I went to the Hollywood Premier of the "300" last night, and talked a bit with Director Zack Snyder, screenwriter Kurt Johnstad, and graphic novelist Frank Miller. There will be lots of controversy about this film—well aside from erroneous allegations that it is pro- or anti-Bush, when the movie has nothing to do with Iraq or contemporary events, at least in the direct sense. (Miller's graphic novel was written well before the "war against terror" commenced under President Bush).
Oliver Stone's mega-production Alexander spent tens of millions in an effort to recapture the actual career of Alexander the Great, with top actors like Collin Farrel, Anthony Hopkins, and Angelina Joilie. But because this was a realist endeavor, we immediately were bothered by the Transylvanian accent of Olympias, Stone's predictable brushing aside of facts, along with the distortions, and the inordinate attention given to Alexander's supposed proclivities. But the "300" dispenses with realism at the very beginning, and thus shoulders no such burdens. If characters sometimes sound black-and-white as cut-out superheroes, it is not because they are badly-scripted Greeks, as was true in Stone's film, but because they reflect the parameters of the convention of graphic novels, comic books, and surrealistic cinematography. Also I liked the idea that Snyder et al. were more outsiders than Stone, and pulled something off far better with far less resources and connections. The acting proved excellent—again, ironic when the players are not marquee stars.
Ultimately the film takes a moral stance, Herodotean in nature: there is a difference, an unapologetic difference between free citizens who fight for eleutheria and imperial subjects who give obeisance. We are not left with the usual postmodern quandary 'who are the good guys' in a battle in which the lust for violence plagues both sides. In the end, the defending Spartans are better, not perfect, just better than the invading Persians, and that proves good enough in the end. And to suggest that ambiguously these days has perhaps become a revolutionary thing in itself.
Now it is important to remember that VDATAH wrote the introduction for the accompanying 300 book (which he fully discloses), so it is understandable if he hedges his opinion somewhat until the check clears, but let's turn to the pros.
“300” is about as violent as “Apocalypto” and twice as stupid. Adapted from a graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, it offers up a bombastic spectacle of honor and betrayal, rendered in images that might have been airbrushed onto a customized van sometime in the late 1970s. The basic story is a good deal older. It’s all about the ancient Battle of Thermopylae, which unfolded at a narrow pass on the coast of Greece whose name translates as Hot Gates.
The Spartans are so suicidally drunk with desire for death, matched by Persian mobs that seem barely able to imagine it, that the script's crude, a-b-c exhortations seem pointless. The most shining relics of the ancient Greek world are its words, but the words of “300” have the eloquence of Hollywood writers devouring comic books.
There are endless spearings and beheadings, plus dying horses and a whole wall made of corpses. You wouldn't wish to smell this movie, but we nearly can. It is too dumb as drama, even as war spectacle, to be transporting, frightening or sickening. Just numbing.
With costumes designed by Michael Wilkinson, "300" pays a lot of attention to what its characters wear. The Spartan look — tight metal helmets, giant shields, long red capes and what look like black leather Speedos — is quite effective, though at times it makes "the fiercest soldiers the world has ever known" look like an especially fit group of Santa Monica lifeguards taking part in the Doo-Dah Parade.
The effeteness of the debauched Persians, on the other hand, is indicated by the multiple piercings of their leaders. The great Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), for example, is so weighed down by a costume consisting of 18 jewelry pieces, not to mention a dozen piercings, that he comes off more like an arrogant doorman at an exclusive bondage club than the unquestioned ruler of a mighty empire.
Needless to say, it will be the number one movie this weekend, but not because of the acting or its "moral stance".
Given the option, the L&T one and I are going to see this at the Ken Cinema this afternoon. 300...maybe later.