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Reviews of the Past: 300 - The Best Preview of a Video Game Ever

From October 13, 2008:

After quite a few Oscar films, artsy independent flicks, and American Film Institute-lauded classic films, the next few entries on my Netflix queue will be a welcome combination of lowbrow comedies and popcorn flicks. Hey, I am a movie fan, which means I like to watch all kinds of movies. Truthfully, I probably would not have been interested in 300 had not a few friends (all guys) told me that this was a great film. I was skeptical. I mean, I could already tell it was a movie ripe for mass merchandising when it first came out, not to mention the fact that I thought one would need a certain amount of testosterone to enjoy the film. Yet, with the few friends singing its praises, I popped it on my queue. Unfortunately, my predictions were correct (and see if I listen to them again).

Now, just so's y'all know, I have nothing but respect for the concept here, but it was clearly a film made more for entertainment than art, so certain expectations need automatically be revised and relaxed. Basing my blog on that premise, I'm going to try to keep it lighthearted, even though I will, more likely, come off as a snob. What can I say? This is a film I should probably have passed on - because it's not a film that I probably ever had any chance of liking based on my own personal predilections and biases. Hey, at least I admit it.

Gerard Butler plays Leonidas, King of Sparta, but for my blog, I'm going to call him the Phantom. The film tells the story of how Leonidas (i.e. the Phantom) led 300 of Sparta's best warriors against Persian forces, looking to conquer and enslave, in the Battle of Thermopylae. It's based on a graphic novel by the same guy who did Sin City. These 300 noble madmen fell to the thousands of forces commanded by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro, aka, Lost guy), but Sparta's heroic efforts inspired men from all areas of Greece to stand against Persia in the end. Also, the film covers how Leonidas did this against the wishes of the Spartan council, though the council appears to have been bought, so his Queen (Lena Headey, aka, Sarah Connor, even if this came out first) does what she can to persuade the council to allow more troops to help Leonidas face the onslaught of Persia. Oh, and Faramir (David Wenham), narrates the story. I don't remember what his character name was.

So, 300 is like a cross between Clash of the Titans, Lord of the Rings, Sin City (with the two-tone color cinematography), and a big budget porno. I'm not lying. There's a lot of style and very little substance. It's all about war (grunt) and courage (growl) and honor (grunt again). Not that there's anything wrong with that, but, hey, it's precisely as I predicted. Did I mention that the friends who recommended this film to me were all guys? I'm sure girls like it too... I mean, there are a lot of bare-chested, loinclothed men, but there are also quite a few topless women, and frankly, I was just waiting for the action to start...the battle action! Get your heads out of the gutter, now, though there was a decent smattering of that too, hence the porno part.

Of course, the battle action was pretty stylized, as this director really loves slow motion and stop action shots. Good God, were those employed to excess. This movie could have been a half hour shorter if at least some of the fighting could have been more real-time. Almost every round of fighting was punctuated by gently gliding but hard-piercing spears, CGI-rendered motion ripples from speedy warriors slowed to a crawl, blood spattering in a delicately pseudo-artistic way, showers of arrows taking their sweet time in puncturing shields and flesh... This film wasn't as gory as I thought it would be (Apocalypto was far more graphic), but it was definitely more boring than I thought it would be. Since I was waiting to be entertained, I felt a big sense of ennui as each battle kind of followed the same pattern. Phantom shouts orders, his loyal warriors duck behind their shields, the Persian thugs with Lost guy commanding them (and given a somewhat demonic visage) charge, the Spartans defend themselves in slow motion for awhile, and then they stand around and talk about honor and bravery, and ha ha fooey on those Persians.

Of all of the characters, Sarah Connor was the most interesting. She had sort of the woman-fighting-for-her-man-in-a-man's-world motif and had to face some hard choices. She was the substance to the movie, but since the film was short on dialogue past that of Faramir the narrator, it didn't do much to redeem the film from the boredom it caused.

Again, I had no high expectations, but I didn't expect to be, as I've mentioned a few times, downright bored. The film was visually interesting, emphasizing red and sepia and using CGI to create ancient Greece and magical things like possessed oracle women. The performances were as good as they could get in the movie they were in. Still, I couldn't help thinking that, as a video game, 300 probably rocks, but as a film, I just couldn't get into it. It didn't help that I had a scratched copy of the movie - I managed to play most of it, but I lost about two minutes and had to spend at least that amount of time trying to fix the boo boos.

Still, I probably shouldn't have watched 300. Chances are, if you are a guy (or girl) who likes nothing but action and manly men being manly in their best alpha manner by fighting and being passionate about their women, then this film is for you! If you like to play video games, and you like playing video games based on movies, see this movie and then play the video game on which it is based. I have no idea what platform it's on. If you are looking for a movie to just sit back and be entertained for any reason, and no reason in particular, I don't think 300 will do it for you. Seriously, I was hoping for a good love story or thrills-a-minute action or something at least a little interesting. I got nothing, so...I am inclined to rate this film a 5 for utter mediocrity. I know there are some who will cry "blasphemy!" I think the film pulled off what it tried to pull off, and I think it has some unique features, like the visuals, but I just think it feels like a combination of other things I've already seen, and I was too bored to stop comparing. Also, it doesn't pass my test. I can't watch the brave 300 battle again, unless my friends force me to give it another try. I'm not trying to be a snob, but I was hoping for a little more, well, anything. I am of the belief that this film was created for a target audience, and I'm just way off target. Again, at least I admit it.

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