Comic books are pornography. That’s why Hollywood loves them. Black and white morality coupled with ultra-violence coupled with sex… Here is a formula that makes sense to film executives. Because books are tough. Let’s face it. Trying to portray the inner-life of complex literary characters is a bitch. Especially when your target audience is 16. So why not not bother? Why not opt for 300 Spartan warriors with no complex inner-lives? “Inner-life” is only a euphemism in Hollywood anyway. To have inner-life a character must stop acting. A movie like 300 is easy to green-light in Hollywood, ’cause Spartans would rather die than succumb to complex thoughts or feelings.
In so far as there is a plot in 300, the plot is: there’s a fight. We begin in the kingdom of Sparta, circa 480 B.C. Persian emissaries come to warn the Spartan King Leonidas that a mighty army is set to arrive in Greece with the intention of conquering the Greek city states. Leonidas replies by shoving the Persian emissaries down a well. So war is declared. Leonidas asks the other city states for help in rebuffing the Persians, but, when no help is proffered, he takes it upon himself (and 300 of his best troops) to repel the 1,000,000-strong Persian army by halting their advance at a narrow mountain pass called Thermopylae. The rest is Sin City, with spears.
Realising that: a) 1,000,000 extras would cost a lot of money, and b) no-one really buys this kind of crap anymore, director Zack Snyder decided to shoot 300 like a video game, with just about everything (bar one or two actors) computer generated. Those familiar with video game parlance (i.e. anyone under 30) will be au-fait with terms like “cut scene” (the bits in-between the bits where you control the action in a video game) and much of 300 has the “cut scene”-feel. What this means (for those who are over 30) is that a bunch of actors who’d have a major struggle on their hands playing storefront mannequins stand around reciting dialogue that would make George Lucas cringe, while the special effects have an epileptic fit and the lighting makes everyone look like they’re made of concrete.
Casting for such a venture must have been an interesting process. Questions like: “How long could you spend in a loin-cloth?” would have been paramount, as would the ability to hack and slash at nothing for weeks on end. Obviously this was not a movie that was going to attract the cream of contemporary acting talent, and, to give them their due, Gerard Butler and co. perform as well as could be expected under the circumstances. Butler, familiar from oodles of crap over the past few years (he played Dracula in Dracula 2000 and The Phantom in Phantom of the Opera), has a face that looks well-pounded with a shovel and a voice that wants to be Sean Connery, but he’s right for this nonsense, doing the Glasgow hard-man bit as CGI elephants shove their tusks in his face. His Queen, played by Lena Headley, has a top that was made to be taken off and a chin that’s good for jutting when she makes speeches. Roderigo Santora plays Xerxes like he was in The Crying Game and everybody else may have acted well, but, to be honest, I couldn’t tell the difference between them.
So, yes, I think 300 is crap. But who am I to judge? I didn’t like Sin City much either. The movies I love are so far removed from the look-at-that-guy’s-arm-come-off!- aesthetic this movie seeks to pander to that it’s a wonder I could sit through the movie at all, let alone compose a coherent review of it. 300 is a comic book. 300 is pornography. It wants you to look at violence the way folks look at Playboy, but it doesn’t work for the over-16-set because violence (unlike sex) is intrinsically lurid. You know you’re getting old when you think of pain before you think of fighting, and 300 functions almost like a mnemonic for maturity. If you find it wanting, you’re too old for it.