300 (2007)

Gerard Butler (Leonidas), Lena Headey (the Queen), Dominic West (Theron), David Wenham (Dilios)

Zach Snyder (Dawn of the Dead)

Plot: Does it really matter? Really? Based on Frank Miller's graphic novel 300 about the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE between the Spartans and Persians.

Alternate titles: Slice You and the Horse You Rode in On; CGI Wildlife is Cooool; Watchmen is in Good Hands; Three Beheadings Are Better Than One; Abs, Abs, Abs

I am not even going to touch on the history. Neither am I going to mention the politics of war, because too many critics have made that their preferred stomping ground.

Much like Sin City, I admired this film more than I enjoyed it. Expanding on the Wachowski style of the comic book "look" in The Matrix, I could envision pages from Frank Miller's graphic novel. I have not actually read a comic book in about a year, but I still appreciate and enjoy that style, particularly when a director renders it so strikingly. Big ideas and big visuals for a bigger-than-life tale.

Recent portrayals of war on film strive for as much accuracy as possible to demonstrate the sheer, awesome horror of combat. I am thinking specifically about the 20-minute battle scene at the end of Children of Men, with its gritty photojournalist perspective. 300 went the other direction, employing visual hyperbole. Everything is slo-mo and flowing capes and thick blood and huge action. No subtlety. No gentleness. Brutal.

This worked because of the flashback we recognize at the end of the film, that the entire tale has been narrated to us. On the receiving end of a statement such as "we fought a huge beast of a soldier," what would a listener imagine? Well, a huge beast of a soldier. Literally. A snarling giant. Or, "we came upon a tree of corpses." Insert imagery of a tree literally constructed of corpses, their limbs as branches. The artistic license is a representation of the unimaginable, those terrors we, as bystanders and non-participants, cannot fully understand or even visualize. It is massively and completely over-the-top because that is war.

However, because it is so over-the-top, I hardly cared much about the characters. They strayed too, too far from the bounds of believability to be endured. Self-importance overshadowed opportunities for genuine character and feeling, or even a madman's style of absurd amusement. The few bits of humor just barely integrated into the entire "live free and die" pomposity.

Probably to the chagrin of the filmmakers, I found my own humor. Regarding Butler's shouty qualities, I decided he would bellow for breakfast: "SPARTANS!! TODAY, WE WILL EAT CHEERIOS!" The soldiers were more homoerotic than gay porn, so I made up read-between-the-lines dialogue for the brave comrades. When young Leonidas battled The Nothing -- don't tell me that was a wolf! -- I suffered a flashback to the childhood trauma of The NeverEnding Story. And I couldn't listen to Butler say "freedom," with his Scots brogue, without thinking of Mel Gibson in Braveheart -- and then the turkeys in the "South Park" parody.

With regard to the Queen's sacrifice, I could not make heads or tails of the point. Did she succeed? Was she wrong? Shouldn't she have just killed the dick of a politician instead of tending to his? That would have seemed more Spartan, and I would have appreciated her role in the battle's progress more thoroughly. As it was, she just kinda faded into the background after the scene in the council chamber, vindicated somewhat, but ultimately used and abandoned. Certainly not the "strong woman" image they tried to create for her.

But who am I trying to find feminist strains in this film? Forget it.

Ultimately, I cannot think of a war movie more opposed -- in style, spirit, or message -- to Joyeux Noël. My brain yet spins trying to grapple them both. And, being the history buffs we are, Keven asked whether the movie just begged us to learn more about what really happened at Thermopylae. Why yes. Yes, it does.


Ann(ie) said...

I wanna see it!!

wendy said...

Do you mean David Wenham? Weak at knees. David Wenham?

carrie_lofty said...

I don't know about weak in the knees, but yes -- that's the fellow. Thx, Wendy.

Keven said...