300 Reasons to Kvetch

So, one of the things we did whilst in TO was to go see 300. It was actually playing in IMAX in the theater up there, but that was all sold out so we just saw the regular version. Going in, I had a mixture of hope and dread. Previews looked cool, but I knew it was based on a Frank Miller comic, and Dear Sweet E, how I do loathe me some Frank Miller! The man writes cheesy, dick-waving machismo, misogynist, FanBoy wank-off material and is hailed as a demi-god for it in the comic book community. Shows what they know. Well, 300 held up to the best Frank Miller traditions, I’ll say that. *eye roll*

As to the filmic elements, it did look beautiful. Every frame looked like a painting. But a completely CGI-rendered painting; compare to, say, Lawrence of Arabia where every frame is a painting made by actually filming real things. Somehow that takes much more skill, don’t you think? But anyway, visuals are all 300 has to offer. ALL style, ZERO substance. The director just went way over the top with the stylization. Everything was filmed in slo-mo, every tiny gesture was shot to make it look profound (endless lingering closeups of spearpoints, for example), every time Leonidas put his spearbutt on the ground it had to make an earth-rending BOOM sound, lovingly-filmed shots of blood flying in graceful arcs, etc etc etc. The director was trying to make things seem Soooooo impressive, but it was really all just padding done to disguise the simple fact that there is virtually NO story here! Wanna know the plot to 300? Ok.

Spartans are really badass. The most badass of them all is their king. One day Persian messengers come and mock the Spartans’ badassness. King Badass won’t stand for that and kills them, because he’s so badass. Persia declares war on Sparta. But the Oracle predicts a loss, so the Spartan council won’t commit troops (apparently, there are no Badasses on the council.) King Badass is so badass, he decides to fight the Persians anyway with only 300 of his most badass troops. They all march off to war, and every single one of them forgets to pack any clothes. The 300 badasses find an impregnable defensive postion and hold it against like 200 million Persians. For the rest of the movie. They flex, and kick a lot of ass. In between flexing and kicking ass, they chat about how badass they all are. Throughout, the narration reminds us that Spartans are really badass. Meanwhile at home, the wife of King Badass (Queen Badass?) tries to convince the council to send more troops. She fails. The King of Persia shows up at the battle, and turns out to be RuPaul on a really bad PMS day. He’s obviously really Gay and we’re supposed to think that’s a Bad Thing. But 300 naked, oily Spartan men hanging around together and bonding is not Gay, it’s Badass. Got that? The 300 Spartans finally get outnumbered and they all die. We’re supposed to feel really sad, because they were so badass. One Spartan survives to narrate the film and go home and spread the propaganda of badassness.

And that is IT! No wonder they had to pad it like crazy. Now, I am normally all for directors pushing the envelope visually. Hey, film is a visual medium, right? So tell your story visually. But there needs to be a good story underneath. And the way 300 was written, it was not a good story. Coulda been, but wasn’t. So all the extreme stylization served to do was make the viewer feel very removed and detached from the film world. Everything was so exaggerated, that it almost reminded me of the silent movie style of acting and filming. (Which got me to thinking that 300 would have been more effective as a silent film. If the director really wanted to just go for pure visuals, and done something groundbreaking, that’s what he should have done. And losing Frank Miller’s gawdawful clunky dialogue would have been NO loss at all!)

Acting in 300…well, there really wasn’t much of it. The wonderful David Wenham was utterly wasted. The rest of the cast; well, I have to give enormous credit to Gerry Butler for being able to stand around naked, in front of a bluescreen, and say those cheesy-ass lines without cracking up. That’s about all the credit I can give. And even though this is a movie about 300 naked badass sword-wielding dudes, not a single one of them is hot. Not a drop of charisma in the bunch. Maybe it’s because they were all too naked. Or because they’re Greco-Roman and that’s always a turn-off. At any rate, it was sad and really brought home the truth of what I said last week about how a cast of That Guys is better than 250 naked Brad Pitts. Word.

300 tries SO HARD to make you care about it’s heroes that ultimately you just don’t. The stylization already puts you at one remove. Add to that the bad writing which gives you no insight into the characters (other than that They’re Really Badass!), and the boring and repetitive way the film is structured (Fight scene. Cut to boring pointless talky scene of Queen. Fight scene. Spearpoints. Arrowheads. Wheat. Repeat.), and I just lost interest. The moment of truth came when King Badass was shot through with about 50 arrows, fell to his knees, and started dying. It was borderline plagarism of Boromir’s death in FOTR, but whereas no matter how many times I see the FOTR scene I cry, in 300 I didn’t feel one single thing for Leonidas. (And it’s NOT just because Boromir=Hot, Leonidas=Not!)

If I ever rent 300, I’m going to try watching it with the sound off. I really do think that will be a big improvement. Apart from that, you couldn’t get me to sit through it again.

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