Published Mar 17, 2007

A lot of words have been spent talking about the quality, or lack thereof, of 300, the new movie based on a Frank Miller graphic novel. I’m probably not going to add to the overall value or quality of all of that here. However, if King Leonidas and his Spartans didn’t mind dying for nothing, then I can’t see why I should mind blogging for nothing.

300 is the adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name, by Frank Miller of Sin City fame, about the battle of Thermopylae,1 at which the Spartans fought the invading Persians. I leave it up to your fourth-grade history teacher to bring you up-to-date on what happened in that battle. 300 is probably a generally more-or-less accurate description of this battle. 300 is also a very accurate adaptation of the graphic novel — like Sin City, the movie is shot scene-for-scene to duplicate the art in the graphic novel, and a limited color palette, incorporating extensive digital imagery.

300 is also a pretty good movie. It’s got everything you expect from an adaptation of a Frank Miller graphic novel, including:

  • Great colors
  • Minimal but expressive scenes
  • Substantial blood & gore
  • Archetypical, almost pulp-y characters, executed with a Dashiell Hammett-like edge
  • Boobies

That’s really what it comes down to — 300 makes a specific promise, in its concept and its trailers, and it delivers on that completely. 300 is not the greatest movie you’ll ever see. It’s not the most positive towards women, and it’s definitely not the most positive towards non-Western people.2 It’s fun. It’s violent — you’d better like flying limbs and great gouts of blood shooting all over3 (in fact, the closing credits are all about the animated gouts of blood).

300 is hypermasculine, too; you know how very manly things from the ’50s are now perceived as super-gay? Well all of the perfect six-packs and bulging pecs and sweaty, bare arms and leather bikini-style outfits in this movie will probably come off as super-gay at some time in the future too. At least, I hope that they are perceived as gay, because, as a straight guy, I can say I will never have a body that good, and I hope nobody ever expects it of me.

But, to get away from my own insecurities and back to 300: it was a pretty film for more than just pretty men. A lot has been said about 300’s unique look, and I have to say I’m all for it. Movies have, for years, used scenes with limited color palettes to set a mood, or to make certain things stand out; with digital technology, directors don’t have to accept whatever color the grass where they choose to shoot. In some cases, this is a good thing.4 I’m sure it can also be used for evil. But the look of the movie added greatly to how it worked, and digital animation allowed a lot of scenes and levels of violence to exist that otherwise could not have. Overall, I have to say, 300 reminded me of a play — very few grand vistas, very few locations, much more focus on the players than the scenery. It worked.

And that’s what it comes down to: it worked. 300 simply delivered exactly what should have been expected of it, and that’s rare these days. Too many movies claim to be the big action thriller of the summer, or the cute romance, but fall down on script or acting or overall execution; 300 makes a simple, limited promise, and delivers well. If this movie’s previews aren’t appealing, if you don’t think you’d like that look or that amount of violence or whatever, then skip it. If you think all the above sounds like a fun ride to you, then go for it.

1 It’s actually handy if you know this beforehand

2 Although, overall, there is little enough character development in the non-Spartan characters for them to be more than a crude stereotype of some form anyway. I’ll be honest that, from a race point of view, I was more disturbed by the large number of blue-eyed Ancient Greeks in this movie; if we’re representing people as they are, then Greeks should be dark-eyed and swarthy, for starters.

3 To be an apologist again, if you hack off a limb, I would imagine said severance is followed by at least a brief fountain of blood from the busily-pumping arteries. As I’ve managed to miss de-limbings so far, I wouldn’t know for sure.

4 However, were I cast in this movie, I’d be pissed that I spent my whole time in a soundstage rather than in Greece.


“300 is hypermasculine, too; you know how very manly things from the 50s are now perceived as super-gay?”

Speaking of… here is a review from a friend of mine in the bay area. Compare and contrast.

I think the main contrast is that he has something to say. But I’m down with pretty much all of it.