Saturday, August 15, 2009

Oh, great... Just what we need: another review of 300

Have you ever thought to yourself, you know, I liked The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but somehow the big battle sequences just weren't manly enough? Well, has Hollywood got just the movie just for you! That's right, it's 300! And besides, LOTR:ROTK was SO three years ago. (Assume you're reading this the week of 300's release... I'm not too late, am I?) And I would frankly be derelict in my duty if I didn't point out that it's based on the battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.). If you're able to figure out the 'loosely' part, you're probably not going to enjoy this movie. Fair warning.

And that's pretty much the thick of the plot. Some backstory, basic character development, yada yada. Besides, you know how the real story can ruin things like this!

Now, you're probably going to read a lot of other reviews of this movie, and they're going to talk about EXTREME faithfulness to graphic novels, and emphasis on legend over history or character development, or even great dialogue, and all manner of nitpicky junk like that. Well, I don't know about any of that kind of stuff, but I do know this: for myself, it's more about the ending of an era: the VCR era. Some of you out there may be old enough to remember such an era. Say you're watching something like O Brother Where Art Thou on an old VCR tape and you get to that part where the cow gets hit by the old timey police car? Now, how many of you out there saw that in the theater and thought to yourself, oh, that's the scene I'm jumping to when this comes out on video? Yeah, me too. Or how about that one scene with Phoebe Cates in Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Why, you've never heard tell of the video store legends of the old videotapes snapping apart at that very scene? Then you simply haven't lived, my friend. You just can't BUY that kind of publicity! At least not anymore, not in the digital era. Ever heard of a YouTube video wearing down from overplay? Of course not. Don't be silly.

And yet, I didn't like Be Kind Rewind. What can I say? I'm a mass of contradictions that way.

Oh, but it's not just us in the dark, plopped down in front of TVs. No, Hollywood wants to get right to the good parts and speed things up as well. Take, for example, the practice of cutting out every 30th frame just to add a few more commercials. There's also the speeding up of dolly shots that are just too damn long. That's usually done in cable commercials just to jam in more movies to their montages. And a whooshing sound is thrown in... and usually the same one, too! Why, I remember as though it were yesterday when they did that to Hannibal's big first reveal in Silence of the Lambs: I was just too enthralled to be furious about it. But anyway, now that we're knee-deep in the DVD era, where rewinding a DVD just pales in comparison to rewinding a VCR tape, we get the post-Matrix era stylistics that people like Zack Snyder will now be trafficking in forever and ever, amen. Watch this with Watchmen and you'll see: slow-motion bits of glass flying as windows are punched out, slow-motion drops of blood with each new goring and slicing. A quote on the DVD cover says it's as groundbreaking as the Matrix, yet somehow the camera doesn't move as sweepingly here. And of course, the Onion's got the best quip about how the scenes look like they were filmed on a green-screen sound stage about 5 feet by 5 feet. And it's true! Somehow, LOTR made the canvas seem bigger. Partly because SOME OF THEM WERE. 300 was produced in part by a studio called Virtual Studios. Take my advice, guys: get outside once in a while! Don't stay inside the Virtual Studio all the time! Even Zemeckis can still get a sense of depth! Learn from him or something!

Why, I haven't even gotten to the plot yet! Maybe I'm just not manly enough, or maybe I've just kind of outgrown all this rah-rah Army Corps stuff, which 300 trafficks in in spades! It doesn't last forever, youngsters. And while 300 is as un-immune to the current Presidential politics of the moment as the next movie, it at least tries to make things fair and balanced in the other direction. Either you're a manly Spartan soldier, ready to march off to war to die for your beloved Sparta, or you're an evil, corrupt, moribund, LIBERAL member of some ugly, old council saying no, probably just for the sake of saying no. And there's NO MIDDLE GROUND, of course. Of course, they didn't have middle ground back then. Unless you're part of that other army that tried to help out the Spartans... I can't remember already. Were they Athenians? The thing is, America may be Sparta, but Iraq was no Persia, and Saddam was no Xerxes. Guess I better stop there and let the healing begin. Actually, it seems like most other critics didn't think it worth it to point any of that out, so maybe I'm just crazy after all!, wait. The Guardian bears me out: "...the idea of America having the Spartans' underdog status is not plausible." Thank you! ...I guess they're the only ones, and arguably they're just doing it to stick it to the Iranians. Yes, the USA back then apparently had a plan for seven wars total, but we're lazy and could only handle that whole Iraq thing. And to a much lesser extent, Afghanistan. See? Empire's tough! Really tough. Must be one of those jobs Americans don't wanna do. But now that Obama's in office, well, soldiers' lives have become valuable once again.

And speaking of The Return of the King, the Persian army's got battle elephants, too, but for those who thought the elephants were treated far too humanely in LOTR should find this very satisfying indeed. And then a battle rhino. No sense of wonder, Spartans? I know, I know. There I go again. And of course, they've got larger-than-life humans, and some with crab claws for hands! Well, things were bigger back then. Take dinosaurs, for example... ah, skip it. Point is, for me 300 can't claim more variety than Return of the King, but they sure seem to try!

As for the actors. Well, Faramir makes a fine narrator and an okay part of the cast. And I THOUGHT that dude that looks like Lance Henriksen was in this! You may remember him best as Elaine's controlling psychiatrist on Seinfeld. Zack must like that guy or something. What's up with that beard, dude? Get that guy a tall Lincoln hat! And Gerard Butler does a fine job as King Leonidas... but I confess to my shame that I couldn't help but wonder what Tom Green would've done with the part. And he could've bulked up for it, you know! Oh yeah! He's a skateboarder! I mean, you GOTTA be in shape to do that! The Guardian notes that there's an homage to Gladiator, with a similar walk in a field of wheat. I caught that as well, but just as quickly forgot. And he does have a few moments of well-done levity: first, when he takes his 300 "bodyguards" out for a stroll, and second, when he's eating that apple. As for Lena Headey, ... oy. What HAPPENED to you, girlfriend? You were so good in Ripley's Game! I fear you're going to become the next Catherine Hicks. I also remembered her as the kinda bland love interest / Amazonian warrior in The Brothers Grimm. I know, Heaven forfend. But HERE! As Queen Gorgo, well, I couldn't help but think of that line that Maureen Dowd said about women today getting in touch with their "inner slut." Yeah, that's right. Well, maybe it's just me, but some of the scenes here would fit right in on Cinemax. Or so I'm told. Especially Headey's and Butler's big love scene before heading off to war. Somehow it didn't seem to be terribly historical lovemaking to me, but I guess some things never change. And in a complete non-sequitur, I coulda sworn that was Richard Brake as Quasimodo, but I guess not. No, bigger fish for him to fry, it seems. Oh yeah, and Headey gets to stab a guy here. Cool.

And the music: somehow hard rock seemed inappropriate to me, but I could sorta dig it. Yeah, I could get used to watching the slaughter of ancient soldiers while the Metallica is cranked up, what the hell. However, the usual orchestral fanfare ultimately ends the day, but I think the end credits get back to a'rockin'. My advice: don't watch the end credits on your video iPod. Too small.

This is another picture produced by this fascinating new studio called Legendary Pictures, which also produced the new Superman movie and The Dark Knight. Somehow, 300 is not legendary like THOSE pictures. More like Beerfest and Observe and Report legendary.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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