Saturday, March 17, 2007

Let Loose The Dogs Of War

A few months back I wrote a post asking if the 300 trailer was for real?

It was such a cool trailer filled with incredible images and music and just enough great lines to guarantee that I would throw down my money to see it in the theaters. Could it ever live up to the trailer and the hype that surrounds it I asked.

Yesterday, I threw down my money. And here are my thoughts.

I write often about movies that fall short. That don't aspire to be anything better or much of anything at all. After seeing 300, I would say that it aspired to be too much.

Before seeing 300, I had read several blogs discussing it. Some said it was shallow, claiming that it was no Ben Hur (was it supposed to be?). Some said it was okay but in the end it was no Gladiator (please). Somehow all the hype had set very high expectations. Not only for it as a pre-summer blockbuster, but as a movie that somehow was supposed to reset the bar for epic war movies. Me, I saw it as a cool looking movie based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller. I wanted to see a classic story retold in a visual style I had never seen before. I wanted to see blood. Lots of blood.

First, let me talk about the visual style. For me, this was a master stroke and the main reason why 300 works so well. The golden clouds and bright crimson capes give everything a surreal edge making the unbelievable seem more believable. It is this style that is also its undoing. 300 is at its best when it is full of Spartan fury, swinging swords and piling bodies. It is when it tries to function on a more emotional level that things seem awkward and slow. Like when a cartoon tries to capture real emotion. It doesn't feel right. And that's not why I go to see cartoons in the first place.

Like a great action movie, 300 wastes no time in getting to the good stuff. I remember worrying that it was too early for the battles to begin. How could the movie possibly keep me interested throughout the rest of the hour and forty or so minutes? Well it did. It did because it was not just one battle, but a series of battles. The Spartans fought waves and waves of different warriors. It was interesting to see what fresh hell the Persians would bring next. And how would the Spartans fight these different foes? This became the driving force of the movie and kept it moving along at a steady pace.

Where 300 surprised me was with the story of the Spartans. These warriors live for the fight. It is not second to them. At one point Spartan Warrior Stelios hopes that he will find someone worthy enough to kill him. There is no fear for these men. They have one job in life and it is a job that they look forward to. A day without killing, is a bad day to them. Even the women take pride in how courageous their men are. Queen Gorgo brags to a Persian messenger that only Spartan women give birth to real men.

King Leonidas: We Spartans have descended from Hercules himself. Taught never to retreat, never to surrender. Taught that death in the battlefield is the greatest glory he could achieve in his life. Spartans: the finest soldiers the world has ever known.

It was in this commitment. This arrogance in the fight that got my heart pumping. It seems in most war movies, the emotion comes from soldiers debating the war. Trying to understand why they fight. Why they kill. Not the Spartans. In 300, they fight for their freedom, but even without a worthy cause, these warriors would fight all the same. They are machines, and I had never seen a movie capture this as powerfully as 300. I found myself envious and fascinated by such commitment. Had 300 stayed in this territory it would have completely succeeded. But I fear that director Zach Snyder was trying a bit too hard to impress. And if he doesn't learn from these mistakes, he will make the same ones with Watchmen.

So did the movie live up to the trailer? To the hype? I would have to say yes. Visually it was stunning. There was lots and lots of blood. Swords were swung. Heads came off. Bodies were piled. I suppose if the worst thing a movie does is try to aspire to be something more, you can't fault it too much for that.


Ray said...

Yeah, but even the visual stuff was screwed up. Is CGI blood and guts really as visceral as makeup effects. ABSOLUTELY NOT. The whole thing looked too cartoony to really capture the feeling of warfare on any level.

It was cool looking. But it did not capture any real feeling.

Piper said...


I don't think it was supposed to do that. That's where the movie tried to succeed and it failed. And that's where people were most disappointed.

In a way, I walked into this with the expectations of when I walked into Bloodsport. I wanted to see good fighting and lots of blood. That's what I got.

Ray said...

Piper, you got computer generated blood, not anything that looked real.

And before you say, "No blood onscreen is real," I will counter with this argument:

The fake blood that splatters in films of the past - you know, the red-tinted Karo syrup stuff - looks plausibly real, and that gives off a thrill. That's why splatter movies are so popular. The effect of simulated violence is stimulating and exhilarating.

The CGI blood looks DUMB in this movie. I couldn't even get into it on that level, because it just looked like silly, manicured cartoon blood.

Compare what you saw in that movie to another violent cartoony movie: "Evil Dead." The violence in that movie and its sequels was supposed to be graphic comics come to life. And it works. But the blood in those movies looks real, which causes the action to be so over the top that it becomes enjoyable and fun.

"300" is nothing but CGI bullshit violence by comparison. With all of the computers and effects at their disposal, they could have and should have made the violence more visceral and intensely realistic. At least then there would be something to root for in the film.

Dustin said...

I saw this opening weekend with a friend at the IMAX. Everyone that I talked to enjoyed the movie, including myself. I liked Gladiator, Alexander, and others, and I believe this movie has a seat at that table.

Maybe I had different expectations, but violence and was in line with what I expected, CGI and all.

King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) was well played and captured the emotion of war.

I appreciated the detail that was taken to surround the audience in war. So, it wasn't just front and center with action taking place, but in the foreground, background, and all around, which the music played into nicely to round it out.

The capturing of the spirit of the Spartans was well done.

Piper said...


I guess you and I had different expectations of the film. I see your point with the CGI blood, but it didn't bother me at all. It's different from Evil Dead. Evil Dead was shot like it was real, even if it wasn't. It seemed appropriate then.

It's strange, but when they decided to effect the film like they did, the gave up a lot of rules of film and set new ones. There are things that work and things that don't.

Same with Sin City.