March 8, 2007

HISTORY IN A VACCUUM:

SPARTAN SPLENDOR: With 300, Zack Snyder solidifies the potential of the virtual movie (Eric Kohn, 3/07/07, NY Press)

While computers have been inextricably bound to the blockbuster formula since Jurassic Park, Snyder's project is the latest in a recent trend that introduces a new implementation of technology into the filmmaking process: While the simulated world plays a key role in the quality of the action sequences, the technique also finds quieter, dialogue-driven scenes placed within computerized environments. Given that anyone with access to basic editing programs can achieve greenscreen and bluescreen effects, Snyder's chosen method has more in common with stage design than pricey special effects work.

"When the studio saw the film, they felt they had been given a gift," says Snyder. "Normally, when they want to do a blockbuster-style film, it costs a lot of money. The idea that they could get a movie of that scale ... it was almost like they weren't expecting that until they saw the movie."

Regardless of its reasonably light production requirements, 300 feels more like a throwback to the histrionic period dramas popularized by Cecil B. DeMille during the first half of the 20th century. The performances, especially Gerard Butler as Spartan King Leonidas, are surprisingly stagy, riddled with exuberant battle cries and heavily dramatized exchanges: "Our arrows will blot out the sun," threatens a dying Persian. "Then we will fight in the shade," retorts his Spartan counterpart.

As a silly throwaway, the scene feels like a contrivance, but the prediction becomes unsettlingly realized when piercing death from above pelts the Spartans.


What screenwriter came up with such a line?

MORE:
Review: The '300': Ah, the fine-looking fighters of freedom-loving Sparta (A.O. Scott, March 8, 2007, NY Times)

The film "300" is about as violent as "Apocalypto" and twice as stupid. Adapted from a graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, it offers up a bombastic spectacle of honor and betrayal, rendered in images that might have been airbrushed onto a customized van sometime in the late 1970s. The basic story is a good deal older. It's all about the ancient Battle of Thermopylae, which unfolded at a narrow pass on the coast of Greece whose name translates as Hot Gates.

Hot Gates, indeed! Devotees of the pectoral, deltoid and other fine muscle groups will find much to savor as King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) leads 300 prime Spartan porterhouses into battle against Persian forces commanded by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), a decadent self-proclaimed deity who wants, as all good movie villains do, to rule the world.

The Persians, pioneers in the art of facial piercing, have vastly greater numbers -- including ninjas, dervishes, elephants, a charging rhino and an angry bald giant -- but the Spartans clearly have superior health clubs and electrolysis facilities. They also hew to a warrior ethic of valor and freedom that makes them, despite their gleeful appetite for killing, the good guys in this tale.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 8, 2007 7:44 AM
Comments

Herodotus writes that when Dienekes, a Spartan soldier, was informed that Persian arrows would be so numerous as "to blot out the sun", he remarked with characteristically laconic prose, "So much the better, we shall fight in the shade." Today Dienekes's phrase is the motto of the Greek 20th Armored Division.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Thermopylae

Posted by: RIck T at March 8, 2007 11:02 AM

Next step will have the actors joining the buggy-whip manufacturers and copyists, and obsolescence couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at March 8, 2007 11:25 AM

Raoul, I read somewhere that video games (PS2, X-Box, Wii, et al) make more money that Hollywood movies.

Hey, I love the idea of Hollywood finally being able to make Greek and Roman mythology movies using CGI. I can't wait for a good version of the Odyssey. However, I do think Troy botched the Illiad back in 2004 without including the gods.

Just like Lord of the Rings, for the most part get no-name actors, a slasher-movie director and you'll have a good movie.

In any event, Greek and Roman mythology is much better than Hollywood making The Bionic Woman or another Dukes of Hazzard.

Posted by: pchuck at March 8, 2007 1:51 PM

You think right now that reviewer might have a few emails in his inbox calling him an idiot?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at March 8, 2007 7:07 PM
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