Friday, 28 May 2010

Spartans! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty… for tonight we dine in hell!

No 337 – 300
Director – Zack Snyder

Throughout this film, the Spartans give out a fascinatingly shit war cry. “Hoo Hah” they repeat. Over and over again. I like to think that when the powers that be sat down to plan 300 they just did the same… repeating “Hoo Hah” over again – Hell, it even works as a film synopsis.

Unlike Transformers (I know I keep referring back to it) which cluttered all its stupid action with masses of exposition, 300 knows that it is nothing but stupid action and doesn’t seek to apologise or disguise the fact. After about 15 minutes they give up on even giving us a plot. We sit there, watching a short set up, explaining the culture and ways of Sparta and explaining the progress of Xerxe’s army.

Then Gerard Butler kicks a messenger down the well and screams.

There is a lot of screaming.

At this point, the film makers decide that they’ve had quite enough plot thank you very much and the film becomes nothing more than a non-interactive video game. A massively outnumbered hero battling wave after wave of enemies with ever increasing difficulty. I am in fact surprised that King Leonidas’ adventures haven’t been made into a game, because the set up is perfect. Far better than most film to game conversions. I once had a computer game version of Wall:E – I never got any further than the bit where you go around collecting rubbish and putting it into stacks.

So, why do I enjoy this film when I should find it infuriating? Why do I relish in its brainless nonsense? It makes even less sense when I think how I derided other films for doing the same. I think, firstly, that it isn’t trying to be anything else. Whilst not being tongue in cheek, it doesn’t really take itself too seriously. After all there are only so many slow motion stabbings and lacerations that can occur before it becomes a joke. Likewise, in between the stabbings and attacks, we get to view the ‘banter’ between the soldiers. Which is awful. So awful, that it can’t be legit. It has to be a weird homoerotic joke.

Normally this doesn’t matter, you watch the film and let the fools kill each other. But at one particular point we’re expected to emote. We’re expected to feel the grief of the father whose son has died. However, there are three things the film has forgotten about.

  1. There has been NO character development in this film at all…. Why are we supposed to care?

  2. The Spartans believed that to die in the battle is the greatest thing you can aspire to… Why are we supposed to feel bad for this particular great death?

  3. When asked whether he felt his son should go to battle, he tells King Leonidas that he has two others…. Why the sudden change of heart?

Silly film. Don’t expect us to relate to the characters. Just let us watch the biffing and the bashing and marvel in how pretty it is.

And it is pretty. As you sit there watching hundreds of oiled up men spearing each other through their washboard stomachs and rippling abs you get to enjoy some amazing cinematography.

What I like is that - much like Sin City (also by Frank Miller) – the film copies the graphic novel’s visual style. This time working in shades of sepia and black with the occasional splash of deep coppery blood.

The film relishes in the visuals. It focuses on the horrors and the glories of war and enjoys the comparisons of the Spartan practicality with the Persian pomp and circumstance. The film is a celebration of the violence and whilst you may not agree with the themes, you can not deny that the presentation is beautiful.

Frank Miller’s world is very odd. It is a world in which most people look like chiselled statues of perfection. But scattered amongst them are freaks. And not just mildly weird looking freaks; we’re talking properly mutated. The film seems obsessed by the freaks.

From snivelling drooling rambling hunchbacks to neck-less giants with lobster claws… the film takes pleasure in being a bit of a freak show amidst the violence and showiness.

This, oddly, doesn’t feel that manipulative – I think because the characters are so obviously CGI (there is no way they can be real)… I think it helps to detach us from the violence. It makes it seem more of a fantasy. More of a fiction and less of a horrifying death match.

There are, however a few little things that I do find uncomfortable. Firstly, the weird relationship the film has to women: I am aware that this is a story about two armies of men battling each other, but the women get a rough deal in this film. Firstly, there are only two female characters who make it past being anything but an extra: Queen Gorgo, and the Oracle. Neither of these have particularly rich or complex characters (though the film does try with Queen Gorgo; bless it how it tries) and both suffer from the following:

1) The camera will linger slightly too long on their bare breasts (particularly in the Oracle’s trance scene which seems like an oddly abstract perfume advert with excessive levels of nudity).

2) The character will be placed in a situation which strongly hints that a rape is about to happen.

This is not a woman friendly film.

But then, Zack Snyder seems to get a bit weird when filming women - it's the same in Watchmen.

Both of these films have a sex scene which is handled in a way that appears to jar with the rest of the film. This is very difficult to put into words, but I shall try. He seems to over-sensualise the sex scenes. Almost putting them in soft focus, and letting the camera linger around the bodies.

It is as if, amidst all the explosions and violence (of which there is a lot of in both Watchmen and 300), Snyder really wants to make a soft core porno. I can’t really describe why I find it so strange, but I do. In both films it took me away from the story because I found the tone so jarring. The almost ‘worshipful’ nature the films show to sex. It feels to me that they're done by someone that doesn’t know how to handle sex scenes, and therefore tries to make them serious and sensual and reverential. But instead makes something a bit immature and lecherous.

But probably…. The worst crime of 300…. Was the introduction of Meet the Spartans.


No comments: