Sunday, March 11, 2007

Criticism of 300, the Movie

I got what I paid for with this movie. Make note that I paid the afternoon matinee price at an AMC theater.

By now, I think most of my readers know the setup. Xerxes, the Persian emporer, sends a messenger to Sparta to threaten and ask surrender of King Leonidas. Leonidas refuses and against the objections of the ancient deformed mystics, the Ephors, and the Spartan politicians. In defiance of their objections, King Leonidas and 300 of his men go off to battle Xerxes and the Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae, with the help of some other Greek volunteers. Both in history and in the movie, Leonidas dies at the end, but not in the same way. And oh yeah, the movie also has semi-shallow and predictable political gaming back in Sparta.

Historical accuracy when it comes to details generally goes out the window, and sadly, the real history I've gleaned from Wikipedia strikes me as more dramatic and provocative. The military tactics of the Spartans goes against the common sense of anyone who thinks twice about these things and even contradicts Leonidas's argument earlier in the movie.

Culturally and topically for today, the movie feels insulting and propagandist, something of an example of Orientalism. Not knowing much about Persian culture, I found it annoying that all portrayals pretty much pointed toward decadence, hedonism and deviance according to Western culture.

At the same time, Spartan (Western) culture got portrayed aS tough, spartan and proud. Further, though, "free" (even though the government takes their male children away from their families for tough training), united, respectful of reason and threatened.

The Spartan portrayal wouldn't come off as so insulting if they showed the movie before 9/11 and the arch conservative propaganda of the United States. The inspiring speeches in 300 sound almost word-for-word like the conservative rhetoric I heard a couple weeks during the debates in Congress about the war in Iraq. Even more entertaining, the queen made plenty of speeches that sounded like Nancy Pelosi except twisted to justify the Battle of Thermopylae.

Now, I don't make any opinion about the Spartans and Greeks battling the Persians in this campaign. The battle happened on the open battefield and the threat was apparent. On the other hand, I'm almost surprised Frank Miller wrote the graphic novel back in 1998 but not so much about the movie coming out now. I won't say anything about conspiracies, but the decadent and deviant portrayal of the Persians, the threat to the Greek sense of existence (which is one of the strongest influences on our current Western civilization) and the need to stand up for your civilization really rubs me the wrong way, especially since the Spartan way of life didn't seem all that attractive. These two historical times don't compare, but the portrayal of these civilizations of then and now do.

So since most of the aspects that interact with reality simply don't pass my tests of enjoyability, I have to say that the stylized dramatic aspects, the special effects and action parts worked well for me. Maybe the portrayal of fighting styles didn't work for me, but they looked cool. The cinematic portrayal and special effects made me believe these things existed in the movie and were also cool.

At the Battle of Thermopylae, the soldiers convinced me they believed in the battle and felt the passion. Even one very predictable moment worked for me, even though I saw it from the beginning. I rooted for the soldiers and felt the honor of their tragic battle. In Sparta, though, I didn't really care for the politicking. The acting felt wooden and everything that happened there felt very very predictable and much much worse than what I've read about the real history. To make this part even more annoying, the film makers added the politicking. . .. And, seriously, what was with the guy with the beard who totally looked like Abraham Lincoln? Nonetheless, I found these aspects generally redeeming and worth the matinee price I paid.

The coolest note about the movie, though: Tyrone Benskin, the actor who plays Karl Lubinsky, the revolutionary conspiracy theorist reporter, on Charlie Jade. Very, very entertaining contrast to Lubinsky.

EDIT: To clarify on the feeling of insult, I simply thought none of portrayals of cultures or characters had enough complication. They didn't really try to sell us either which way or they didn't have the "pitch" complicated enough. It was more, this character is the protagonist, so root for him, while this guy is the antagonist, so boo on him. Some people think this is a postmodern criticism, but hey, the lack of complication took away from the entertainment value for me.


Moonyeti said...

I got into this very same thing on tim luneau's blog on myspace, so ill just hit a few of the highlights of the dialogue..

Alluding to the athenians being the boy loving pansies, come on! Homosexuality was mandatory for Spartan military service, nice reversal there.

The number 300 has throughout history been used to make the story more romantic, forgetting about the support guys that died with everyone else. But those losers obviously weren't heroes..

And a guy with sword hands?!?!

The_Lex said...

I'm sooooo way past 300 by now. It only shows up on my recent Gateways because I haven't written much lately. =(

But I do need to ingest more entertainment and culture. My insurance licensing test has really taken too much time away from me.