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March 18th, 2007
04:18 pm
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In which I disagree with previous LJ reviewers
kadyg and I saw the movie "300" today, after seeing several people raving about its awesomeness on our friends lists. Can't speak for Kady, but I sat through the movie and ... meh. It did nothing for me. And after a little more reflection, I simply can't recommend it to anyone.

I saw Sin City and liked it, so it's not just a Frank Miller thing -- it was this movie specifically. (Granted, there are legitimate reasons to dislike the Frank Miller style; I'm just not going to cover them here.) Three main factors, in order of increasing importance, made 300 a more painful experience than I'd have liked:

1. Movie fighting.

The combat in this movie shifted back and forth between tactical brilliance and idiotic graphical pandering, with very little warning or middle ground. The scenes where the Spartans stayed in a tight phalanx, fought off wave after wave of attackers, hid from arrows behind their shields, etc., made the battle come alive. And then the wave of attackers would falter, the Spartans would leap up and charge, and the battlefield would become a chaotic mass of intermingled bodies, with the Good Guys pirouetting between enemies, somersaulting baddies over their shields, performing choreographed spin thrusts, and simultaneously triple-skewering my suspension of disbelief.

This would have been more forgivable if they hadn't tried so hard to make the, well, real fighting stand out. "Look! The Spartans were really badass and this is how they really fought! Then they gained three levels and two bonus feats and ROLLED THE CRITICAL HITS!" just doesn't work.

2. Teh gay.

No, there's no explicit homosexuality in this movie (the one reference being where Leonidas tells the Persians that those pedophile Athenians have already stood up to him, so Leo's not gonna back down either). But ... holy crap, Xerxes is lord high ruler of the drag queens. His makeup budget must be about as huge as his military one. You'll also notice, if you stick around through the credits, that the Big Erotic Persian Scene contains three transvestites.

Not enough? Notice that while Leonidas' manly manly men are unstoppable on the battlefield, all of Xerxes' onscreen victories are through bribery, temptation, and seduction. Pretty much everyone except the ultramasculine hero and his ultrapure wife gives in to the jewelry-heavy, silky-voiced man's wiles. Also don't overlook the repeated references to the Persian army being enslaved by their leaders -- how many times have you heard the religious right refer to the "gay agenda" and its attempts to "brainwash" or "enslave" our children? Look out, the Persians are going to contaminate our precious bodily fluids! Which leads me to:

3. Painfully Republican.

300 is not a subtle movie.

The very first thing Kady and I agreed on as we left the theater was that it was painfully heavy-handed. And the lessons it tries to draw are at once simplistic, convenient, and very dangerous.

Leonidas' 300 -- and more broadly, his city-state of Sparta -- are repeatedly shown as the sole beacon of freedom, justice, and the Greek way in a world of invading Persian faggots (see #2) and their liberal Athenian surrender-monkey allies. The Persians are an existential threat to all of Greece, but weak-willed politicians and a decadent populace are too blind to see it (especially after being infiltrated by a fifth column of false prophets and bought-and-sold governmental traitors). The Greek politicians initially united against Xerxes (remember the reference to those boy-loving Athenians telling him to sod off?) but have now sold out and would rather throw meaningless festivals and be bribed by bad guys than defend the homeland.

Any of this sound familiar?

It should. It really should. This movie is the argument, in a nutshell, that Bush loyalists have been jumping up and down and screaming at the top of their lungs since 9/11, and are still sticking to in the face of the Iraq war's disintegration. It's Ann Coulter and Michael Savage's shrill denunciations of all liberals as traitors and fifth columnists. It's right-wing blogs' insistence that Islamic terrorism is a threat to the very foundations of civilization and neocons are the only ones with enough clarity to do what must be done. It's culture warriors' denunciations of Teh Gay (see #2) and promotion of an idealized hypermasculinity and strict warrior culture.

Like those blowhards, the movie also suffers from a promotion of rhetoric over reality. On numerous occasions, Leonidas and/or other Sparta mouthpieces repeatedly promote how they stand for freedom, etc. However, look at what the movie (and the history) shows and it's a different story. Sparta is (correctly) shown as a harsh, totalitarian culture, where insufficiently strong children were killed and military strength was emphasized. And contrary to the movie's mythologizing about freedom, ancient Sparta was actually a slave society (those who weren't descended from Spartan blood were called "helots" and were officially serfs belonging to the state).*

In the movie, the only actual instance of Sparta defending freedom of any sort was their stand against the invading Persians. And even there, in reality, the Spartans were hardly alone -- they were certainly the heroes of Thermopylae, but not as the clear-eyed sole defenders of liberty the movie (and graphic novel) paints. The entire scene with the stupid council ignoring the Persian threat was, shall we say, entirely made up. So the movie got progressively more painful every time the rhetoric blasted in.

Look, I'm not the sort of guy who injects politics or ivory-tower lit-crit into everything. (For instance, I'm on record as saying that reading racism into Tolkien is absurd.) But "300" is such a huge, blunt talking-points instrument that it's in a category of its own.

This movie was a barrage of violence between ultramanly good-guy soldiers and demonized Middle Easterners intermixed with heavy-handed right-wing talking points. I've gotten enough of that from the news in the last several years. No, thank you -- won't be seeing this one again.

--
* To Sparta's credit, they had attitudes toward women that were incredibly enlightened for the time. Wikipedia's notes on Spartan women and adultery are an interesting counterpoint to the movie's treatment of the queen.

Current Location: ~calorg
Current Mood: cynicalcynical
Current Music: Yngwie Malmsteen, "How Many Miles to Babylon"
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From:elynne
Date:March 19th, 2007 06:30 am (UTC)
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Wa-hey - I'd been wondering about a lot of this, thank you for being the first (I've read) to pick it apart and write about it. Since the primary justifications for seeing 300 seem to be either a) stylized violence! (which squicks me about as badly as "realistic" violence, or portrayals of violence in general) and/or b) overmuscled shaved oiled guys in tiny leather thongs! (EW), I'll continue to give it a miss.
From:lhexa
Date:March 19th, 2007 08:04 am (UTC)
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I was always more of a Thucydides guy, anyway.
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From:kinkyturtle
Date:March 19th, 2007 08:37 am (UTC)
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When I first heard of the movie, I thought, "It's a movie about SPARTA? Ewwww."
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From:inaki
Date:March 19th, 2007 03:37 pm (UTC)
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I think its part of the stylization of it. The way this movie is made, there's no room for grey areas, or realism. Everything is absolute and exaggerated and fantastical. The wolf was a good 8 feet tall, monsterous, and had litterally glowing eyes. The disfigured man was a creature, himself. The spartans were infallible and perfect, and Xerxes' monsters were fantastical. Everything in this story was over the top.

On the one hand, you do bring up some very interesting parallels on this. On the other, sometimes a movie is just a movie. =>
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From:kevynjacobs
Date:March 19th, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)
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I liked Sin City, also, but I stayed away from 300. It struck me as being just too violent for my taste, and the propagandistic elements of the movie are too painfully obvious.

I mean, we're right in the middle of a build up to war with Iran (Persia), and what do we suddenly have? A movie about ultramasculine warriors fighting against Persia. Coincidence?

Now, granted, I haven't seen 300, but the "fighting for freedom" against the Persians meme looks pretty transparently like propaganda. I can't help but wonder if the U.S. masses are being groomed for a battle against Iran. I wonder about where the funding for this movie came from, and why the decision was made to produce it now. (The Wikipedia article on the 300 has some interesting points to make about this.)

Furthermore, the idea that heroes are "ultramasculine" and the villains "decadent and androgynous" is not only historically inaccurate (Wikipedia: Spartan Pederasty), it fits neatly into the propagandistic tendencies of 300.

In short, this movie scares me.
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From:paka
Date:March 19th, 2007 05:44 pm (UTC)
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Liberal... Athenian? surrender monkeys? Athenian?

My classics-minor-brain, the chunk of my mind steeped in Herodotus, just twanged loudly. That wasn't in the comic, either! Dude, without the Athenians there, the Greeks wouldn't have won the war!!
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From:pyxaron
Date:March 19th, 2007 05:50 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, when you notice those things, it's really annoying. But most people who see that movie are there only for eye candy and bad guy vs good guy, without having a clue of where or what Spartia and Persians and whatever are.

From what i've seen from coworkers and friends, most don't even remember what happened outside the fight scenes.
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From:balinares
Date:March 20th, 2007 10:20 pm (UTC)
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Amusingly, there was a short blurb about 300 on the news today, along the lines of "OMG SPECIAL EFFECTS go see it!!!", and the girlfriend and I just about simultaneously decided to give it a wide, wide berth on account that it looked like utter stupid tripe. Somehow, it's comforting to read that our instantaneous gut reaction was maybe not entirely irrational. :)
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From:paka
Date:August 19th, 2009 01:25 pm (UTC)
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I hadn't read this one in a while so I'm just now coming back to it.

I'd read the comic, and actually thought it was the last actually good thing Miller did before just descending completely into mindless self-congradulatory self-reference. "Good" with reservations - I really didn't like the by now traditional Miller racism.

But... uh, surrender monkey Athenians? Seriously? This is definitely not like Thucidydes' version of this stuff...
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