by RISHI AGRAWAL
300 represents the ultimate triumph of style over substance. Sure, the film looks pretty, but it does not give you much else beyond that. 300 is based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel, which places it in the same company as Sin City. Though both are faithful adaptations of Frank Miller’s original vision, 300 is a film that is lacking in many key respects.
The story follows 300 Spartan soldiers as they battle the entire Persian army in the Battle of Thermopylae. The Spartans are a harsh people who throw unfit babies over a cliff to die and send young boys to fight wolves on their own. They are led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler; The Phantom of the Opera – 2004), a man who loves his wife (Lena Headey; The Cave) and is fiercely loyal to Sparta. The Persians are led by the god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro; Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle), who has the resources of much of the conquered world at his disposal.
The movie makes a spectacle out of violence. I had never known there would be so different ways to sever a head. The film frequently makes use of slow motion so that we can watch every moment of the killing blow and the blood splattering, both of which dominate the film. The problem I have is not with the violence itself, but the fact that there is no contrast to the violence. There are very few quiet moments in the film to allow us to catch our breath. So, faced with an unending stream of blood, we just have to sit back and watch it unfold, eventually becoming bored with all of it. The mayhem in this film is certainly cartoonish and cannot be taken seriously, but the difference between this film and say, a Tarantino film, is that Tarantino makes death mean something. It isn’t all just anonymous killing of characters we know nothing about. Also, Tarantino injects humor into the film. There are almost no moments in 300 that are funny, at least not intentionally.
Don’t get me wrong. I did not absolutely hate the film. There are things to be admired. It is difficult to criticize the visual effects of the film, and I would say that this film mostly made good use of computer effects. I liked the way the film looked, but I wish there was some more character development and plot to add some stock to the soup. Defenders of the film claim that it is faithful to Miller’s original vision, and so the film can’t be faulted. There is a long history of films being unfaithful to their source material, and sometimes they even improve upon the original. If director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead – 2004) really wanted to change some of the details, he could have. It does not excuse him from criticism.
The unending battle is set to an overpowering score, which is mind-numbing after a while. The score at least started out appropriately, but when the rock music started, I wondered if I was still in Ancient Greece. The dialogue is similarly awful. We were convinced about a half hour into the film that Sparta was resilient. After that point, we do not need to hear speeches about their tenacity, but they continue unabated.
The other problem with the film was what could only be described as random weirdness. From deformed old men who work with the Oracle to a hunchback to a bulbous creature with knives for arms to a chained madman who looked vaguely similar to Chunk from Goonies, it seems that each scene is in competition with the previous one to see which one could be the strangest. One scene depicts some kind of orgy in Xerxes’ tent, where transsexuals and lesbians cavort, many of them with strange piercings and deformities. Instead of being strange and wondrous (probably the intent of the scene), it is simply laughable, and perhaps the least erotic orgy I have ever seen on the screen. And the movie completely lost me when the rhinoceros showed up.
On a side note, it seems that a lot of people are using this film as an analogy to the current war in Iraq. Some people seem to think the Spartans represent the Americans and others think the Persians represent the Americans. And people disagree about whether Leonidas or Xerxes represents President Bush. I will admit that any film about war is going to have a certain amount of relevance to our current situation in Iraq. But as far as seeing the entire film as an allegory, I don’t think that can be done for two reasons. First of all, this is a faithful adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel, which was written in 1998, long before the war in Iraq. And secondly, I don’t think the film has that much depth.