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March 21, 2007

Moviegoing: "300"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

What does it matter if the cyberspectacle "300" makes my thumb point up or down? When you don't have any feeling or sympathy for the kind of thing that an artwork represents, it's usually best to shut up and try to learn from those who do.

Yet "300," which has been a big and surprise success, clearly speaks to a lot of people. Who'd have guessed that a film about the Spartans' stand against the Persians at Thermopylae would conquer the contempo American box-office? And while popularity probably shouldn't be allowed to dictate much of anything beyond the results of popularity contests, "what works with the popular audience" is an interesting topic in its own right, as well as one that's an important element in the larger question of how culture evolves and develops.

Besides, seeing a movie means that it's time for moviechat. It just does, dammit. Moviegoing (or moviewatching) without moviechat is like dinner without dessert. It's uncivilized. And I'll be gosh-darned if I'm going to miss out on dessert.

So here are a few contributions to the yakfest ...

* Michael Blowhard, the detached and educated observer, sez: While "300" certainly represents what big-budget studio-style movies are turning into, it doesn't have a lot to do with what movies have been. I found it helpful to think of the film less as a film than as a gigantic electronic-media-creation. That freed me to experience the film for what it really is -- far less traditional than "Alexander" or "Troy," a mashup combining "Gladiator"-style spectacle, videogames ("Halo" and "Age of Empires"), and the techniques of whooshy high-end car ads.

It's a whole new / old language of in-theater, over-time entertainment. The soundtrack -- in a state of near-constant shuddering, Dolbyized ecstasy -- is like one long fanfare. Kaaaa-runch! Thwickthwickthwick ... Saaaaa-wooosh! Rumblerumblerumble ...

The visuals are glisteningly hyperreal and completely fabricated, hallucinogenic in their overblown intensity as well as their morphiness. (The film was shot against green screens in studios, with the backgrounds later painted-in in computers.) Facial skin looks like the expensive leather you see advertised in luxury magazines. The mayhem takes place all over the screen, from top to bottom. Flames shower through the air and twinkle as they die. Clouds of arrows darken the sun.

The big visual production numbers feature a lot of those shots (accompanied by deafening Thwacks! Zips! and Whooshes!) where the camera speeds up then suddenly slows down then speeds up again ... Does this technique have a name? Help me out here. I first took note of it in "The Matrix," and it's become a standard feature of TV advertisements ever since. I'd love to be able to refer to it by name.

Anyway, the constant factor in these big-studio new-media creations is relentless stimulation by cyber-means. Something's always swirling or backlighting or twisting or roaring or de-saturating. In "300," even the quiet passages feel throbby and heavily processed.

The rhetoric-dial, in other words, has been set to "11." This ain't plain English that's being spoken; it's Poe, it's Roman oration, it's Lovecraft ... The Persians aren't just a big fighting force, they're the biggest fighting force of all times. Peep your head around the corner, and it's like seeing wall to wall ants covering the entire American Southwest. The skies aren't just turbulent, they're like your own mind going insane. The movie presents virtually nothing that isn't smokin', that isn't intended to make you gasp. Cut to a slow-mo shot of hyper-studly Spartans set to 9 Inch Nails-style aggro-distortion-rock.

All of this has nothing to do with the tradition of movies as popular culture, except in a very particular, post-"Star Wars" sense -- and Xerxes here, beefcakey and immense and apparently based on RuPaul, speaks in a Darth Vader voice. "300" has everything to do with the eternal cyber-present. It's all effects.

I found it interesting to see how avidly the young audience responds to this kind of thing. "300" speaks their language; it's dealing in entertainment goods that they like and that they understand. It's something that's theirs, that they want more of. And the kids and young adults I saw the picture with clearly have a hunger to see long-form narratives speaking this language. Much as they love their games and their game devices, the kids don't just want to play in this world; they want to have knockout experiences in it that are engrossing and emotional workouts too. Enough with open-endedness, let's have something that sums our feelings up instead.

The audience also clearly enjoyed the touches of shocking -- by mainstream contempo-America standards, anyway -- eroticism, as well as the not-wholly upbeat narrative. If I can be forgiven a little wryness: I guess "emotionally dark" and "some straight-faced, hot semi-nudity" is what passes for grown-up among young adults today.

During the film's more daring scenes, the kids tittered, they moved about, and they whispered nervously. Yet they were clearly enjoying their own unease. That's good! As the crowd did at "Sin City," the kids last night found "300"'s extreme passages upsetting, downbeat, harsh -- but in an enjoyable way. The old-timer in me shook my head wearily. The kids were reacting to darkness, to downbeatness, and to shocks as though this combo were something new on the face of the earth. (I wrote about "Sin City" here.)

* Michael Blowhard, the level-headed, cut-everyone-slack soul, sez: When I have no feeling for a piece of entertainment or art, my usual way of getting through it is to ask myself, "Well, if a friend made this, how would I be responding?" Asking myself this question makes me kinder and more generous; it opens my responses up a bit.

So I watched "300" asking myself, "Had a friend made this film, how would I be responding?" My answer was, "I'd be awestruck. It's tremendous." The film represents not just a lot of hard work and invention but a committment to integrating story with effects and to delivering a genuinely emotional experience. How not to cheer that? Even my emotions were stirred a couple of times. Given that I wasn't involved with the story or characters in any way, that's really saying something.

As a piece of design, the film is nothing if not impressive. It's mostly in alternating monochromes (bronze for one scene, silver-blacks for another), all of them punctuated by the scarlet capes the Spartans wear and the blood that often spatters and flies around. The placement of the big moments and the big surprises seemed effectively done to me. The narrative isn't going to make story buffs keel over in pleasure, but it seemed (many thanks to Herodotus via Frank Miller, the film's source material) plausible and satisfying enough for most of the audience, which is what really counts.

* Michael Blowhard, the whiney-crybaby, sez: I can't help myself, I have got to share my real reaction to the movie. It boils down to one word: Waaaaaaah! Or maybe three: dismay, regret, and sorrow. "300" and films like it represent -- I can't help feeling -- the end of an art form that I loved and the beginning of something that I don't care about one way or the other. I do enjoy observing the ways of popular culture, god knows. But, really, if I never saw another whooshy cyberspectacle it'd be more than OK with me.

Watching this kind of "movie" makes me feel like someone revisiting his beloved small hometown only to discover that it has been bulldozed and replaced with a towering, twinkly cluster of cloverleafs, exit ramps, and big-box offices and stores. I'm reconciled to the fact that things will change. But do they have to change in such a roots-and-all, wrenching way?

A film like this one represents a mindscape and an imagination-scape that I find airless and off-putting. Everything in the film is heightened and turned into processed fantasy. I found the surfaces inhuman; even the grime on battle-scarred, bloody flesh looks copper-plated. I found the lack of natural light depressing. The absence of anything like psychology left me with nothing to cling to. I have nothing against effects, but cyberspectacle effects are almost always effects of the most literal-minded kind: "bam" for surprise, "heartstrings" for love, groaning sounds for spookiness. I'm perfectly capable of finding corny material endearing. But these are effects that I can't find it in myself to feel fond of.

Watching a movie like this is to enter a subtlety-free zone. Even on the level of arc-and-structure the film is beyond basic. "This is the slow part"; "this is the 'human' part"; "this is the loud part, where things get fast and exciting" ... There's little in the film that didn't strike me as blatant, obvious, and crude.

In a word, I watch movies like this thinking, "Omigod, it's the end of civilization as I've known and loved it." Not that this matters, of course.

* Michael Blowhard, the muser-after-the-fact, sez: OK, I feel better. Now, on to some post-purgative musings.

  • Traditionalists and geezers are prone to watching films like this one thinking, "Well, so what? It's just a lot of pixel-painting. The crowds aren't real. The stunts aren't real. The emotions themselves seem Photoshopped. Who cares?" Watching these movies, I often feel that way. Yet ... Well, perhaps watching people wrangle with and do battle with pixels is one of the great current cultural dramas. Put those pixels to entertainment use! Turn yourself on with them! Eeek! Now they're taking over our lives and our brains!

  • A deep drive in American popular culture for some time has been to make the artwork as exciting and tantalizing as the ad for it is -- basically, to make the product the equal of its packaging. I typed that sentence picturing kids on Xmas morning, excited unto hysteria by the wrapping and packaging, only to be crushed when they open the boxes and handle what they contain. Wouldn't it be more conducive to consumer bliss to avoid this trauma? Hence the tendency to merge product and packaging.

    Incidentally, this strikes me as childish in the extreme. Isn't it better to adjust -- ie., to get used to the fact that ads are meant to create short-lived blasts of tantalization and expectation, while life is generally a more long-term, lower-key thing?

    But we're Americans; we love buying and selling, we love looking at ads, and we think everything in life should be as shiney and gleaming as it is in ad-land. So movies now look like posters for themselves; they're cranked-up as high as movie trailers used to be. Young people now walk around behaving like sitcom versions of themselves, and doing their best to look like their own ads for themselves. Substance in the traditional sense -- what the wrapping paper used to be wrapped around -- has evaporated, while the packaging itself has become all.

    Maybe that's part of what businesspeople mean when they say they aren't selling products any longer, they're selling experiences. Perhaps substance in the traditional sense is now viewed as "that which spoils everyone's fun." Everyone's happier, I guess. The whoosh is king.

  • The film is another example of the way we've caved in culturally to adolescent values. Here's how the story goes. Boomers were the first sizable generation of adolescents ever to have their adolescent tastes and pleasures catered to. This is really-truly true, by the way. Nothing like it had ever occurred on the face of the planet before. And -- since anything that occurs to you in the teen years has a big effect -- that's playing with fire.

    So the Boomers became experts in being adolescents, and in adolescent pleasures. When they got older and the time came to attend to the business of catering to the entertainment needs of the new crop of adolescents, Boomers proved much much better at it than their own elders had been. What they created for the new adolescent audience wasn't just memorably exciting and full of promise, as post-WWII pop culture had been. The pop culture the Boomers created proved so exciting and satisfying for adolescents that for ensuing generations nothing beyond adolescence and adolescent values and pleasures exists any longer.

    Some decades after the Boomers took over the culture, we now have a popular culture that doesn't just situate adolescence at the center of the uiniverse but that fails to acknowledge adulthood entirely. At first it was: "Adulthood? Unappealing." Now it's: "Adulthood? What's that?" With its touches of eroticism and its focus on flesh, death, glory, and heroism, "300" seems relatively adult. But only by contempo-Hollywood standards. Really, this is a child's idea of what it is to be an adult. (I wrote here about the way America in recent decades has given itself over to adolescent values. Research and all!)

  • I wonder if most kids today understand how small and peculiar a genre "fantasy" traditionally was. I have a few fantasy works that I'm fond of myself, but the fantasy genre has never been something that I generally have much patience for, or could ever see much reason to involve myself in. Yet these days fantasy and sci-fi are central to popular culture. Let's see: Fantasy ... Adolescence ... Hmmm.

  • Pre-computer movies often took you out into the world. As lovely as they could be to lose yourself in, they weren't an end in themselves. They were concerned finally with real experience, and they drew on culture in a broad sense: on art history, movie history, music history, and the other arts too. Becoming a moviebuff was often the first step on the road to becoming an arts and culture buff more generally. These days, the movies seem to lead at most to further experiences of cyber-pop culture.

  • What a weird portrayal of the Spartans "300" peddles. I'm not someone who's generally prone to bitch about historical verisimilitude in works of pop culture. But the portrayal of the Spartans in this movie took me so aback that I spent half the movie trying to get used to it.

    The Spartans in "300" aren't the Spartans I've learned about: deeply conservative, suspicious to the point of paranoia, fascistic and totalitarian, willing sacrificers of children, oppressors of their own subjects ... The picture I have in my mind of the actual Spartans was as something incomprehensible, emotionally masked, barely human in terms of inner experience -- perhaps a little like the Aztecs, or the Chinese circa 1965.

    In "300," though, the Spartans are the defenders of all that's noble, and everything that we cherish today: individuality, freedom, liberty. And the Spartans in the film see themselves in that light too. They aren't just terrifying warriors, they're reflective and articulate. They aren't just Spartans, they're what's best in the Greeks generally.

    In the film, the Spartans agonize like normal people about loss and love. They have self-doubt; they're even rebuked by the Persians for being too philisophical. They're tender, thinking souls, only tough and heroic. They're like us, in other words -- or what we'd be if only we could stick to our diets and get to the gym more regularly.

  • I wonder if audiences have any sense of what hard work it is to make this kind of whooshy entertainment. It's one thing to make a souped-up, hyper-groomed, conceptual thing work at the length of a TV commercial -- hard enough in its own right, I suspect. But to crank the level up ultra-high and then sustain interest for 90 or 100 minutes -- well, that's asking a lot. That involves not just the energy it takes to keep the speakers roaring but the wherewithal to provide enough variety and shape to keep the audience eager to find out what happens next. My prediction: the batting average for this kind of entertainment will always be very low.

  • A topic that Razib and the GNXP dudes returned to again and again in their discussions of "300" was the film's supposed homoeroticism. Was the film gay or not-gay? I hadn't yet seen the picture, but that didn't stop me from pitching in with some general observations about the way popular culture has gone homoerotic since about 1980.

    So how homo is "300"? Now that I've seen the film, here's my judgment: gay gay gay! Well, not explicitly so. But, whether or not "300" intends to be gay, it's hard to imagine many gay men not experiencing thrills of delight watching it. Studly beefcake in capes, sandals, and suede bathing trunks ... Chests and abs like the undersides of lobsters ... Thighs capable of hoisting the Parthenon ... Sweaty, bloody, man-on-man combat ... One absurdly jacked-up, overcolored, and overdramatic scene after another ... Effeminate and luxury-loving (yet scary!) bad guys ...

    Er, GNXP geeks: For many gayguyz, this might be a description of their favorite wet dream. I'd have loved to hear the jokes that the film's performers cracked as they got made-up and costumed in the morning.

    Some of my gay friends use the word "pumpy" to describe a really built guy. Pumpy is a good word to use to describe not just the actors in "300" but the film itself. In a very amusing review,'s Marc Breindel confesses that he found the film a major turn-on.

  • Hey, wasn't Lena Headey (who played Queen Gorgo) the classy MILF to end all classy MILFs? I see that in real life Lena practices both boxing and yoga.

How did you react to the movie?

Daniel Robert Epstein interviews Zack Snyder, the director of "300." Jonah Weiland asks Gerard Butler, the film's star, about the film's physical demands. Stoic, strong, and still as Queen Gorgo, Lena Headey turns out to be giddy and girly in person. I loved this BBC documentary about the Spartans.



UPDATE: Thanks to The Holzbachian for pointing out this good Neal Stephenson piece about geeks, sci-fi, and "300."

UPDATE 2: Chris Floyd liked "300." Jon Hastings enjoyed the movie too.

posted by Michael at March 21, 2007


Hi Michael,
"...where the camera speeds up then suddenly slows down then speeds up again ... Does this technique have a name?"...
I suspect you're asking about the "Time-Slice" technique. Should be plenty of links from that search term.
Thanks for your very good work here!

Posted by: Mal on March 21, 2007 8:42 PM

Holy Cow Michael!

This posting is a good example of how your posts are so damn extensive, thoughtful, and nuanced, that I'm just at a loss to respond.

My own thinking on 300 was interesting in that I was originally swayed by the critical vitriol toward it, particularly Morgenstern's.

Then I read this article by the famous SF author Neil Stephenson:

which made me reconsider. After all, I don't want to be one of *those* elite types you've often alluded to right here in these pages, er, pixels. Besides, I love comics, and maybe, just maybe, I should think for myself.

So, I will see it on my own now.

But, I will say that I do agree with Tyler Cowen's basic vantagepoint on the arts (as in his book, Good and Plenty) which is: yes, there's much more crap out here now, but there's also much more great stuff -- both of which are just a product of **THERE'S MUCH MORE OF EVERYTHING**. And this is a GOOD THING.

So, I think I share your trepidation on 300. I also think I'll enjoy it. But, I don't see the Providence French Film Fest being canceled for next year.

The Holzbachian

Posted by: The Holzbachian on March 21, 2007 9:08 PM

I'm a younger person (22) and I didn't like it. To me, amazing computer graphics aren't the point; they're pretty much de rigueur in entertainment so why ooh and aah over that? I do play a lot of video games, so graphical been-there-done-that feelings probably come from that direction.

With fascination for the way it looks not an issue, I can see the movie as just a movie, and it failed for me. The depiction of the Spartans -tried- to be all about toughness and macho, but somebody just had to inject 21st century values into them. Thus, the Captain's completely out-of-place line about never being able to tell his son how much he loved him. This isn't showing shades of gray in his personality : it's a bright dab of white-out on all the black ink. Other similar examples are the treatment of the crippled Spartan and the King's twisted sense of honour.

The characters didn't speak to me at all. They are sterotypes with an artificial injection of something that might pass for personality in a low-budget imported game. One that couldn't find a skilled translator to handle the important dialogue.

Bottom line, I didn't hate 300, but I did find myself checking the time at several points, wondering "Is it over yet?".

Posted by: Nanani on March 21, 2007 9:13 PM

I am an older person (than 22), and I loved it.
In fact, loved it so much I didn't want to movie-chat with anyone, it was that good.

Posted by: Tatyana on March 21, 2007 11:43 PM

Brilliant, wonderful, insightful, thoughtful.

Not the movie, the post. That's why I check in here so much, for this kind of reward. Thanks.

Posted by: MQ on March 22, 2007 3:09 AM

And I share the feeling that, beyond any standard old-person curmudgeon responses to youth culture, we are seeing something profoundly new emerging right about now. The arts are leaving the human behind. What rough beast slouches out of the shopping malls to be born?

Posted by: MQ on March 22, 2007 3:12 AM

Hmmm. A traditionalist movie fan examines a new movie from four points of view more or less simultaneously -- is the hommage to Rashomon conscious or subconscious?

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on March 22, 2007 7:13 AM

Is it significant that a traditional movie buff examines 300 from four different points of view more or less simultaneously? If so, is the hommage to Rashomon conscious or subconscious?

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on March 22, 2007 8:00 AM

The name cinematographers give to the speed-up/slow-down effect is a "speed ramp". THe advent of computer controlled film cameras that could automatically change the f-stop while changing the frame rate so that exposure stays constant is what made this easy to do - although the digital cameras used on "300" can do it even easier.

Posted by: jimbo on March 22, 2007 8:16 AM

Nice piece, Michael. Good work.

Posted by: jult52 on March 22, 2007 8:31 AM

Well, having not seen the movie, I can't really comment on it, but your review certainly makes me want to see it now. Why? Simple: I don't "get" movies. I go to movies to be entertained (that's why it's called entertainment), so I don't look any further than what's on the screen. And, this one sounds very entertaining! I've always been sure there's been something deeper there, but I just don't see it, even when my "film school" buddies try to explain it to me. It's a movie, I don't care. Now, you wanna discuss the newest rev of the DL-585 server from HP, I'll be happy to show you some fine points in a work of art I can get behind!


The picture I have in my mind of the actual Spartans...

As history is written by the victors, I often wonder how true any such interpretation of a culture actually is. The Jews portray the ancient Egyptians as terrible and cruel slave masters. Yet ,despite the wealth of information they left behind (and they left a lot. We even know how much it cost to have laundry done!), there isn't a single shred of evidence to show the Egyptians ever even had the Jews over for tea, let alone enslaved them all. In a couple of thousand years, I fear how the lost country of "America" will be written down in their history books? Will we be the soulless sectarians who lead the world away from the "true word of god"? Will we be the rigid secularists who pulled the world out of the tight grip of superstition? Or, will we just be remembered as the first bunch of jerks up against the wall when the revolution came? It really all depends on who "wins". (On a side note, I was recently listening to some twit on the radio discussing how it's been PROVEN that the bible is true because they've found cities like Jericho, etc. In a few millenia, I'd be interested to see if there's people discussing if Spiderman was real because they found New York City...)

the defenders of all that's noble, and everything that we cherish today: individuality, freedom, liberty. And the Spartans in the film see themselves in that light too. They aren't just terrifying warriors, they're reflective and articulate.

Countries are often described in terms of their leaders, not the individuals that make up the country. As you've stated in the past (apologies for the paraphrasing, I don't feel like searching): "There really are two parties in this country: the effete intellectuals who are in charge and everyone else". Could it have been any less so in the cradle of democracy that was ancient Greece? You think they didn't have their Clintons or Bushes?

Studly beefcake in capes, sandals, and suede bathing trunks ... Chests and abs like the undersides of lobsters ... Thighs

Gay? Or, fodder to get the female SOs of the testosterone bags going to see it into the theater? :)

Posted by: Upstate Guy on March 22, 2007 8:35 AM


>... Does this technique have a name?

It's called "bullet time."

Posted by: yahmdallah on March 22, 2007 9:25 AM

I haven't seen it, but the name sure says something: "300". Talk about high-tech, soulless, impenetrable. I would think it would take place on a spaceship, or inside a computer. Hardly "Knife in the Water" or "Apocalypse Now" in terms of poetic titles. Will the sequel be "400-MX" or something?

(PS---I had a really hard time with the Oscars this year for similar reasons--"The Departed"? What exactly does that mean? Every time I heard the title of "The Queen"---I swear to god I thought it was something gay, not the Queen of England).

Posted by: annette on March 22, 2007 9:36 AM

Nice post. I was prepared to give "300" the benefit of the doubt because I'm a big horror movie buff and thought Zack Snyder's remake of "Dawn of the Dead" was the best horror movie of the past decade. But I was really bored with it. It did look awfully nice, but after I got over being impressed with the look there was no way I could escape noticing how badly written and acted it was. Really, just plain stupid. As computer generated movies go it was probably no worse than the horrendously boring "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow", but it doesn't even come close to the wonderful "Sin City".

Posted by: Michael P on March 22, 2007 9:54 AM

Interestingly, Dan Savage found 300 profoundly homophobic (you'll have to scroll down to the bottom):

Posted by: Ned on March 22, 2007 10:00 AM

I've not seen the movie, so I'll confine myself to responding to the general lamentations of the "Oh, the kids these days!" genre.

The only significant differences I see between the sort of movie you describe here and classic B movies, or for that matter, teen-exploitation slasher movies, is budget and technology. In all cases, you have movies aimed at juvenile audiences, with simplistic plots driven by speed, violence, and special effects. And all of them have cardboard characters whose emotions are loosely thumbtacked to their foreheads.

We're better at creating these things now, as we should be, given all the experience. And we're far better at making the bangs bigger and the flashes brighter, because of advances in technology.

And, of course, the amount of money spent on this sort of light entertainment is more commensurate with the amount of money such entertainment earns than it was in the 1930s.

IMO, it's a difference in degree, not a difference in kind, though survivor bias* tends to obscure that quite a bit.

* Comparing "random movie released today" with "movie that you actually remember that was released 50 years ago" is not a particularly fair exercise. The same is true for books, plays, art, or any other creative endeavour. You only remember the memorable things (tautological, I know); the average from any period is rather more forgettable.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on March 22, 2007 11:54 AM

Great piece Michael -- though I do think you go a little too far with the "end of art as we know it" angle near the end. Some of us old timers remember thinking the same thing a quarter-century ago with FLASHDANCE and RAMBO and TOP GUN -- movies that were also basically long amped-up advertisements for themselves. Yes, the trend has continued, and gotten more whoosy and cyber-spectactaclly. But, quality of the effects aside, there isn't really much difference between a 300 and a RAMBO, is there, even in terms of the homoeroticism? This trend has been with us so long it no longer really qualifies as a trend.

And yet a movie like THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS can also be a hit, right? Will the same people who went to 300 in their 20s still be going to that type of movie in their 40s? Based on my experience and that of some of the people I know who saw RAMBO in their 20s, I think the answer is "no." Tastes change with age. Video games and hype movies have been with us long enough now that I think we can say, with a few eternal-adolescent exceptions, that a taste of those things don't last a lifetime.

Posted by: Steve on March 22, 2007 12:33 PM

Funny, Doug just made kind of the same point that I did, though he reaches further back for examples of the type of B movie that 300 represents.

I do think that RAMBO and TOP GUN are perhaps more relevant examples because they come from an era -- the era that we're still in -- when B movies got big. In fact the B movies became the A movies. So now we can look at demographic data from the beginning of that era (roughly the mid-80s) and see where the tastes are of people who grew up on these huge B movies. And I think we can see a hunger in that generation for other types of movie and entertainment and art experiences as well.

Posted by: Steve on March 22, 2007 12:40 PM

As one of those "kids these days" (though, really, I'm not a kid any more) I think you're rather premature in calling for the death of your kind of movies. Older people, I've seemed to notice, tend to think that these new forms of entertainment must crowd out the old ones (i.e. who would want to watch The Godfather when you can see zoomy! hyperreal! special effects! or play interactive! video games!?) And yes, there is a certain surface appeal to these sorts of spectacles. But this opinion strikes me as being profoundly childish in its own way, in that when I was a child, I never understood, for instance, why anyone would ever want to eat anything other that chocolate and sugar unless their mother was making them. Now, of course, I understand different pleasures for different occasions, etc. etc. Same with cultural products. Sometimes I want spectacle - the highest the culture can deliver - (and is 300 really different in kind from something like David's Rape of the Sabine Women?), sometimes I want more meditative pleasures. I watched In the Mood for Love recently. Subtle, adult, beautiful, incredibly satisfying. Gorging on movie sugar every once in a while hardly means ruining my palate forever for movie haute cuisine.

And incidentally, why is it that the male body portrayed in any sort of sexualized fashion always gets coded as gay, gay, gay? (Ok, yes, 300 was gay in a number of ways, but still...) I mean, people described the latest James Bond film as gay! Is the idea of the cinematic gaze being both sexual and gendered female that difficult for our culture to wrap its mind around? Seriously, gays are at most 10% of the potential filmgoing audience, women are half of it. We like hot naked men too, you know, and we especially like them when the camera is making love to their hot, hard, naked, forms.

Posted by: Amy on March 22, 2007 12:43 PM

What characterizes adolescent culture is a lack of dynamic range or inner detail. The needle is nearly always pinned to the top of the meter (for those of you who remeber analog VU meters on their tape decks).

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on March 22, 2007 5:28 PM


Posted by: Steve Sailer on March 22, 2007 6:38 PM

Michael - I ain’t no kid, but I loved “300.” And I’m someone who knows more than he should about classical literature and Greek history. I don’t think that the film changed the way that people look at or think about movies (as did, for example, “Bonnie and Clyde,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Road Warrior,” or “The Matrix,” but as a juiced up riff on a historical subject it far surpassed the confused “Alexander” and the diffuse “Troy” and was right up there with the giddiness of “Tombstone,” which had teenagers returning to the theater so that the could learn Doc Holliday’s dialog, as delivered by Val Kilmer. You’re a daisy if you do.

The visuals were true in spirit to its graphic novel source, but also reminded me – in the depiction of muscle-flexing spear-flinging warriors against darkened backgrounds -- of the first great graphic novels/comic books, the depictions of heroes on Greek pottery. I think that some who emphasize the computer-generated or “videogame-like” references of the images miss the point and can’t see past the movie-making technology.

I don’t quite agree that fantasy and sci-fi are central to popular culture. Despite the success of “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” all things Buffy and the NBC show “Heroes,” sci-fi is still dismissed as being fanboy, geek stuff, not really to be taken seriously. Also, in order to make “Heroes” palatable to some in the audience, the show’s creators have to make a nod to the supernatural and soap-operas.

The Spartans never wrote much about themselves, but have proved elusive, fascinating, and at time frightening to their fellow Greeks and to succeeding cultures and writers, including the Romans who maintained Sparta as a kind of de-fanged warrior Disneyland, and to Star Trek Next Generation writers, who appear to have based the Klingon warrior ethos in part on the Spartans, so I think that the filmmaker’s take on Sparta was as good as any other. By the way, I greatly enjoyed Lena Headley, and a co-worker who saw them film noted that he drooled over the writhing female Oracle. I thought the latter character was a hot babe, and enjoyed how the film found a way to show her drug-induced prophetic state.

It’s odd: some fearful film critics have dismissed the film because it is either too homo-erotic or appeals too much to adolescent males. These types also typically dismiss the film because it is not proforma anti-war or appears to endorse some current military policy. But the Spartans could have been shown to be even more “gay” than they were had the filmmakers included the historical anecdote of Spartan warriors lovingly combing out their long hair before battle. Also, a number of women in the theater when I saw the film were fans of Gerard Butler, who played the lead in the movie version of “Phantom of the Opera.”

The film is not sophisticated, but in many ways, the movie’s pithy bombast matches the sensibility of the Spartans, whose brevity gave rise to the term “laconic,” and of course some of the dialog (“We’ll fight in the shade.”) was actually attributed to Spartans. That Queen Gorgo’s input is valued is a nod to the fact that Gorgo is one of the few Greek women singled out by ancient historians (and the filmmakers could have rocked the viewers’ worlds by showing had they shown Spartan women exercising in the nude or being envied for their independence by other Greeks).

I simply ignored the film’s take that “They aren't just Spartans, they're what's best in the Greeks generally.” Athens and Sparta represented two antithetical views of the world (even down to their military strengths -- Athens’s navy was pre-eminent, while Sparta’s army was unmatched). But the bottom line is that somehow the two city states came together to fight the Persians.

Upstate Guy – RE: History is written by the victors. Oddly enough, the Spartans didn’t care much about history or drama, and what we know of the Battle at the Hot Gates is known by non-Spartans. The Spartans were consistently about fighting, not introspection and analysis. Also, the Greeks largely fought the Persians to a draw, not to a total and absolute defeat. Oddly enough, despite a lot of Web searches, I cannot find any English language histories of a contemporary Persian view of the battle, nor any references to ancient Persian commentaries.

Here are links to a couple of fun reviews of the film:

Here is an interesting rebuttal to some of the dismissals of the film, by the L.A. Times Patrick Goldstein, who notes that some critics are just old fogeys (“300: It’s Just a Movie – Or Is It?”):

The Times Carina Chocano also provides the hand-wringing “mixed messages” critique:

Posted by: Alec on March 22, 2007 6:54 PM

For an excellent account of Spartan life and a very realistic description of phalanx battles, read this book:

Otherwise, Alec stole all my thunder.

Superb essay, Michael.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on March 22, 2007 7:52 PM


Posted by: Matt Mullenix on March 22, 2007 8:10 PM

You brilliantly expressed my own nebulous and contradictory feelings about this film. Great insights on popular entertainment in general.

The film technique used in Matrix used to be called "camera array," as they would set up about 120 cameras in a semi-circular array around the action and then trigger them all at once, enabling them to get a camera move around an instant frozen in time. Perhaps some of the catchier terms people have suggested are now used.

Posted by: Paul K. on March 22, 2007 9:05 PM

A couple of disagreements. Well a lot actually.

1. Sin City was shot in the same style and also from a Frank Miller Comic book. Yet it did middling business at best, while 300 broke out. Why? IMHO because the fundamental story rather than effects or style touched people. A desperate last stand to preserve FREEDOM seems pretty popular right now, and that it came from an unheralded pop movie with no stars and only a $60 million budget (compared to around $200 million plus for Hollywood big pictures) says something.

2. The film was amazingly male friendly and totally anti-Boomer. Stand up for your country, duty, honor. Fight instead of run away. Love your wife and your son. Don't bow to foreign kings or gods. It was a total rejection of the aging hippie ethos that since 1968 has dominated the culture and that young men in particular find repulsive. The Persians were all presented as effeminate degenerates who couldn't fight but relied on masses, and the Xerxes character lording it over them (and the disfigured traitor) is pretty much guy bait.

3. What is this film really? It's the John Wayne (not the Billy Bob Thornton Boomer version) Alamo film updated for modern sensibilities. But what's key is the STORY, not the techniques and all.

What's notable in films today is how alienated and disconnected Boomer culture (which has IMHO Michael totally been disconnected with youth culture for a long time) has become from young men. Who've responded in droves. The Spartans are ripped because they're buff. Not because they're gay. Boomer rejction in all instances of any organized violence (channeled for societal good like fighting dangerous enemies) and the concepts of duty, honor, family, love, faithfulness, etc. have not worked out well for the young men who flock to Video Games where they get that. Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, Rainbow Six, Ghost Brigades, hell the names alone of the games tell you what they are selling. So too does the popularity of R. Lee Ermey on "Mail Call" on the History Channel, or all that war stuff.

When you consider that Hollywood previously offered a fricking computer in a plane (Stealth) as the bad guy in an action film you realize how ground-breaking this film is. Not for the techniques which are trivial and soon to be copied I'm sure. But for the story which took seriously what Boomers hate.

As an aside I think the broken homes, divorces, uncaring and self-absorbed, selfish parents of the Boomer Generation has led to the later generations rejecting the Boomer certainties. And the only reaction available is through the old ways. As for the Spartans, well they weren't the Athenians. But compared to the Persians they had at least an Oligarchy (though a slave regime) and the Thespians and Thebans thought enough of Leonidas that Herodotus wrote that 700 Thespians (citizen soldiers) and a number of Thebans decided to stay and die with the Spartans, who exchanged cloaks with them. A big deal back then. That's more than you can say about Xerxes slave empire. Where there was Xerxes. And everyone else was a slave (though better treated).

Posted by: Jim Rockford on March 23, 2007 12:42 AM

Of course they injected 21st Century values into the film. Of course that's not how it was. But the purpose of history isn't just to learn how life was lived back then, but to take something from it than we can apply to our lives today.

From the Spartans of "300" we learn the values of duty, honor, sacrifice and all the rest. We relearn how very valuable symbolism can be for those who fight. The Spartans were the Marine Corps of their day.

And homoerotic? I went with a male friend and all through the movie I was wondering if people thought we were a couple. Oh well.

Posted by: Craig on March 23, 2007 2:22 AM

Hi Michael.

About that technique of slowing down and speeding up again, here's my two-cent take: slow motion we call "slo-mo;" fast, sped up motion, I don't know what it's called, but I'll say "fast-mo;" since this technique varies between the two, how about "vari-o-mo?"

I know, you hated it, but at least I tried.

Great review :)

Posted by: KE on March 23, 2007 5:52 AM

Classics is my field--I thought it was a very entertaining movie. Of course, it had very little connection with the reality of the Spartans, the Persians, the physical setting of the battle, or the way it was conducted. It would be very easy to write 30+ pages on what was literally inaccurate, but many of the critics are missing the point that Thermopylae almost immediately entered the realm of mythos, and the writers, like any good Greek story-tellers, added and subtracted to make their point. The writers skillfully prevented their story from floating completely into the realm of fantasy by strategically using some of the famous quotes/sayings (e.g. Leonidas: "molon labe"--come on, take!). The transmogrification of Ephialtes (who in real life was from Trachis, not far from Thermopylae, and not a rejected Spartiate)into deformed hunchback was brilliant from a symbolic point of view. The more I think about it, the more impressed I am with how carefully they thought about the story.

Posted by: thaprof on March 23, 2007 7:01 AM

Michael, I'm inclined to agree with Jim R's take. What makes me want to see this movie is its unambiguous pro-West attitude, at least that's what I've been reading about it so far.

Considering the implied subtext, I'm eager to see a movie that pays none of the dhimmi tributes to PC the way Kingdom of Heaven does.

300, at least so it seems to me without having seen it yet, is similar to the Passion of Christ in a way: both movies express values that are completely antagonistic to the prevailing PC ideology and thus are huge successes at the box office.

I'm actually surprised that your review didn't include this angle. Just my two cents added to your awesome review.

Posted by: PA on March 23, 2007 7:14 AM

"The film represents not just a lot of hard work and invention but a committment to integrating story with effects and to delivering a genuinely emotional experience."

Actually, the makers of this film, if that is in fact what they are trying to do, owe a debt of gratitude to the makers of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. That is the first set of films I can think of that took all of the new techologies of the 1990s and used them to advance the pathos of the story. That is what made them groundbreaking. Based on your review (I haven't seen "300"), I suspect that LOTR will be responsible for a great deal more of this type of mass entertainment.

Posted by: BRM on March 23, 2007 12:23 PM

I stand up and shout aloud a big yes! to Jim Rockford's opinion on 300.

As a martial arts student, I note with trepidation the proliferation of spineless and indecisive young men. Deciding when is the best time for a class to be held is an exercise in nightmare because these guys have no direction and more importantly no masculine discipline to set an appointment and to keep an appointment.

I even tried to organize an evening to go watch the 300, but nobody wanted to go see it (perhaps it's me, kind of abrasive martial art student/class leader).

Anyway, I am not surprised that these young men, who don't see any heroic role models in the politically correct culture, are starved for anything, even a virtual one like King Leonidas.

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I plan on seeing it very soon.

Posted by: Bob Yu on March 23, 2007 3:51 PM

Bizarre to call this movie "pro-Western". ATHENS was the fount of Western civilization, people, ATHENS. Sparta was a proto-facist dictatorship that institutionalized homosexuality.

Anyway, check out the excellent review by the War Nerd:

Focuses a fair amount on the politics of the movie, e.g. --

"These diehard neocons have gone insane because there's no way they can argue for an invasion of Iran any more. But they still want it, bad. So they've taken a crash course in fascism, jumping all the way to cheering for Sparta and booing for Athens - because Athens stands for brains and flexibility and talking things out. They can't win the argument, so they want to kill anybody who tries to argue. That's why Leonidas kicks the Persian envoy down a well."

Posted by: MQ on March 24, 2007 1:03 PM

Also, re Jim Rockfords post: real Spartan culture was explicitly and vehemently opposed to "loving your wife and your son". The whole point of Spartan culture was to break nuclear family bonds so that everyone was a militarized creature of the state. The movie of course presents the Spartans as all lovie-dovie and family oriented. In fact, they were more viciously anti-family (and pro-homosexual!) than any "boomer" could ever be.

Harmless poetic license? No. One of the biggest lies in facist propaganda has been that "family values" and military values are somehow aligned, so that a hyper-militarized state (which facism desires) is pro-family. The Nazis pushed this kind of propaganda hard. But violence and militarism are about death, family is about life, and the two sets of values are completely opposed. Militarizing a society requires that people give up their children to the state to be killed in the name of state purposes (which are rarely about self-defense). Requires that husbands leave their wives to fight foreign wars, etc.

Posted by: MQ on March 24, 2007 1:13 PM

MQ is taking things way too literally. Everyone knows what the real Spartans were like.

I read the War Nerd too and I agree 100% with his views of neocons. But I like what I think 300 represents (I haven't seen it yet) not because of any possible Iran-neocon angle, but because the movie shows a confrontation between Europeans and invading Asiatics (Muslim immigration, anyone?), with Euros being the undisputed good guys. This is a welcome contrast to movies like Kingdom of Heaven.

Posted by: PA on March 24, 2007 4:44 PM


"Yet "300," which has been a big and surprise success, clearly speaks to a lot of people."

I was volunteering this morning at a community garden. Most of the other volunteers were college kids. One kid said to another, "So when are you seeing 300?" as if it were taken for granted that every one in their circle is going.

I don't think there's anymore significance to it than that. It's something you do if you are part of the group


You ask good questions. My answer is that what women want doesn't matter to men. If the glistening hardbodies appeal to gay men, then that makes the movie gay by default. What you and I think is irrelevant.

Posted by: diana on March 24, 2007 4:59 PM

This is my favorite Michael BH mode: these off the cuff pensees - winged reactions - just great.

Now for the chat: when something works (and I think 300 works on just about all levels) you have to be careful; i.e., if you are, say, age 30 and up, and have wider cultural thoughts - as does MBH, as does this blogs' contributors and commentators - you must be careful. You are tempted to mistrust your own reactions. It was fun. It wasn't meant to compete with all cinema of all time, it wasn't meant to be a harbinger of a major tectonic shift in popular entertainment. Turn the thought dial back down to 2 or 3 or you will end up with thoughts like, "Well, it was good, but, if you compare it to 'An Affair to Remember' it comes up a bit..."

Watch out for the "tectonic shift in popular entertainment(my paraphrase)" line of thought. A lot of what we are seeing and enjoying now is what human beings have always wanted to to see and enjoy. Re-read the Iliad for God's sake. It is pretty much the whole middle section of "300" in Homeric Greek poetry: hyper-vivid blood, guts, limbs a flyin'. Those ancient Greeks sitting around the campfire listening to the Iliad being recited by their local hot reciter would have loved "300."

I thought there was a lot of modesty in this movie: there was only one prehistoric rhino, there was only one arrows-darkening-the-sky-scene, only one quasi erotic scene, only hints that the Persian Immortals were ghost/monster/men. You didn't have all the Star Wars/ Lord of the Rings heavy story-line build up; it was a battlefield movie, after all. And don't dispair about the historical accuracy. From the first frame of swiriling sky (or whatever that was) the warning went up: check your historical accuracy at the door. Even so the greatest historical accuracy was observed: the seed planters of The West did not bend their knees to a tyrant! (Can I get an Amen!)

Posted by: Doug on March 24, 2007 5:54 PM

MQ, haven't heard more perverse whining leftist nonsense in quite a while (and that's something, working where I am and reading blogs as I am).

re: your intellectual hero, War Nerd: if he's half-fluent in Russian and dares to proclaim his understanding of fascism, Spartans and Iran in Moscow no wonder many Russians think Americans are stupid cowards.

Posted by: Tatyana on March 24, 2007 7:04 PM

I missed you Tatyana. However, your second paragraph was incomprehensible -- you might want to work on that.

Surprised to find that you think the anti-Spartan position is "perverse whining leftist nonsense" (attaway to string those adjectives together!). Ancient Sparta was the closest thing to a communist absolute dictatorship that the ancient world're not becoming more sympathetic to communist dictatorships now that you've been exposed to the decadant West? Be careful about taking blanket pro-war stances...remember, war is the health of the state!

Also, PA, point taken that this is really just a comic book of a and I know what the real Spartans were like. But most Americans don't know anything about history. And with a heroic, democratic, relatively "liberal" state ready to hand in Athens (which as you know fought off the Persians as well), why whitewash Sparta?

The movie I'd really like to see made is Thucydides, the Pelopennesian war. Tons of gory action, *and* honest to the foolishness and corrupting qualities of war, which we tend to romanticize away in America today.

Posted by: MQ on March 24, 2007 10:39 PM

No, it's not just a mess that's in the echo-chamber of what you call your head, MQ. I'd say, it's a half-boiled porridge of ideas. May be you're the one who should be exposed to a communist (or, rather, a real socialist, not imaginary one) state, to get a rattle. Although, judging by the guy you linked to, the experience proves fatal to poor leftist heads.

Besides the amusing patronizing tone towards me (you clearly mistake me for house help) and the rest of America in its entirety (who don't know history, nasty uneducated war-mongers)

Here's one more idea for you to pervert, mister:
the only legitimate action of the state, the reason for its being is defense of the citizens' lives. Through providing military, police and border-patrol means. Not funding the hospitals, not signing off grants to parasitic tenured professors, not regulating business, not censoring free speech.

You might want to work on that.

If you have time left from pondering to your Iranian friends. People with superior knowledge of history, almost as good as yours is.
[link via Odious, with gratitude]

Posted by: Tatyana on March 25, 2007 6:59 AM

The director comes straight to us from the vapid world of advertising. No wonder the whole thing has about as much enterntainment value as a commercial for men's deodoratnt.


Posted by: Ryanne Kelly on March 26, 2007 8:24 AM

The technique you describe is, as someone has already pointed out, a "speed ramp". All the other names and techniques (Bullet Time etc.) mentioned by other posters refer to a different type of effect than the one you mention.

Posted by: Mariano on March 26, 2007 1:04 PM

Tatyana, given that there is not now, nor ever has been within recorded history, a state which has confined itself to the functions you delineate, what exactly is the point of asserting that definition as if it were a matter of indisputable truth - other than, of course, to show that you are immune to persuasion?

Posted by: Dave on March 26, 2007 1:11 PM

What I liked about this movie, and what I suspect may have something to do with its general appeal, is that it was so unabashedly badass. This movie is all spectacle, all stylized hardcore manliness. There is no nuance to the script, just one clever laughing in the face of death one-liner after another. And yet it comes off as exactly what the film-makers were trying to do, make a really cool looking movie. It was a welcome change from the pre-Oscar glut of pretentious Hollywood "think-pieces" that try way too hard to combine all the latest fancy camera-work and fractured narrative gimmicks with a political or human message that strains to be subtle (Babel). 300 was a welcome break, the violence was cool rather than heart-wrenching and the political messaging too shallow and cliche to be commentary.

Posted by: Andy on March 26, 2007 3:12 PM

There are people who goes to the movies just for passing the time or plain entertainment, otherwyse, there are others than goes to the movies to get in contact with reality, and get the feeling that they are concoius and socially responsible with their historical environment. And finally, are we, the people that see the movies as an art. The canvas is now the movie-screen where some directors paint their masterpieces, while other just embarrassing the audience offering trash for a price. what kind of art (may we refer to 300 as art?)is 300 anyway? A. O. Scott said " almost as violent as Apocalypto, and twice stupid" I believe that is just XXI century pop-art.

Posted by: Berracol on March 26, 2007 4:00 PM

Hey, congrats on getting your post linked to from Arts & Letters Daily.

BTW, everyone should read Tatyana's last link. Who knew the Islamic Republic of Iran had a forte in... satire.

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah on March 26, 2007 4:07 PM

Dave, there was never a state in history that was an absolute communist dictatorship (which in itself is contradiction in terms, but I guess you somehow missed it) either; I guess I'm not the only one who is not open to persuasion.
And no, I am not open to persuasion by leftists; I passed that stage at about 12 yo.

Posted by: Tatyana on March 26, 2007 4:15 PM

Homoerotic? Bah!

There is a difference between "Will this movie turn gays on" and "Is this movie homoerotic".

Alexander was homoerotic. Not because of well built soldiers wearing greek armour, but because of the little love affair that was depicted between Jared and Collin!

There's none of that in "300". Well built soldiers in bloody combat to the death, yes, but if that's gay and homoerotic, then so is wearing my mother's panties while I smear myself down with syrup!

Otherwise, a pretty good review.

Posted by: Boom STR on March 27, 2007 8:31 AM

Movie Review of 300

by Howard Waldrop & Lawrence Person

Directed by Zack Snyder

Written by Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, and Michael Gordon (based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller & Lynn Varley)

Starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Michael Fassbender, Tom Wisdom, Andrew Pleavin, Andrew Tiernan, Rodrigo Santoro, Giovani Cimmino, Kelly Craig

Howard Waldrop: If Cecil B. DeMille would have had CGI around while he was planning the 1956 Ten Commandments, he would have never stopped crapping his pants.

Both: 300 is a literal transcription of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae ("The Hot Gates"), Greek city-states vs. the Persian Empire, 480 B.C., in which 300 Spartans under King Leonidas (along with a few allies from other Greek city-states) held off a much larger Persian force under Xerxes (historical estimates range from a way-too-low 15,000 to an almost-certainly-insanely-too-high 3 million, the latter closer to what's depicted here) for three days.

Lawrence Person: This is a good, but not great, ancient war film, with just enough touches of the fantastic, including a demonic dire wolf, a prophetic oracle, and humans too grotesque looking (more on that latter) for even the most outlandish bits of pre-history (such as men not just with filed teeth, but actual fangs), to justify a review here. The battle scenes are pretty spectacular (if repetitive), the art direction is first-rate (assuming you don't mind the sepia-wash laid over everything) and the acting more than passable....

[see web page for mor]

Posted by: Jonathan Vos Post on March 27, 2007 12:23 PM

If you like Nike commercials see this movie. Because that's what it is. Two hours of slow motion, (WAY TOO MUCH), catchy graphics, and stunts.

NOTICE TO ZACH SNYDER: (The director) You are not Ridley Scott. And judging by this movie you'd be lucky to compare with Tony Scott. You're gray landscapes of grain and 'heavenly' lighting trying to copy the scene where Russel Crow imagines his family in elisium is comical. The slow motion...We get it. This is an epic movie. I think I got that about the 22nd time you used slow motion. I understand this is an adaptation of a graphic novel and called for a different pictoral representation of a film, but so was Sin City, and you didn't see Robert Rodriguez slowing the entire movie down to 5 miles an hour!

"Where the camera speeds up then suddenly slows down then speeds up again ... Does this technique have a name?"

--Yes, it's called "How to masquerade as a film maker."

I know what you're thinking. No, I'm not one of those overly artsy types who hates action or epic movies. I went to this movie expecting to like it, but after I realized I was in a two hour long Nike commercial I wanted my money back.

By the way, if you want to see a really awful movie check out the hills have eyes II. That makes 300 look like an oscar contender.


Posted by: Piscus on March 27, 2007 2:35 PM

"The Spartans in "300" aren't the Spartans I've learned about: deeply conservative, suspicious to the point of paranoia, fascistic and totalitarian, willing sacrificers of children, oppressors of their own subjects .."

Sounds like nearly every ancient culture, Jews, Persians, Greeks, Mesopotamians, Romans, you name it.

Posted by: Dave on March 27, 2007 6:54 PM

What concerns me about comments like Jim R's is that, if they are true, why are our armed forces having recruitment problems?

Seems like a thirst for the surficial (the trappings of honor, duty, etc.) with no underlying substance.

Posted by: vj on March 28, 2007 8:11 AM

I've read the graphic novel, and I think all the movie's problems derive directly from it. Place the blame where it belongs, with Frank Miller.


1. Frank Miller, for reasons beyond my understanding, draws the Persians and King Xerxes to look like Blacks. If there's racial subtext here, please explain it. (No, the Persians are not merely "tanned" -- and it's the Spartans who ought to be brown-skinned, since they walk around naked so much. See Point 3.)

2. Miller's version of King Xerxes does look like "RuPaul attacked by a stapler", and he gives King Leonidas a shoulder rub.

3. Miller's Spartans do not only wear those silly thongs -- most of the time they wear only their big red capes, or sandals, or nothing at all. (Though their skin doesn't glisten like in the movie -- all that body oil must be Zack Snyder's idea.)

4. Miller's version of King Leonidas claims the Spartan's last stand will usher in a new historical era of law and order and justice -- a prophecy that's lifted out of thin air, and there is nothing in the character's background to suggest he has any insight into history (or respect for law and order and justice).

5. Miller diminishes or ignores the effort of other Greek states in the battles against Xerxes.

In conclusion: the movie should be re-titled "Frank Miller's 300 Issues With Race & Sex". Furthermore, the words "Spartans", "Greeks" and "Persians" should be edited out, since they suggest a semblance to "reality".

Posted by: A.R.Yngve on March 29, 2007 6:23 AM

I'm a commercial director who used to be repped by the same production company as Zach Snyder, the Director of "300", though I had the pleasure of meeting him once very briefly and haven't yet seen the film. He's smart and very talented. I imagine "300" is stunningly executed (am fascinated to see it) but fairly banal. Yet I suspect that most of the audience that this film is aimed at is of the video game generation and is completely satisfied with sacrificing elements like story and character (deemed crucial for people of my generation) for visceral thrills and mind-blowing visuals.

Actually, when you go back to look at them very very few films hold up over time. Sure, Chaplin comedies may stand the test of time but there are very few Chaplins. The 1960's was a low point for cinema IMHO with very very few standout films and lots of rubbish.

The industry standard term for speed-ups/slow-downs is "speed ramping" and the first time I recall seeing it was in Raging Bull. The technique can be done in modern film cameras but usually executed in post production where it is referred to as "ramping" or sometimes "time compression". It's not to be confused with "big freeze" which was used in the Matrix where the camera could move around a frozen tableaux. That technique is quite different and created by a large number of cameras that are arranged in a sequence.

Posted by: Philip on April 4, 2007 6:04 PM

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