300 (or should that be 1800?)

That’s my last comment about the golden, glistening abs in the movie (seriously, at one point I thought I was looking at shields in the distance – it was their abs!) Enough has been said about the abs elsewhere, in fact they and the ‘HooHah’-ing pretty much dominated most of the pre-release reviews. I suspect I know why… there’s not a lot else to talk about – if you don’t want to piss off the nice people who provided the reviewer tickets.
Before I lose all of you who turn off as soon as you suspect your taste will not be agreed with, especially by a woman-who-can’t-understand, let me say this: I do understand. In this era of political correctness and psycho-therapy there are few films or stories where a man can really enjoy a good, manly “HOO HAH!!” I get it. But just because there are so few doesn’t mean we have to celebrate one so poorly executed. Yes the shots looked like the comic. Fine. Go buy a second copy of the comic (in the big, beautiful A3 format) and have some pages framed. It’s art. But this film was excrutiatingly poorly written, directed and acted (though this was probably due to the direction.)

What is betrayed here is a lack of understanding of basic screen-craft. Film has different requirements to a comic. It is not static. It is more immersive – the audience is trapped in that dark theatre with nothing to experience but what is on the screen for every, consecutive minute. Until the DVD release, they cannot put the film down and pick it up again hours later when they are ready, having been refreshed by some other life activity, to dive back into the weighty, brooding, oh-my-god-the-honour-of-it-all mood that not only dominates but overwhelms this film. Asking an audience to have the same emotional reaction to each scene simply does not work – because you lose them. This has nothing to do with the attention span or intelligence of the audience – it’s basic emotional law that we become immune to emotional experiences (no matter how extreme) repeated ad nauseum. In practice this means that when your protagonist’s side-kick declares that his extreme grief is due not to the patriotic death of his son but “because I never told him I loved him” we laugh. Admittedly, the line was both corny and totally incongruous and it is possible that was the reason there were giggles but I submit that if simply ratcheting-up the same emotion constantly worked, even dialogue as bad as that would have simply washed over us in the maelstrom of emotion – it happens all the time in good action films.

One of the reasons this film is such a disappointment is that action films are masters of the emotional roller coaster – it’s why they are so popular. Good ones keep us on the edge of our seats never quite knowing what is going to happen next, hitting us hard just as they have made us laugh. Nothing unexpected happened in 300 and, frankly, after the first 30 mins nothing new happened, nor did the same things even occur in some different way: rousing speech to men, fight, rousing speech to men, bad guy or wife POV, rousing speech to men, fight, rousing speech to men. Seriously, the way these poor actors were made to pose and change cameras between each sentence had me dreading the next two hours ten minutes in – this wasn’t acting, it was voguing.

Several reviewers have touched on the historical accuracy of the film. Those of you who know I am an historian at heart were probably waiting for the bit in which I slam the ‘revisionism’ but I’m not going to because I think it’s irrelevant. A film needs a good story and, whatever inspires it, artistic license is valid AS LONG AS IT IS NOT PRESENTED AS TRUTH (like that damned “King Arthur” movie urgh.) The inspirations from Herodotus’s Bk 7 are clear:

  • there was a contingent sent to the pass (it was to hold off the Persians for as long as they could while the army of Greeks that we saw at the end of the movie prepared for battle);
  • that contingent was made up of many greeks, but at the end, knowing they would be defeated, Leonides sent all but the Spartans and Thespians home to join the preparations for the larger war;
  • there was a traitor who gave away the path behind the Greeks (he was from Milas not from Sparta but their recently exiled King Damaratus was also in Xerxes company informing on them – so squish these two together and maybe that’s where the malformed creature comes from);
  • in fact they make an entire scene directly from: “… it became clear to all, and especially to the king, that though he had plenty of combatants, he had but very few warriors.”

So the story provenance is fine – all that is required, as far as I’m concerned is that its own internal continuity be intact and it is. The film as a whole is presented as David Wenham’s character telling a story to the troops before they march on the very enemy in the story – it is supposed to be propaganda (something not the sole domain of nazis as Paul Byrnes of the SMH would have us believe – check out OUR recruitment posters from the WWs). Frankly, though, the writers’ would have done well to follow Herodotus a little more closely – the story structure is better!

I am sure that, even as I write, someone is penning an article declaring that these movies (I am of course including Sin City which I would rate above this one) are a whole new genre to themselves. I’m sure there will be a carefully crafted definition which turns each shortcoming into a deliberate and brilliantly executed requirement of the genre – and every critic of the movie into a nouveau-philistine. The truth is that what we have here is a story created for another medium painstakingly recreated without respect for the new medium and the result is a ‘moodie’ NOT a movie.

*For those of you interested in the real history this is a short but excellent article on Spartan society and its structure (you’ll note these men fighting for freedom ruled over a ‘country’ in which their slaves outnumbered them 10 to 1) and this is a link to the text and commentary on the relevant Herodotus.

One thought on “300 (or should that be 1800?)

  1. This sounds about right. Although I did not see the Spartan 300 (sounds like a NASCAR event to me), my 15 year old nephew raved about it…which immediately puts up red flags for me.
    Nice to have you back!
    Kudos from Stateside.


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