Friday, March 09, 2007

Those Wacky Spartans

Here's a movie I won't be bothering with. And it's not just because it looks like a tediously violent, third-rate stinker; it's because the source material was weak to begin with. Frank Miller has created works I'm crazy for, but 300 is not one of them.

I can understand why Miller was drawn to the Spartans and Thermopylae. No matter how what lens you view them through, the Spartans are difficult folks to love: arrogant, paranoid, antisocial in the extreme, ruthless on the battlefield and even moreso in the delivery room — if you love the Spartans, rest assured they won't return the favor. From Batman to Marv, Miller has made a fetish of loving the unloveable, and the Spartans get Miller's full fetish freak-on.

Despite the unusual page format, Miller's work never quite flies off the page. The shadows, the exaggerated faces, the languid drapery are all there. So is the animist spirit ("I shall become a bat!" becomes "I shall become a wolf!"). It might well be a matter of my having been overexposed to Miller's cranky solipsism, but this time his final product struck me as an overt "sell", very similar to Jack Chick's pamphlets.

I think I was also spoiled by Stephen Pressfield's Gates of Fire. His novel is a well-rendered pulp masterpiece that employs some standard narrative techniques to excellent effect. Pressfield solves the problem of how to get a modern reader onside with the Spartans by giving us a narrator, Xeo, who happily devotes himself to Spartan slavery after his town falls to a band of marauders. In Pressfield's hands, the Spartans aren't a bunch of fetishized freaks, but a rigorously maintained society built in response to the volatile environment that surrounds it. Someone in Tinseltown must have the rights to the book, and that's the sword-and-sandals movie I'll stand in line to see.

Final note: I've been on the fence when it comes to Slate's movie reviewer Dana Stevens, but she won me over with her evisceration of 300. Sez she, "(W)hat's maddening about 300 (besides the paralyzing monotony of watching chiseled white guys make shish kebabs from swarthy Persians for 116 indistinguishable minutes) is that no one involved — not Miller, not [director Zack] Snyder, not one of the army of screenwriters, art directors, and tech wizards who mounted this empty, gorgeous spectacle — seems to have noticed that we're in the middle of an actual war. With actual Persians." And that's just her warm-up.

4 comments:

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Yahmdallah said...

C'mon. Not even on DVD?

It doth look atrocious, but can a sci-fi geek resist new hotness, even if it's trash?

Whisky Prajer said...

Weeeeeeell ... *maybe* on DVD. Once it straggles onto the cheap shelf, that is.

Scott said...

I dunno, gang -- the only redeeming thing about the movie is its big-screen gorgeousness. Take that away and it's a thin soup indeed -- irritating in its "manly-men-white-guys-save-civilization-from-brown-skin-sinister -effete-hordes" crap.

I don't go to a Hollywood movie looking for reason or fairness but hearing Spartans insult the Athenian "boy-lovers" is like hearing Michael J. Fox using the word "faggot" -- weirdly out-of-tune, needlessly insulting and just plain wrong.

You're totally right about Dana Stevens, though -- I felt she'd lost a little something when she moved over from the TV beat but I think she's getting her groove back!