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After an email exchange Di and decided to catch the movie adaptation of Frank Miller's story about the 300 Spartans who stood against the armies of Persian emperor Xerxes I. So Saturday afternoon we caught a matinee at Point and thereafter feasted on Qdoba burritos.
Di and I arrived at 11:55 for a 12:10 showing, got our $4 tickets, Di got some soda, and soon we were in the theater looking for seats ... boom ... BAM! (POW! THWACK!) ... the place was half full. Which is 100% more people than are usually in the theater when I go to watch a movie. We got center seats near the front, and just as we were discussing Starbuck developments in BSG the lights went out and the trailers came on. Prompt. And people continued to come in, at more than a trickle, really. Soon it was completely full.
The noteworthy aspect of 300, as we noted, that is, when we left and saw a long long line for the next showing, was that it had clearly been marketed toward the 18–34 male demographic; all the women there were there with sons, boyfriends, or husbands. This sex/gender dynamic might be worth discussing later, especially given the perhaps unintentional subtexts that throb, shall we say, barely below the rather shallow surface of this cinematic affair.
An appropriate headline for a review of 300 might read “Gay movie plays it straight.” Troy and Gladiator each had more humor than this film; some have argued that Angelina played her role in Alexander in such a way to achieve (high) camp. There are no intentional laughs here. Were 300 to have better pacing (that is, for example, an actual feeling of plot, not just scenes) it would perhaps become a camp or cult classic in the future. It could have used Robert Rodriguez (director of the best adaptation of something with which Miller was involved, Sin City—Elektra and Daredevil being trash) behind the camera. But as other reviews (see: Salon) pointed out, void of context this movie would almost feel at home in Hitler's Germany next to Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will and similar films. The Onion A.V. Club reviewed a new book on Riefenstahl last week: Leni by Steven Bach (New York: Knopf).
It would be at home there not just because of the militarism but also because of the homo-eroticism that is not so much latent as blatant. Once you take away the queen—Lena Headey tries a Connie Nielsen look—the only women in the movie are temple whores (a.k.a. oracles) and the prostitutes and transsexuals of Xerxes's camp. Note the transsexuals if only because they lead to a certain confusion between mostly nude male and female bodies in their one important scene, when the hunchback gives in to temptation, for this is not a lack of clarity, it's part of a larger sexual aesthetics or politics in the movie: it's a movie of men, and even the few women resemble them. Despite the numerous shots of the oracle's breasts or those of Lena Headey, the focus is not the flesh, not anything that makes them look like women; it's about erect nipples. Nipples and flat chests, just as with that minor army of 300 bare-chested Spartans in their leather Speeods™, sandals, and red capes. The 300 spend much of their time in battle not so much swinging swords as thrusting them and spears in profile.
Poor Edward Said is, or at least should be, turning over in his grave; this movie is not a matter of orientalism but one of orientalism of steroids, human growth hormone, and whatever as-of-yet untestable drug most think Barry Bonds is taking. This is Sparta trying to stand in for “The West” while at the same time distancing itself from those “boy-lover” Athenians, from which (and not from Sparta) we claim to inherit our notion of democracy. And this is Sparta viewing Persia as “The East,” as an Asian monstrosity, all perversion, all decadence, all masks and make-up and joys of the flesh and the grotesque. There is a mythical, mythological (emphasis: logos) tale to be told hiding in the costume and character design of Miller's graphic novel as told by Snyder, but self-reflection, intellectualism, irony: these do not exist in the comic book world of Frank Miller, at least not in this world.
The movie as a whole and even extended scenes are flat, lacking rhythm, lacking anything dynamic resembling a story, but the images: they are beautiful and wonderfully composed. Today I compared them with Frank Miller's 5-issue comic, though, and realized that little if any credit should be given to director Zack Snyder or his cinematographer, for indeed it is really a matter of attempting to very faithfully render Miller's images on film, and all the most beautiful shots in the movie are taken straight from the comic. The spearing of the wolf with the spear disappearing off-screen to the left only to reappear from the right as a shadow? In the comic. The rearing up of the horse when the messenger arrives? Straight from the comic. And so on.
And the movie's greatest flaw, the atrocious dialog and bombastic and leaden voice-over, comes straight from the book, where it should have stayed. I understand the narrative reason for the voice-over in the movie—it makes actual sense for/to the plot and theme, and here, too, a reflection on epic and the telling of epic should have or could have been in order—but its execution leaves a bit more than “something” to be desired. I wish they had employed Miranda Otto as the queen ... just for a reunion with Faramir.
It was two hours enjoyably spent, I must admit, but little of that had to do with the quality of the film or even the quality of the entertainment. Ignore the silly discussions of what sort of political allegory the movie is. People want to see it as an allegory of the U.S. in Iraq or elsewhere, and they are uncertain as to which side is the U.S. (the decadent invading Persians? the militant, ideological and idealistic Spartans?) but wanting does not make it so, which is not to say that there aren't political (often annoyingly hypocritical when not flat disturbing) elements to the movie. The only thing that saddens me is that Snyder (born March 1, 1966, in Green Bay, Wisconsin), so one reads, is onboard to direct an adaptation of Alan Moore's Watchmen.
—March 11 2007