Sunday, March 11, 2007


When you're watching the spectacle that is Zack Snyder and Frank Miller's "300," I can certainly see why it's tempting to forget that this is simply a comic book movie. Granted, an ambitious and nearly flawlessly rendered one, but a comic book movie all the same.

So, I guess you can forgive two usually very reliable film critics for reading way too much into this. I normally don't like to call out critics, both because I generally like them quite a bit and because, well, in an ideal world I would be one. This time, however, I think I have to.

First up is A.O. Scott of the New York Times: Zack Snyder’s first film, a remake of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” showed wit as well as technical dexterity. While some of that filmmaking acumen is evident here, the script for “300,” which he wrote with Kurt Johnstad and Michael B. Gordon, is weighed down by the lumbering portentousness of the original book, whose arresting images are themselves undermined by the kind of pomposity that frequently mistakes itself for genius.

"Pomposity that frequently mistakes itself for genius?" Passed by a mirror recently Mr. Scott?

One other critic who just thought way too much about this is Dana Stevens of Slate, normally one of my favorites: And visually, 300 is thrilling, color-processed to a burnished, monochromatic copper, and packed with painterly, if static, tableaux vivants. But to cast 300 as a purely apolitical romp of an action film smacks of either disingenuousness or complete obliviousness. One of the few war movies I've seen in the past two decades that doesn't include at least some nod in the direction of antiwar sentiment, 300 is a mythic ode to righteous bellicosity.

I guess all that was somehow meant as an insult. If you were to tell Zack Snyder, Frank Miller or, for that matter, me, that "300" was visually thrilling and a romp of an action movie, I'm sure we'd all agree. And we'd all be satisfied with that.

If you just take this one for its text, rather than digging around for that pesky subtext, "300" is just tons of fun, and a real accomplishment.

In the area of melding comic books and movies, Frank Miller has definitely risen to the top of the heap. After surviving a slow start, "Sin City" was a big step in the right direction, and "300" takes what was right with that movie a big step further. For the first time, you can really feel like you're flipping through the pages of the graphic novel as you watch the movie, which to me at least is pretty friggin cool.

Alan Moore should be paying attention. What he might learn is that if you actively participate in turning your graphic novels into movies, and perhaps become the director, you might be much happier with the finished product rather than simply complain about it all the time. (Miller, by the way, is listed as the director on a "Sin City 2" and "Sin City 3." I say bring it on.)

Snyder and Miller have a more-than-willing accomplice here in Gerard Butler, who stars as King Leonidas, who led 300 of his best soldiers into battle against the imperious forces of Persia. It may not be an Oscar-worthy performance, but Butler delivers ridiculous lines like "tonight we dine in hell!" not only with a straight face but with gusto. It's his energy that gets "300" through its few rough patches, mostly brought on by the very unnecessary narrator (really my only quibble with "300.")

And the battle sequences, as Dana Stevens pointed out before she lost her mind, are indeed visually thrilling. I don't want to spoil any of it, but what it brought to mind most for me was Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood." A reach? Perhaps, but that's what I saw. Whatever you see in Miller and Snyder's fine film is up to you, I can only encourage you to see it. And, just in case it needs to be mentioned, I am not asking for a remake of "Throne of Blood."


Ashok said...

A Different review ! Very honest and truthful. As you said and I agree too that it should be watched for experience. It is a "suggested" movie to watch but not much of a "great" content per se.

Chris said...

Yeah, Dana Stevens' remark about "antiwar sentiment" bothers me. I, for one, am so exhausted of the "war is bad" subtext. It's good to see a pro-war movie and not have someone given some sort of sinister Dick Cheney makeup. Antiwar movies have merit, obviously, but they're also a well-worn road. I'm also glad that 300 doesn't apologize: it doesn't have some token scene where someone philosophizes about "sometimes war is a necessary thing."

You're right, it's all about action and fun. To try to make it something more obviously robs a viewer of that, and we have two examples in Scott and Stevens here.

Jim Marquis said...

I liked it a great deal. I'm a little burnt out on the "big speech" military movies but the action was extraordinary. I felt like it was a huge step forward from "Sin City"... with SC I always felt like I was watching a live action-animation hybrid but this was something else again.

I certainly didn't get an anti-war message from this film. Sparta was under siege and Leonidas and his men did what they had to do. Nothing wrong with that...unlike our current administration orchestrating their war of choice in Iraq.

Carrie Lofty said...

Darn it all, I wanted to go see this as a double feature with Sunshine at the end of the month, but the latter's opening day has been pushed back to DECEMBER for US wide release. Everywhere else in the world gets to see it in April. Crap.

Terence Towles Canote said...

I have to agree that Alan Moore should be taking notes from Frank Miller. I saw 300 yesterday an so far it looks like Miller is batting a thousand.

Sameer Vasta said...

Great review, and I think I echoed many of the same sentiments. I was extremely put off by AO Scott's review, and he happens to be one of my favorite critics. Odd.

Reel Fanatic said...

Carrie, you are the bearer of incredibly bad news, but I won't take it out on the messenger ... If you happen to see this comment from me, please let me know why they would do that ... I can't imagine it's a good sign

Carrie Lofty said...

This may not be a bad thing. If they delayed the opening of Sunshine across the board -- as in NO ONE gets to see it for another year -- that would be bad. But because they're dragging out the release only in the USA, and pushing it back to December no less, that means they hope to generate some Oscar season serious cinema buzz. Think about what happened to Children of Men: it premiered all across Europe and Asia in the autumn, but they waited until the very end of December to release it in the US. I would bet they don't want to get lost in the summer crowd of mindless sci-fi flicks, that the studio is actually banking on this one being taken seriously.

Early film festival reviews lambast the science plotting, but give props to Boyle for producing yet another excellent study of human reactions to intense stress, a la 28 Days Later. One can only hope.

Reel Fanatic said...

That is indeed not bad news for the movie as you present it, Carrie, but definitely bad news for people who, like me, live out in the hinterlands ... In 2006, I waited forever to see "Pan's Labyrinth," and now it seems Danny Boyle's movie will fill that slot this year

Divinity said...

Just came back from seeing 300 and we really enjoyed it (despite the nasty weather we had to swim through to get to the theatre). There were some giggles in the audience for some of the more over-the-top scenes but I loved the fact that no one held anything back.
Slightly off-topic point but after zipping through two and a half seasons of The Wire in the last six months, Dominic West is starting to fill in as my archetypal asshole visual. Anyone else get that or am I just crazy?

jeremy said...

I do think it was overblown, but in a good way. My complaints are on the score, the script, and some of the digitography. The lyrical caterwauling was reminiscent of BSG and never correctly punctuated a scene. The guitar power-chords were misplaced toward the second half of the film. The scipt didn't allow for moments like the father/son stuff to even ride archetypes. Like you pointed out, the V.O. was pretty atrocious.
And, my biggest beef with this translation (and even Sin City) is that what is conveyed in a single panel of comic, is suddenly in slo-mo for the film. You can paint broad strokes quickly and still have the impact of the single image. So, I guess that would have been somewhere between the cinematography and the editing.
Anyway, I still really enjoyed the film and will be purchasing it (and pausing key scenes) when its released on DVD.

Reel Fanatic said...

Your beefs are all legitimate, Jeremy, and a lot more reasonable that anything spouted by A.O. Scott

I have become an addict of "The Wire," Divinity, and am now rewatching some of the early season ... West is great, as is Idris Elba .. It doesn't quite fill the void left by 'Homicide," but it comes close

cindy said...

my daughter saw '300' this weekend and said it was pretty good.

lawryde said...

Movie critics really need to put down their thesauruses and just sit back and enjoy movies for what they are.

Not every story needs highly developed characters, multiple sub-plots, and rich dialog to be a good story.

Jimmy M. Espana said...

Hello "Reel Fanatic" and thanks for your comment on my post :) ..... I totally agree with you!!!! And by the way, interesting post on "300".

Lolo said...

The online journals are a great watch too. It's amazing how much was done in front of a green screen and how it was all made on a stage. Truly amazing. I connected with the main Spartans that they focused on, which leads me to believe that I would have connected with them all had they been able to do so. And seriously, could have watched another hour, it didn't feel long at all. And the Queen, it was nice to see a powerful woman. Geez, I could go on all day...ha!!

Anonymous said...

I agree that some folks are looking a little too deeply into the movie. It's just good fun. Leave it at that.

nAl said...

Thanks for reading my review, Reel Fanatic, and leaving your comment.

I hated Dana Steven's review, and she was exactly who I had in mind when I wrote about feminism emasculating men.

I see what you mean about the Kurosawa vibe. Do you know of there is a colorised version of "Throne of Blood"? I only have the original one.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm fairly certain there hasn't been any move to colorize "Throne of Blood," Nal, and I can't say I'd be in favorite of it .. those experiments rarely turn out to make any improvement over the original product

7aki Fadi said...


Nice blog, interesting reviews. I will definitely bookmark you.

I loved Sin City, not a lot of people get it, and to me this is how all movies should be. So for real? They are coming up with 2 and 3.

Reel Fanatic said...

That's what it says at the IMDB, 7aki ... I knew there was a Sin City 2 in the works, but I didn't know about 3 until I saw it there a few days ago .. The IMDB tends to project these things way out, so it may never materialize in the end

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