Sunday, March 11, 2007

waiting for 300 and disappointment

300 (directed by zack snyder) adapted from yet another frank miller comic was released in united states last friday (9th)α. i have not seen the movie. i want to very much. why? because the battle of thermopylae on which both the comic and the film are based on, is one of those things that gets inside one's head. it certainly did in my case ever since i read the histories of herodotus long ago. even now i get goose-bumps when i read (or even remember) the epitaph on the spartans.
"Go tell the Spartans, you who read;
We took their orders, and are dead."

audrey de sélincourt translation (which is the one i read first). there is a list of alternate translations here.

of course there have been many other cases, even in sri lanka, where small number of people overcame or bravely died facing overwhelming odds. what makes this different was the undoubted importance of the occasion, and its symbolic value. if persian empire won the war there would not have been a greece, and the western civilization, which is more or less the modern civilization, we inhabit would have been completely different. greeks probably would have won anyway regardless of thermopylae, but this battle almost instantly became a symbol of what greece stood forβ, and retelling of the whole story (mainly through herotodotus) contributed to that through the ages. that is why it is repeatedly depicted in various forms of art, or in other contexts. for some references to it see here

so why do i expect to be disappointed?

it is inevitable when too many things are riding on it. most films based on history, novels, or any other source, almost always disappoint. greater the original source greater the disappointmentγ. simplifications, stereotyping (especially of persians if early reviews are to be believed), pandering to contemporary problems, sensibilities and attitudes (thankfully early reviews say it is not politically correct) are unavoidable.

nothing else will probably explain why that battle still gets inside so many people, better than reading it at the source. for all his obvious faults and exaggerations the storytelling style (with all the side stories from the one about spartans exercising and combing their hair, down) of the old man herodotus is still the best way to understand why some 300 spartans and 700 thespians chose to die than abandon their post on the third day of the battle.

he King with half the East at heel is marched from land of morning;
Their fighters drink the rivers up, their shafts benight the air,
And he that stands will die for nought, and home there's no returning.
The Spartans on the sea-wet rock sat down and combed their hair.

A. E. Housman

α of course there were the usual pre screenings and festival appearances before that.

β probably inaccurately, after all militaristic totalitarian (as ancients could go) sparta was hardly the place one would want to live.

γ the comic which i have not seen, would probably been a disappointment as well.


Sanjana Hattotuwa said...

The NY Times has a particularly damning review - - that I read with interest after seeing the CG filled trailer on cable TV recently. The kind of movie I'll watch on a long haul flight, but would be loathe to buy. Let us know what you thought after you see it!

sittingnut said...

generally reviews for this one are mixed. see imdb external review page for a list of reviews (which will grow further in the next week or so ) and user comment there as well. ( presently 300 s rating is 8.4/10 (from 8,519 votes) which is a comparatively high rating check other movie sites like yahoo movies and rotten tomatoes etc. as well

i don't post reviews here when there are better places to post them. i write about movies only when there is something else connected with them.

T said...

It's pretty clear that the movie is not a retelling of the battle itself but a movie based in Frank Miller's graphic novel.. Zack Snyder says so himself in the movie's website. There's a minotaur who fights for the Persian army in the movie so I wouldn't watch it expecting a history lesson. Personally I can't wait to see it, love the colours used... Really hope they bring it to the cinemas here as the DVD won't be nearly as good an experience (not holding out for much seeing as it is R rated)

Peppa said...

I agree with T, the movie is based on a comic and it should be critique that way...i've seen other post about 300 saying that it is not following the history and blah blah and that is correct, its a graphic novel for crying out loud... The CGI technology is amazing. There are behind the scene clips on zannel if you are into the CGI technology as i am...

Anonymous said...

This movie rocks!

Komisiripala said...

i watched this movie on saturday - and it was the best damn action/drama combo movie i have seen in a while. departed and blood diamond are different genres i think.

the CGI is seamlessly used and the dialogue is very captivating. gerard butler was very good (albeit i didn't expect leonidas to have a slightly scottish accent).

all in all two thumbs way the f** up.

Mr. Evil said...

Hmmmm... from experience.. trainlers are brilliant and fake dvd copies in sl somewhat most of the time turn into a great disappointment. But who knows! Maybe things are about to change! lol :)

Spooky said...

If you want a real blood rush, read Steven Pressfield's "Gates of Fire". Probably the best I've read on Thermopylae.

cerno said...

I read the original comic at a Borders in the U.S. This was perhaps 4-5 years ago. I read the whole thing standing by the book shelf. Didn't buy it. Which perhaps explains why I agree with sittingnut's expectation of the comic.

I haven't seen the entire film though I've seen a few clips off the internet. From that it looks like the film is faithful to the graphic style of the original comic. I think if the film makers were anymore faithful the film would have been an animated one.

The imagery of the comic was violently bloody, and macabre. A marvel/superhero comic in ancient Greece costume. There was a brooding even in the "normal" dialogue frames. The rendering of the artwork demonstrated that the artist had a high level of mastery of the medium.

The story line wasn't very nuanced. The stoic, clean, brave Spartans stand up to a exotic, decedent corrupt foreign evil (so civilisation has a fighting chance). They are betrayed and die fighting which makes them heroes. The End. There is some reference to the darker side Spartan culture but not much.

My biggest problem with the comic though is with the portrayal of the "Persians". I'm not an expert on Persian art and history though I've read enough to spot Persian art of that era. The "Persians" in the comic didn't have any remote resemblance to what I knew from art history. The "Persian" king (with over the top body piercing) was depicted as a rock-star ego maniac out of a Mad Max movie. I vaguely recall seeing the king's women in the comic wearing what seemed to be Burkas.

The cultural referencing was so off that the "Persians" in the comic might as well been wearing Kimonos. I also got a distinct feeling of that there was an undercurrent for anti-middle-eastern (not exactly anti-Islamic) in the depiction of the "enemy horde".

The stereotyping in the comic must have got carried over to the movie. The usual excuse is of course "its only a comic" or "its only an action movie". For people (who don't look or are middle eastern) and like to watch a fun digital blood bath from the safety of their megaplex seats, I suppose it will be an enjoyable movie. It will also appeal to anyone who also likes to see well muscled scantly clad men.

And somewhere in the heartland of the U.S, some scared kid would might have the fantasy of himself holding off hoards of Ay-Rabs with heavy duty firepower.

But of course I'm stereotyping and not being very nuanced.