly like it should be. This is a comic book, people. If you’re looking for realism, watch C-SPAN.

It’s clear that Snyder understands the source material, because he evokes the right mood from the very first frame. It’s over the top, yes, but that’s definitely not a problem. In fact, I would have more of a problem with the movie if it were subtle and under-handed. Subtle it is not, but it’s very smart and self-aware. It knows it’s based on a graphic novel, and expects you to as well. Likewise, it expects you to check your pre-conceived notions about what a “normal” movie should look like at the door. The visual style is very stark and in-your-face, but also beautiful in its own way.

Now for the plot. Historically based (kinda…), 300 tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae, in 480 BC. The Persian army was marching across the land, plowing over everyone who didn’t bow the knee. Sparta, and its King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), were definitely not ones to bow the knee to anyone. When Persia sends an emissary to tell Leonidas what’s what, he quickly gets a vision of just who he’s dealing with, but not long before he dies a horrible death. The Persian army of millions is on its way when 300 Spartans, lead by King Leonidas himself, block their path at a critical point. It’s a narrow passage through the mountains, such that the insurmountable numbers of the enemy become meaningless.

Meanwhile, Gorgo (Lena Headey), Queen of Sparta, is left to rally support for her king, and faces some political intrigue at home. The relationship between Gorgo and Leonidus is fascinating. As strong, courageous, and unflinching as Leonidus is, Gorgo matches him in every area. She gives him good counsel when he needs it, and believes in him and what he stands for, because she stands for that herself. Even so, she’s not butch or man-like, though her most attractive (non-physical) features are male in nature. Really, she every man’s dream: a masculine person in a smokin’ hot female body. She’s a woman of incredible beauty and grace, and is even a little vulnerable. In the midst of that, however, she’s strong and solid, unyielding to her cause. The most memorable moment in the film is when Leonidas and Gorgo see each other for the last time, and no words are spoken to one from the other. Yet volumes are said with just their exchanged looks.

LOTR fans will get a treat by seeing David Wenham again, as a one-eyed soldier with a gift for words and spinning tales. Other than that (and the king and queen), however, there are no stand-out performances. Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) is just as he should be, exotic and other-worldly. A Quasimodo-like character (Andrew Tiernan) is really just a catalyst for the plot moving forward, and I feel that more could have been done with his character if the actor had made some different choices. The one over-the-top element to the movie that really distracted me from the experience was the inordinate amount of super-dramatic pauses it had. By the fourth time it had one, I was just saying, “that’ll do, pig, that’ll do.”

300 generally duplicates the experience of Sin City and every other comic book movie worth its salt, in that I bought into it during its runtime. That element is essential to comic book movies; it has to have the ability to make you suspend your disbelief enough to enjoy it. 300 succeeds most of the time, though it sometimes lets its stylization run away with it. Even so, it’s a very fun ride, which is what any ridiculously stylized movie should be.

Iconic lines:
“Spartans! Enjoy your breakfast, for tonight we dine in hell!"

22 Rating: 13

Particle Man


Dr. Worm said...

Excellent review, Particle Man ... in fact, it makes me feel a bit insecure about mine.

I will say, however, that your choice for iconic line was one of my least favorite lines in the film.

Your Racist Friend said...

As Borat said: "WHAAAAATTTTTTT?"

Even though it was in every trailer, I think that line is pretty awesome. And, I think it's one of the things people will remember about the film.

Particle Man said...

here here. this may be one of those lines they use in montages or Oscar commercials. one of those "here's looking at you, kid" or "hello, Clarice" lines.

Dr. Worm said...

Well, I'm glad y'all enjoyed it. To me, however, it sounded unoriginal, forced, inappropriate, cliché, and a bit dumb. It snapped me out of the world of the movie for a moment and made me think, "Hm... the writers probably meant to go back and fix that line, but just never got around to it."

But, to each his own, I guess.

Your Racist Friend said...

I think it nicely sums up Leonidas' attitude going into that campaign......according to the best historical records, he went into it fully expecting to die: it was a kamikaze mission, essentially.

Dr. Worm said...

I do agree that it sums up Leonidas' attitude. Totally agree that he expected to die. I think it was largely the word "hell" that bugged me. It reminded me we were watching a movie written by 21st century writers. After all, wouldn't Greeks have said "Hades"?

Particle Man said...

and shouldn't it have been "because" instead of "for?" ... way to nitpick, DW. you get a gold star for being anal-retentive.

Dr. Worm said...

Hey, it's my soul nitpicking, not my brain. All I know is I had a visceral reaction against the line in question. My brain is now trying to sift through all the evidence and decide why my soul reacted the way it did. It's tried a few things, but thus far the Hell/Hades reason is the best it can do.

Moshe Reuveni said...

It will probably be a year or so before I get to watch 300, but if I was to focus my feedback on the quoted iconic line, I would have to say I'm with the Doctor on this.
For several reasons:
1. Who is to guarantee people will die between lunch and dinner? Those that were to die before lunch will have to lunch in hell, too. And then there is the possibility of a brunch for the earlier deaths, as well as the catering for those that didn't get to have lunch because they were busy fighting or because they didn't like the food at the local canteen.
2. There is an obvious Americanization of the Greeks here. If they were British Greeks, they would have said "tonight we shall have tea in hell" instead.

No, I am not serious, but I do know that if someone was to tell me this line - regardless of the seriousness of the situation - I would burst with laughter.

Your Racist Friend said...

I think that you're overlooking the context DW.....taking such an issue with a line like that in a film that is as stylized as 300. It's not supposed to be realistic, it's gut reaction.

Dr. Worm said...

And a gut reaction is exactly what I'm talking about, YRF. It's not like I heard the line, put it out of mind for awhile, saw PM's review, thought about it, decided I didn't like it, and then posted here.

Instead, I was sitting in the theater. I heard the line. My brain, heart, soul, gut, duodenum all reacted with the same: "Hm, that seems dumb." I put it out of mind. I saw PM include it as an iconic line. I posted my first comment. I got soundly disagreed with. And only THEN did I start prodding into why I didn't like the line.

But many thanks to Moshe for helping me out on this one. After reading his comment, I've stopped thinking so deeply about it. To Sheol with the whole Hell/Hades thing; it's just a dumb line.