11. March 2007 · Comments Off on Against Fearful Odds: 300 · Categories: Domestic, General, History, Media Matters Not, Pajama Game, War

To all men living on this Earth, death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better than by facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers and the Temples of his Gods?”
— Macaulay, Lays of Ancient Rome

So Blondie and I were intrigued by several different premises – intrigued enough to actually go and see the movie 300 on opening weekend; she because it starred Gerard Butler and several acres of well-oiled, well-built male hunkiness, and me because – well, it sounded interestingly unlike the usual Hollywood bucket o’krep poured out for the plebeians. For a start, no car chases, or machine gun fire, and most definitely not a remake of a TV show which wasn’t that good to start with, or a movie which should have been left alone. Neither one of us had ever read the wildly popular “graphic novel” it was based on. (Do I have to call them graphic novels? I always slip and call them comic books, it’s the same way I call “mobile home developments” “trailer parks” and it’s a movie, dammit, not a film.) Blondie hated the movie version of Sin City BTW, and I would like to serve notice right here and now that I would usually avoid movies which incorporate buckets of splattered gore, and collections of human grotesqueries – but the story of the Spartans at Thermopylae is one of those stories which has kept a grip on us in the West for nearly three thousand years. Every forlorn last stand, against overwhelming odds has harked back to the King of Sparta and his picked band, standing in a narrow pass. And that many of those so choosing would have known of it— like Travis at the Alamo— testifies to the enduring power of their story.

Through the rise and fall of Greece itself, and the Romes that followed it, into the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and into this century, the story of Leonidas and his stalwart few resonates – as much as the righteous and politically correct would have it not so. (like this reviewer. Note to Mr. Smith; Bite me. Sincerely, Sgt. Mom). Courage, honor, duty, clear-eyed self-sacrifice in a cause, for the lives of those you hold dear, for your city or your country – those are values that hold, that define who we are and what we stand for. To have them set out unapologetically in a movie like this is as jolting as a triple-latte with a shot of brandy, after a diet of nothing but mineral water. Some years ago, I lamented that Hollywood just couldn’t bring themselves to make a movie about the war we are in. (here) Perhaps this may be the closest that they can bring themselves to do it, without running the risk of having the gentlemen from CAIR parked in the outer office.

This is not one of those movies where you go for authenticity about Greece, Sparta and the Persian empire. I can just imagine scholars of the classical world hyperventilating and gibbering incoherently for the next decade on that topic. Ancient Sparta was not anything like a democracy as we know it, Spartan women probably wore a few more clothes and took no part in public life, Greek warriors in battle wore little more than a leather Speedo and a flowing cloak, I very much doubt that anyone has ever been able to use a rhinoceros as a war-beast – and Xerxes probably wasn’t a 7-foot tall mulatto with a lot of body piercings. Some of the dialog clunks a bit, though. I can tell, because I was mentally re-writing it. All that is beside the point.

Because it is not just the story by itself; there was the look of it, the whole visual spectacle. The word that kept coming up in my mind, over and over was “painterly”. That the story of 300 was created by some who is an artist was obvious in the very first frame. Every scene was set up as if it were a painting or a classical frieze, a vase-painting; all of it harking back to something that an artistically literate person would recognize. The flow of a cloak, the jut of a bearded chin, the fall of golden sunset on a craggy mountain pass, the way a man holds a spear and shield – all of it evocative and visually rich in a way that doesn’t happen much in movies. Without having read the book, I can’t say if the movie version was true to Frank Miller vision , but it definitely made for an arresting look. We did notice some little grace notes that seem to be quotes from other movies; the fields of wheat from Gladiator, Xerxes’ monumental throne looked the one from the Elizabeth Taylor vehicle in Cleopatra and the assorted war-beasts from Lord of the Rings. (Also Blondie was bugged throughout the movie as to where she had seen the actor who played Dilius – he was in Lord of the Rings, also. She could have asked me, of course!)

All in all… ticket price and time well-spent, especially for Frank Miller fan. There are also some bonuses for the straight women and gay male demographic as well. It seems to be going over very well in flyover country, too.

Comments closed.