2007-03-15 / On the Town
Sometimes appreciating a really great genre film is akin to understanding theoretical physics or liking opera. If you happen to be a theoretical physicist or an opera buff, you'll sit for hours of wondrous joy delighting in your passion. And for the foreseeable future, you're likely to wax poetic to anyone in earshot about such life-altering experience, as if expecting all those nearby to somehow metabolize your ecstasy and collapse into a weeping pile of goo.
Films I consider breathtaking masterpieces will draw glares of disbelief from some casual filmgoers. Or, if you're my wife, they'll occasionally provoke open hostility. Terry Gilliam's "Brazil," for instance, is a magnificent film that continually, repeatedly boggles my imagination. Only recently I decided Eileen should share the experience. Fifteen minutes into the film, my eyes misty with the anticipation of sharing such an important gift, she gave me a look. The look.
"I can't believe you're making me watch this."
Ah, but such is the tragic journey of stylistic film. One man's nirvana is one wife's exasperation. All of which is my long-winded caveat: While I consider "300" an amazing, if bloodsoaked, stylized marvel of nearbrilliant cinematic eye-candy, you may not agree. By the second or third beheading, you might be rolling your eyes, wondering why somebody's encouraged you to watch it.
So be forewarned, gentle film folk, that "300" isn't a movie for everybody. If you're 17 and male and you've ever picked up a crooked stick while proclaiming yourself Lancelot, then you're going to eat it up. You'll own the DVD before summer's out. But if you can name all of Jane Austen's central characters from memory, I suspect you'll want to pass on this one. You will, in fact, find it quite barbaric and nonsensical.
The film is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel about the lopsided Battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.). The tale of the 300 Spartans holding off tens of thousands of Persian soldiers has already been translated to the screen- the last time in 1962, with Richard Egan playing King Leonidas.
Hollywood loves a good uneven brawl, which is why "The Alamo" has been remade umpteen times, as has General Custer's last hurrah. We just love those David vs. Goliath tales, even if sometimes David does get whumped.
This time, the 300 buff, rockbellied Spartans (because Sparta had yet to invent the shirt) fight against a blank green screen. Most of the snarling Persians and their occasionally mythical, monstrous creatures are computer-generated, which makes for some pretty nifty swordplay. (The ambiance is reminiscent of 2004's "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.") And, Frank Miller being the man who brought us the delightfully macabre "Sin City," the vicious blood-letting is relentless.
Oh, sure, you can expect a few tranquil moments depicting honor and virtue, an occasional soliloquy about freedom and duty. And there's a dedicated queen back home (Lena
- PLEASE SEE PAGE 42A Headey) who implores a hesitant Greek council to unite while her man, King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), bides time with the lives of his men.
If you're the aforementioned 17-year-old male, you'll probably take home a noble thought or two. But mostly you'll watch spellbound as wave after wave of snarling Persian is decimated by sword and spear and arrow . . . and you'll probably think, way cool.