Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


Before I'd seen it, I had my doubts about '300'. Like all kids, I heard the whole Thermopylae story at school and ooh-ed and ahh-ed like the rest, but I have learnt enough about the 'noble' Spartans in the meantime to know I don't like them. (I was going to bring up a meaningless comparison with the Aztecs, but I don't think I would have pleased too many people with my views on them neither.) Anyhow quite apart from historical accuracy (or lack thereof), '300' is a pretty dull affair. Sure, it looks impressive, and all that use of CGI for backgrounds and stylised look is something I have advocated for a long time (as long as it is in the service of storyline and keeps budgets down, CGI should be used; needless use is what I have a problem with). '300' uses CGI from the outset and works it into the presentation of the world it is trying to convey. Yes, it looks great.
No, my problem - make that problems - are with character, story, direction, acting, etc.. Leonides, the chocolate king, as played by Gerard Butler, is as two-dimensional as the design on a Grecian urn. His sub-Gladiator warblings (and I wouldn't be any great advocate of "Gladiator"'s screenplay neither) are, in the worst sense of the term, 'comic book'. The numerous battlescenes, obviously meant to be rousing to the teenage male audience, are tedious, even more so for being in slow-motion for the most part. The film could have been halved in length (and I prayed throughout that it could be) if they had played everything at normal speed. As to the attempts to make poor old Sparta an early fighter for Freedom against Tyranny, it looks good on paper, but is laughable on the screen. And is it just me, or is it a little in bad taste to make the Spartans so obviously Anglo-Saxon in the battle against a Middle-Eastern enemy? Obvious, I know, but offensive all the same.
The real subtext of the piece, of course, is not the battle of Freedom against Tyranny, but of Beauty against Ugliness. I haven't seen so many six-packs outside of a Molloy's Off-Licence. And who are the bad guys? The deformed traitor (rejected by Leonides), the traitorous deformed priests, the masked, because deformed, Immortals, and of course the androgynous Xerxes (even his 'beautiful' courtesans have facial abnormalities). Granted the duplicitous Theron is the exception, but he keeps his six-pack to himself. This is Hollywood celebrating its own cult of the Beautiful, placing it on the side of Right as against the ugliness and decadence of the rest of us. As such it's second only to 'Triumph of the Will' as Fascist propaganda.
(And need I point out the celebration of militarism? Verhoeven's hugely enjoyable 'Starship Troopers' was villified for doing with ironic humour what '300' does with a po-face.)
So what of the brave '300'? Sure, it looks good, but it stinks to high heaven. Go tell the Spartans!



At 7:06 pm, Blogger ian said...

And is it just me, or is it a little in bad taste to make the Spartans so obviously Anglo-Saxon in the battle against a Middle-Eastern enemy?

Although the Lakedaimonians, while not exactly, Anglo-Saxon, were Europeans, while the enemy were largely from countries that today would count as the Middle East.

The film has its problems, but I think people read too much contemporary politics into this.

At 11:32 pm, Blogger Niall said...

Your point is a valid one, Ian. However, in my view film is a product of its time and as such operates in the context of that time. Given the current global tensions, the fact that this movie was made now speaks volumes in itself. This is no 'Gladiator' with Rome battling with itself. This is the so-called 'Cradle of Civilisation' (Greece) battling the 'Eastern hordes'. It's analogous to a Fu Manchu novel in the early Twentieth Century without the saving grace of naivete. Of course, if one were to follow this reasoning strictly one could argue that nothing relevant to today might be made. However, it's not just that '300' was made, but that it was made so 'uncritically'. This is a black and white fight of so-called good against evil when something far more complex is called for. In such a simple polarity not only is it easy to villify whole nations, it's easy to appropriate reprehensible behaviours as part of the 'Good'. Of course, strange incarnations of Good and Evil populate many a popcorn flick, but not with the queasy call to historical validity riding on their shoulders.


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