Movie Review: 300

The following review was originally published on a blog I no longer maintain.

I saw 300 yesterday, and just have to warn people away from it.

It’s not that the movie is badly produced. It looks nice, in most cases. High-quality digital photography have the downside that piercings on Xerces’s face show plainly that they’re stuck on, but it still looks nice. But it’s got nothing to show, unless you are entertained by muscular men standing around holding pointless and repetitive monologues1.

The major problem with the movie is that it’s a disappointment in just about every respect. I mean, if you know Frank Miller, you know that the story will be a more or less thin vehicle for showing copious amounts of blood. What depth there is is usually restricted to exposing the more base emotions of man: lust, hate… and some more hate. Miller’s stories are often close to caricatures – reducing characters and their interactions to one essential component, and grotesquely blowing that out of proportion. That gives you the manically brutal Batman in “Return of the Dark Knight”, who can’t really distinguish the baddies from the goodies anymore – anyone who’s not with him is against him. That gives you Sin City.


With 300, he tries to reduce the whole of the 300 Spartans to the fact that they look forward to a glorious death in battle. That’s historically not even too far off the truth, but this is a comic adaption, so I don’t actually care about whether it’s historically accurate or not. (It’s not, but it’s close enough to not seem totally absurd).

There’s a problem with showing extreme characters like that: there’s not much point in showing them at all, if you can’t get your readers to identify even a tiny bit with them. If you can’t do that, the whole story is just an exercise in verbal wanking – you might get off, but noone else does. So the difficulty lies in humanizing extreme characters enough to allow for just enough identification with them, that the reader/viewer can place themselves into the position of the character when they exercise their extreme stance – in this case, dying in battle.

That’s a difficult thing to do, but far from impossible. It’s moderately easy to lead a reader/viewer to identify with someone who’s had a painful experience related to love, for example. Most people have felt that, I’d even go as far and claim that all people have. If you picture a person who, out of that pain, decides that they can’t live on anymore and then run off to get killed saving their country – fine. I don’t think I’d do that (haven’t so far), but it’s understandable enough.

  1. And you don’t mind the fact that those muscles look a bit too airbrushed to be real. []
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    By now I’ve also seen Die Hard 4.0, so have another movie to compare 300 to. It’s tough deciding which is worse.

    Die Hard is vastly sillier, taking the suspense of disbelief required to enjoy the movie to new heights. It’s so over the top, though, that you’ll involuntarily do one of those groan-laughs, uncertain about whether what you’ve just seen is so painfully stupid it funny again. In an odd sort of way, you can enjoy Die Hard, I think (I didn’t). I’m not sure if that’s voluntary – if it is, it’s a little too subtle to be truly funny, and if it’s not, damn, people involved with the movie should be taken out to the back yard and put out of their misery.

    300 is taking itself a lot more seriously, and therefore doesn’t carry that sort of humour. On the other hand, while vastly exaggerated, it’s not quite as stupid about what things a human being can or cannot do or survive. I’d rate it less painful, but also less of anything, and therfore ultimately more brain-numbing.

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