Thursday, March 08, 2007

300 (2007)

300 (Zack Snyder, 2007)

My first exposure to violent art is a painting done by Juan Luna called Spoliarium. It's a painting that is shown to each and every young Filipino student, even in his tenderest years. It depicts a scene in a Roman gladiator coliseum, where dead gladiators are being dragged by other men. It's not necessarily a realistic portrait; the bodies are not proportionate nor are their formations in possible arrange. It's an exaggeration that only meats out the hideous twists and grotesqueness of the situation. Above what's literally seen in the portrait is a nationalistic ache, a courageous exposé of the collective experience in the Philippines. That is art --- violent yet beneath such violence, is a passion, a history, a resonating and clear message.

Zack Snyder's 300 is very similar with Luna's masterwork. 300 is teaming with exaggerations --- mountains of disfigured corpses; limbs flying out in the air like dandelion seeds in search for fertile grounds, fresh wounds exposed like badges of honor. Comparing a Hollywood film to a painting might raise eyebrows but the reason why I saw the comparison fit was because despite the plenty similarities, 300 fails to be anything more than pretty pictures of violence. Underneath the initial shock or delight of seeing men fight to their deaths, there's really nothing. It's that --- frames of a graphic novel put into motion with no real depth but plain "cool."

300's racial stereotyping, its ineptitude in fashioning the Battle of Thermopylae as a modern narrative, its questionable artistic themes (freaks are evil, muscular pecs and perfect abs are good) are attributable to Frank Miller. It's something I really can't comprehend --- there's a near-pious reverence to Miller's art that almost all directors who try to adapt his work (including Robert Rodriguez in Sin City (2005)) has a fervent duty to replicate his art. Snyder, whose first feature is a remake of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead (2004; probably his only contribution to the genre is to turn zombies into hyperactive sprinters), makes every scene look like it belongs in the pages of a glorified graphic novel rather than in a darkened movie theater.

The rest of the film's failures I attribute to Snyder. He's out to prove something, yet in so doing overkills the concept. The film is mostly eye-straining. He edits like a madman; and the fight sequences are butchered to the point of ridicule. True, when Snyder tries to ape Peter Jackson with vistas teaming with goons and monsters, there's still a momentary sense of awe. However, when the fights actually happen, he focuses on thrusting limbs and swords, then just before you relish the lethal blow, cuts to the next muscular limb slashing, then again cuts, resulting in complete incomprehension. It's quite inutile which is only further emphasized with Snyder's indulgent use of slow motion; quite funny I thought as Snyder puts into slow motion the movement of a Spartan from one victim to another, then puts into real time the actual slash and blow (the abundance of the gimmick, the misappropriation of such only weakens, annoys, and cheapens).

300 can be seen as overtly political (against American imperialism, or for Bush's wishes to bring in more troops to Iraq). However, its political message is drowned by the film's boorish trappings. It's an inevitable trade-off; especially when the message is skewed by cultural ignorance (in exchange for aesthetic coolness), racial sanctification (the Spartans are all perfect Caucasian specimens, as opposed to the evil Persian army --- a mixture of Black, Arabic, Asian, Indian and the freakishly indeterminable), political incorrectness (Xerxes as bald drag queen diva; his voice lowered to further the fearsomeness of this macho gay), and bad filmmaking (I need not explain this more).

Again, there is nothing more to be gathered, not even the typical lessons of the actual Battle of Thermopylae (a rousing point, a morale-booster for the brave yet hugely outnumbered), nor the evident emotions or humanity of a desperate situation. It's all gloss, unjustified spurting of blood and floating of glowing embers, and loud yet empty battle cries. I'd rather stare at Luna's painting for the entire duration of the film, than be maligned by this mess pretending to be art.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps you did not bother to read the graphic novel wherein the stereotypes you mentioned were how these characters were originally envisioned.

Anonymous said...

It's supposed to be based on the Frank Miller graphic novel, and if you've read it, you'll be astounded by the director's vision of taking every frame of the comic into a movie. Sure the story's lacking, but that's because how it is written in the comicbook. It's supposed to border more on fantasy rather than history.
My non-comicbook friend watched it and loved it.
Good rough mindless fun. I like.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks for the comments, and thanks for the civility despite the difference in opinion.

I've read the graphic novel. Part of what makes a Miller comic good is that his art has an illusion of movement. Having said that, I disagree that every Miller adapted onscreen should look like the graphic novel. Cronenberg adapted a graphic novel and made it his own... same thing with Sam Mendes and several Japanese directors who've based their films from graphic novels. It is Miller who has vision, NOT Snyder.

I understand that 300 is supposed to be a fantastical revisioning of a historical event. But see, this is history you are reinvisioning --- and despite it being ancient history, there still are Greeks, Persians, and other civilizations in existence today. The graphic novel treads on such dangerous ground, and upon its being filmed, is now available to many parts of the world AND is open to any interpretation, good or bad.

Now you got that right, it's rough and mindless. Good is debatable (I thought it was messy and uninspired). Fun, it may be (and I'm glad that the film is loved by its demographic audience).

It's not the story's the problem, it's everything else. If you've read what I've written carefully --- I appropriated the faults to both Miller and Snyder. Miller, for the tactless bastardization of history in exchange for aesthetic cool. Snyder, for being a pussy.

Anonymous said...

Lets just wait for a ballsy director to adapt Steven Pressfield's Battle of Thermopylae novel - The Gates Of Fire. Maybe then will you get the character development and historical accuracy you were looking for in 300.

Oggs Cruz said...

Seriously, I wasn't looking for character development or engrossing plotlines or even historical accuracy from the film. I expected thinness from the start. What I didn't expect was heartless, thin, and uninspired filmmaking. What I didn't expect was moving comic book panels stringed together to pass for a film. What I didn't expect was a veneration for Miller to the point of tedium. What I didn't expect is headache-inducing excesses in visuals and editing.

I blame both Miller and Snyder for the result. Miller for the insensitivity and slightness of the material, Snyder for adapting it and being ballless in such adaptation --- and worse, appropriating himself as sole director (at least Robert Rodriguez gave director cred to Miller in Sin City).

avid said...

"heartless, thin, and uninspired filmmaking"

Hey don't go there : ) I think any critic can say what they want about a film, but do not ever go as to question the motives of a director because, well you have no idea what they really are (unless close kayo nung director then my comment is void)... but one is free to say what they feel about the film itself.

I for one feel that it was really good because of how shallow it was, it's mindless fun. I like the way that it wasn't trying hard to be anything else other than a slug fest & there were no complex plot lines just over the top dialog. I also though that the whole Spartan ideal, of the strong perfect race is what led to the 300s downfall... because the king did not bother with that disfigured guy who just wanted to be part of the army.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks avid...

I hesitatingly agree with your second paragraph. It's nice that you got something out of it.

However, I may not be a director but if Snyder did have heart, inspiration, and fat (?) in the film, it should've been something more than a graphic novel in motion. I'll give Snyder this, it's heartful, meaty and inspired copying and adapting of a Miller comic, but its still bad filmmaking.

avid said...

"I may not be a director but if Snyder did have heart, inspiration, and fat (?) in the film, it should've been something more than a graphic novel in motion."

...aha see... the intent was really to just make a moving graphic novel, that is all... in fact the guy who made 300 shrugs at all the socio political chu chu that reporters ask him because it was really just about bringing the graphic novel to life, thats all... this is like the male (or gay) equivalent of watching a Lindsay Lohan teen flick :)

I respect Snyder for being as true as he could to the graphic novel because once you hear the director go "oh it's going to be diffrent from teh comic book" then most often you get something like Catwoman.

dodo dayao said...

Hi oggs.

I see where youre coming from - - how 300 can get numbing and reductive and is a bit shallow and cosemtic.

But I, for one, never minded Miller's "bastardization" of history. Its a perfectly valid position to work from as an artist - - - history (and everything else,really) is (and should be ) fair game to artists. You can piss on it, scrawl graffiti on it, blaspheme against it. Movies (and art, in genewral) have no repsonsibility to anything, in principle. Or should have none, at least. Warhol, Picasso and Cronenberg will agree with me on that one, I think.

This Zack character's just a big boy with expensive toys and he's doing a boy's version of history. I used to love the Battle of Thermopylae as a boy because of . . .well, the battles and the superheroic sparttans and the kind of RPG-like structure of the saga. And he's just filmed the boy version. Its thin, excessive, creaky in parts, wholly unoriginal, has bad dialogue ,is overacted . . .but it is true to his admittedly not very lofty agenda: making a graphic novel move.

Ian said...

in relation the movie i haven't watch it and excited to see it but a week before it's release my brother watch The 300 Spartans (1962) that has the same storyline and visual/special effects you expect in that era of cinema.

I recommend that you watch this movie if you haven't so you can in turn relate the new 300 that is more fantasy than history.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks avid, dodo, and ian for your responses...

1) No matter how much Snyder explains his intentions to create a dumb film, with the worldwide political climate and the fact that his film will be seen everywhere, it will be subject to plenty interpretations. He has given birth of his art, it is time he let go of it --- that's why we always say, don't drink, smoke, or do drugs when you're pregnant.

2) An artist is indeed free in his realm, free to modify history or whatever else he may want to revise. However, an artist is not without responsibility. I admire Miller for his brashness and his graphic novel's mobility. I do not admire him for his crassness, insensitivity and political incorrectness --- all for the sake or artist's freedom.

3) 300 is a graphic novel flick the same way Sin City is, but why did I enjoy Sin City more... Let me try to find out why, but on the top of my head, Sin City is just better directed, has a clear director's vision, is a lot cooler and fluid, and is narrated with more gusto. Sadly, 300 is better off as something read by a few thousands than seen by billions of people, of different races, different political agendas, and different levels of sensitivity.

4) Lastly, I KNOW that 300 is depicted as fantasy, but it is still a fantastic revisioning of history. I know that it is exaggerated to point out that it is fantasy. However, fantasy is not without its own burdens. Remember that Rizal's two novels are fantastic revisionings of what is happening during that time, Luna's paintings were of fantastic origins but were seen as propaganda; history and civilization, I believe has been shaped by literature and the arts; with that in mind, the artist is now burdened with such responsibility other than the calls of commercialization, fame, or, ummm, coolness.

dodo dayao said...

Hi oggs.

One last.

We might disagree on the overall effect the film has on us but I do agree with you on one point . . .much as I enjoyed 300, I don't think Snyder's a director of much vision or even above-average skill. Just has big, expensive toys at his disposal.

And I dread what he'll do with Alan Moore's Watchmen - - -which he's doing next.

Cheers. :)

Oggs Cruz said...

I haven't read Watchmen, but it seems it has plenty of followers guarding its development.

I must admit, I like Snyder's Dawn of the Dead, warts and all. But yeah, he gets tiring.

dodo dayao said...

Terry Gillam said it best when he tired to take the beast on - - Watchmen is unfilmable.

Unless you have a hundred million dollars and an entire HBO season.

Captain Jack Hook said...

Maganda ang 300 sa mata dahil nga gusto ko ang talsik dugo kasama ang mga ulo, braso at kung ano-ano pang parte ng katawan. Sa istorya naman kahawig siya ng The 300 Spartans na ayon sa imdb naging basehan ni Frank Miller sa paglikha niya ng graphic novel na 300. Kaya kung tutuusin parang nagbasa ka lang ng komiks sa pelikula.

Oggs Cruz said...

Salamat Kapitan Jack Hook,

Ako rin ay panatico ng mga parte ng katawan na nagsisiliparan sa ere. Pero di ako panatico ng mga parte ng katawang lumilipad sa ere ng pelikulang ito. Gusto ko, kapag lilipad ang parte ng katawan, may nararamdaman akong ibang emosyon, di lang tuwa o kaya pagdidiri. Lagyan natin ng awa, aba, pagkahanga, kalungkutan, para masmasarsa ang ating adobo.

Anonymous said...

Nakakahiya mang aminin. Naiyak ako sa ibang bahagi ng pelikula. Marahil ako talaga ang target audience ng pelikulang ito.

Dito ko masasabi na ang mga kritiko at ang manonood ay hindi magkatugma ng tingin sa pelikula. Halos lahat ng kakilala ko ay natuwa sa 300. Pero siguro marahil, ang karamihan sa mga tao ay gusto lang maaliw o mamangha.

Ang mga kritiko naghahanap pa ba ng lalim sa bawat pelikula na kanilang pinapanood? Kailangan ba na ang bawat pelikula ay may social relevance o may mabuting intensyon bago mo masabing maganda?

Oggs Cruz said...

Hindi kailangan ng social relevance o mabuting intensyon para maging maganda ang pelikula mo. Hindi mo rin pwedeng sabihing ang 300 ay mababaw dahil may ibang mga tao na nakakakuha ng mga mensaheng pang-social sa pelikulang ito. Ang Looney Tunes ay mababaw, ang Slither ay napakababaw, and mga pelikula ni Ed Wood ay may mabubuting intensyon, and pelikula ni D. W. Griffith ay may mga mensaheng hindi tumutugma sa modernong pag-iisip --- ang mga pelikulang ito ay masasabing mahusay ang pagkakagawa (maliban sa mga pelikula ni Ed Wood na may magagandang intensyon pero talagang pobre and eksekusyon). Ano ang aking gustong sabihin, hindi basehan ang mga criterion na iyong nabangit para maturnig kong maganda ang pelikula. Ito ay nagbabago sa baway pelikula. Sa kalungkutan, ang 300 ay di lamang walang lalim, ito ay pwedeng interpretahing masama... Higit sa lahat, di lamang sa husay ng teknikal nababase ang kahusayan ng pelikula. Ang 300 ay nakakamangha at nakakamangmang.

Anghusay ko palang managalog.

Reinard Santos said...

Wow, I've read some of your reviews and 300 has the most feedbacks. I guess a lot of people really love the movie and probably can't believe you gave it the thumbs down. Heck, Even I can't believe it.
I can hear their thoughts, they're probably persuading you to rewrite your review and give it a good feedback.
Well, you can't please everyone. Everyone's opinion varies, everyone sees something in a different way. You can't force someone to like something they don't like.

But honestly, I loved the movie.
Mindless fun. Lots of flying limbs and heads.
The art direction is superb. It made me want to grow a beard, it made me want to do a hundred sit-ups everyday. Aoooosh indeed.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks reinard,

I was totally expecting the reactions. But it's really nice to see the comments section reach the 20's mark.

I'm glad you and everyone else enjoyed the film; I guess it's my curse to be overly criticizing of everything I watch that I forget to enjoy... but seriously, I really can't enjoy 300, not for the manly abs (hell no), or the flying limbs (George Romero makes them airborne limbs more gruesome), or the extravagant visuals (Sky Captain, I thought was more beautiful, more classy). But yeah, I guess I'm jealous of Leonidas' beard (I can only grow kung fu master beard, sigh...) and the abs (a much heavier sigh...).

Captain Jack Hook said...

Pareho kayo ng ermat ko hindi niya nagustuhan ang pelikula pero sa ibang mga dahilan. Para sa aking medyo na sobrahan lang sa pagpupuri ang pelikula bago pa ito lumabas kaya marami rin ang nadismaya sa kalalabasan.

Hindi lang bigote at balbas ang gugustuhin mo pati na rin yung hugis ng baba ni Leonidas eh gayahin mo na rin.

Ayos nga pala yung reaksyon mo sa wikang Filipino!

avid said...

Haha... look at this... it became a thread... I guess there are so many reactions because with your other reviews even if you don't like the film, you say so with uttering things like "this is pretending to be art"... kumbaga totalitarian kasi yung review mo... with your other negative reviews you make it known na subjective at personal yung comments mo...maingat ka... eh 300 pa which is a block buster despite having no sikat artistas & a relatively unknown, untested director. Read your review of Super Noypi.. you say what you don't like about it, pero hindi ka harsh, hindi personal... eh lamang naman ng sampung libong paligo ang 300 sa Super Noypi pero mas harsh yung comments mo sa 300... ayun lang (food for thought) :)

Anonymous said...

Hey, I have an easy answer for ya.. it was just a movie... either you liked it or you didn't. I want to come tear up your movie when you're in the directors shoes.

Oggs Cruz said...

And it starts getting sour...

Thanks avid, and yeah, I do agree that I tend to be more merciful when it comes to Filipino films, simply because, there's so much to be merciful about... In any case, I still dont like the film and I'm glad that the film excites other people. Which brings me to Mr. anonymous, yes, it's just a film, and I'm just a reviewer and this is just a review... the same way your review of my future film will be just a review of just a film. But what makes my review more than your review is that I didn't psyche myself to like or dislike 300... I just saw it for what it is, and wrote about it... again, it's just a review. But thanks, for the comment.

dodo dayao said...

Hi oggs.

Medyo kontrobersyal ang thread mo a. Kinda makes me nostalgic for PinoyDVD. Not enough to post there again, though. Hehehe.

But seriously, I think this is one of those movies that have amassed a phenomenal amount of goodwill from the madding crowd, as it were, that it becomes almost blasphemous to piss on it - - specially for citics, the perpetual bad guy. (Unfortunately it throws that false and tired schism into relief again: critics/moviegoers, film/movie, art/entertainment/ lalim/babaw, which isn't accurate and which we really don't need.) Maybe its because we've been seriously deprived of an event movie for so long. Maybe its the buildup and the marketing. I dunno. Will Spidey 3 get this much affection and protection?

Avid has a point ,though,in that you do tend to treat some films with kid gloves. But then, we all do. Tao lang. And as a critic , you shouldn't police youself. Or strive for cold, academic objectivity. You have to bring yourself to the art you write about. The experience makes the review. Your experience. And if the thoughts that run through your head while watching a movie run along the lines of "the director is a dipshit" then by all means articulate it. Cold, objective reviews are for wussies anyway.

You're right about one thing, though: it's only a review. But damn, look at the turnout! Blockbuster,men! Hehehe.

Incidentally, inulit ko na pala ang 300. Astig pa din. ;-)

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks dodo,

I've never claimed objectivity anyway. I always regard film viewing as a subjective experience; which is the reason why I'm happy some people got something out of 300. I'll probably watch this a second time, but not this soon.

avid said...

... on film criticisms I'm not looking for objectivity (or even kid gloves) but simply the constant assurance that everything is subjective... so if one would say that "...the director is a dipshit" ... make sure the sentence started with "I think..." , that I i sthe point I'm trying to make with all my comments on this "thread". That is all.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks avid,

Well, take it from me... everything I write is subjective. I've been getting rants that I don't know what I'm talking about since I'm no director or haven't had any film studies whatsoever --- so whatever I write in my blog is a product of my honest assessment. Everything is all "I think." Heck, even my little synopses are "that's what I think happened."

However, I'd like to take pride in the fact that I won't budge; not unless I do decide to budge after subsequent viewings (which I will vocally admit). And as with any subjective assessment, everything's bound to change. And seriously, blog criticism is alive because of this personal interaction, the fact that although the blog owner initiates film discussion, it's everybody's game; you're opinion is as valid as mine. Thank you, thank you avid for your intelligent responses.

Anonymous said...

Firstly thanks to Zack Snyder for retrieving the art of film making from a medieocre bussiness they call show.For this visual feast would not be amiss on the ceilings of one of our greatest places of iconic worship. Only he has provided us with verse to go with such undertakings of human endeavour to stamp out our foes,no matter how strong and no matter if we die trying to do so, as long as freedom herself lives on. Like the freedom to cast virtually unknown stars to accomplish his vision of what Spartans should look like, feel like and most of all, what they should be remembered like.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks anonymous for your verbose ode to Snyder...

As for me, 300 made me remember the Spartans as oily-skinned, xenophobic, homophobic, muscle-bulging fitness mag models.