Friday, June 10, 2011


"Prepare for glory," indeed.  After the awesomeness that was Sin City, I was excited when 300 was announced; not only am I a comic book geek, but I am a particularly big fan of Frank Miller's work.  And when 300 came out, it was glorious.  Angry, manly, violent, and not at all homoerotic (wink, wink), this movie was perfect for what it was.  However, when I bought it on DVD and re-watched it a few times, I started to notice that the movie was...well, a little silly, I suppose.  It has been a few years since my last viewing, so I wonder how gracefully the film has aged for me...
Nope.  Not even a little gay.

For the uninitiated, 300 is the story of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC.  When an emissary from the Persian "god-king" Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) arrives in the Greek city-state of Sparta, he more or less threatens to rape Sparta if King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) does not choose to surrender to the overwhelming numbers of the Persian army.  Leonidas informs the messenger that this is Sparta, which is apparently a previously agreed upon signal for Spartans to push the messenger and his guards into a dark pit in the middle of Sparta, which seems to exist only for pushing people into.
From this point on, Sparta must prepare for war against Persia, right?  Not so fast.  Some disgusting, inbred priests apparently have the last word on going to war, and they won't approve it (for a few reasons).  Leonidas cannot have the army of Sparta fight the Persians.  He can, however, take an honor guard of three hundred men (so...shouldn't this be titled 301?) and go on a little stroll that leads them to where the Persians will undoubtedly march.  What can three hundred men do against the hordes of Persia?  With a clever choice of where to fight --- and a heaping dose of bad-assery --- the answer is "quite a bit, actually."

Before I get into the acting of 300, I want to mention the style of the film.  The movie was filmed almost entirely with a blue screen, so the backgrounds and lighting are both highly stylized.  The movie uses slow-motion constantly, even for seemingly inane tasks, like climbing a mountain.  The battle scenes are grisly and gory, with a lot of stylized blood spattering the screen (although, oddly enough, not the Spartans).  And the acting is composed almost entirely of shouts.  Of course, the movie is being related as a motivational tale, told by Dilios (David Wenham) around a campfire; the fantastic and fearless characters in this movie are being related by a narrator that has good reason to make these Spartans sound like the damn bogeymen.  That's neither an approval or a disapproval of the acting in this movie --- I'm just saying that there was a reason for the director to have everyone act the way they do.

That said, wow.  The acting is something else.  I would love to blame the actors for their horribawful line delivery (cast slogan: "Try shouting more"), as well as the script, but that would be unfair.  No one in this film gives a complex performance (aside from Lena Headey) and every character is clearly good or evil, with absolutely no shades of grey.  So, what does the cast have left to do?  They have to look cool and tough while wearing undies and a cape.
Mission accomplished.
Gerard Butler really seems to enjoy himself as the too-tough-to-bleed Spartan king, and I can't blame him.  How often do you get to deliver lines like "Tonight we dine in Hell" as part of a motivational speech?  I would hesitate to call Butler good here, but he is entertaining enough.  David Wenham is the narrator, and at times, his narration sounds like he is doing voice-over for some very dirty porn.  I'm not sure why his character is the only one with a 20th century haircut, either, but whatever.  His voice just bothers me.  The other Spartans played their parts well enough, with only Vincent Regan and Michael Fassbender really standing out; Regan stuck out because his hair gets a major case of the frizzies as the film progresses and Fassbender was pretty cool as the Spartan that enjoys war the most. 
Lena Headey was pretty good as the tough wife of the king; she stands out, if only because hers is the only character with moral ambiguity.  Dominic West, who is capable of good work, was pretty boring as a sleazy politician.  The only Persian that wasn't a faceless, characterless monster was King Xerxes himself, Rodrigo Santoro; I guess he was okay, given the script, but his character design is pretty strange.

Director and co-writer Zack Snyder did his very best to bring the comic book 300 to life and stay true to the source material.  In that, he was successful.  You can tell which scenes were taken from the graphic novel, if only because every one of them is shot in slow-motion.  I will give Snyder a lot of credit for making this a visually unusual film.  The color palette, the stylized gore, and the omnipresent slow-motion shots add up for a very distinctive and very visually appealing film.  "Visually appealing" is not always the same as "well directed," though.  Snyder put all his efforts into making this movie look cool --- and he definitely succeeds --- but he omitted any subtlety or emotion with the actors and characters.  Snyder made a movie that looks and feels like the work of an artist, but without any depth.  It's not surprising to me that his follow-up films have been less successful than this one; how often do you find a script where the audience just wants to see them screaming and murdering people?  Ooh, maybe Snyder should direct the next Friday the 13th!

This is the most difficult movie I have reviewed so far, because it is both awesome and terrible at the same time.  The slow-motion is beyond excessive and is used without any regard for context or meaning.  Sometimes it looks cool, but sometimes it is just inappropriately funny.  The story is painfully simple, and yet omits some very basic things; the Spartans all march off to fight the Persians with just their leather undies, capes, and weapons --- and then, all of a sudden, they pull out their metal helmets that they were obviously not carrying at any point on their march.  Did they keister those things, or what?  And why is Gerard Butler wearing eyeliner in the final scenes?  That was just strange.  Not as strange as an army full of mostly bearded Greeks having absolutely no body hair, but strange nonetheless. 
Not even a treasure trail.
And the performances...!  I have seen Holocaust dramas with more wit and humor in them than 300.  Everything is super-serious (unless it involves Michael Fassbender loving violence), all the dialogue is shouted, and teeth are gritted whenever actors are not shouting.  And I don't even want to get into the WTF quality of the Persian characters.  I have no problem portraying an invading army as evil, but damn...the Persians in this movie are all inhuman monsters.  Again, I understand that this is probably because the film is being told as a story to motivate the Greek troops, but I can sympathize with anyone offended by the movie.  In so many ways, this is an awful movie.

And yet...and yet...I really enjoy 300.  Not in an ironic fashion, or because I laugh when I watch it (although I do that, too).  I genuinely like this movie.  But it's so bad!  But it's so bad-ass!  I've pointed out some of the shortcomings of the film, but the pure and brutal testosterone jolt this film provides balances things out for me.  This is pure, unadulterated violence on film, with none of the guilt or feelings that other violent movies try and force upon you.  Sure, this is probably the most homoerotic film in my collection, aside from Spartacus.  Whatever.  Whoever said that being manly excludes homosexual under- or overtones?  I think the important thing about this movie is that, despite everything it does poorly, I am still happy to watch it and revel in its 400-feet-over-the-top goodness.
When I was searching for movies stills online, I can across a wealth of 300-inspired visual jokes.  Here are the best I found:

This next one is my favorite.  When I was in high school, I worked at a grocery store, and we have caution signs to put up whenever there was a wet floor.  I took a Sharpie marker and doodled enough to make the falling guy look like he was diving for a baseball.  Whoever did this is much funnier than me.


  1. I have to agree with every point in this review. This movie is best enjoyed with a brew or two. After getting over the visual mind-fuck that is the first viewing, subsequent viewings are not as enjoyable, but still damn entertaining. And yet, there are so many terrible things in this movie.

  2. I appreciate the vote of confidence. It's rare that I can enjoy something that is obviously terrible without having fun at its expense, since enjoying bad movies is kind of one of my "things."