Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sam Baek

Just checked out 300 last night and it was a total blast. Totally over-the-top, totally violent and totally fun. Totally unhistorical, too, but that was not the point.

Even though just about everyone has heard all about 300 already (and probably seen it, too, judging by its monstrous opening box office), and even though it has nothing to do with Korean pop culture, I liked it enough that I am going to prattle for a bit.

In fact, I think most critics (judging by comments over at Metacritic) have been really off base about 300, calling the film a video-game wannabe or a glorification of fascism and militarism. In fact, the 300 is a celebration of spectacle for its own sake, very much in the vein of Francis Ford Coppola's BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA, with its beautiful excess and blood-drenched style.

There is a definite Frank Frazetta thing going on, too. Compare these two images. First from the movie:

And Frazetta:

Rather liked this image, too:

It amazes me how often movie critics do not "get" was some films are about. Like how so many people thought STARSHIP TROOPERS was a defense of fascism, when it was clearly a parody of it.

Frank Miller revolutionized the comic book industry back in the 1980s and 90s with his crazy violence and sex, and then he kept turning up the volume (until reaching the SIN CITY books). People are going to his comics as source materials for their movies, not because of the plots, but for their style, tone and atmosphere. In the process, they are creating something new (at least for movie-goers). Which is something a lot of jaded, over-movied critics seem to forget sometimes -- the average movie fan wants not only spectacle, but also new kinds of spectacle. Which is one reason that comic books are such a fertile source of new ideas... not only do they have visual stories, but they suggest a whole visual vocabulary and atmosphere.

(Amusingly enough, many critics go in the other direction. After seeing too many (bad) movies, they often prefer originality in story, with less interest in technique and style. Same basic urge, but expressed in a very different way.)

Anyhow. 300. Liked it oodles. But your results may vary.

UPDATE: It is looking like 300 will be big here in Korea, too. On Wednesday alone, on less than 300 screens, 300 pulled in around $820,000. Sounds like it should top 1 million admissions by Sunday night (which for March is pretty impressive).


Lee said...

300 didn't impress me very much. It was fun. It had some excitement. Parts of it were beautiful to watch... But I was disappointed that it didn't have much depth. I understood the motivations of the various characters, but only because they behaved in archtypical fashions, not because the story explored them (the motivations) in any depth, and not because the actors brought anything special to the roles.

As a comic book fan, I was a little disappointed. I was hoping for something that utilized the strengths of the source material, but also moved beyond the some of the inherent limitations of graphic novels, making use of the strengths of a cinematic presentation. Other than being able to see the story in motion, I really don't think this happened. 300 on the screen seemed as two dimensional as if it were still on the pages of a graphic novel.

I wish I could say otherwise (I am a big fan of a lot of Frank Miller's work), but since the exact words "video game" popped into my head as I was watching the movie, I understand why others are making that comparison.

Gord said...

Yeah, I have to say that although it was lovely, I also felt some of the loveliness was being used to seduce me away from thinking too critically... which makes me think more critically, hypercritically even. I felt really anxious that this Spartan fight against Persians was being turned into a kind of over-the-top evil-brown-"faggy"-freaks against the Spartan Fathers of Democracy. When, you know, Sparta was a pretty noxious state, historically. In fact, if anything it's an exercise in how hagiographic propaganda could be about even the nastiest of societies. Which is a little unsettling, given the current propaganda-to-news-penetration rates worldwide.

Or I could take it as a simple reminder of the same. *shrug*

But you're totally right, I was thinking Frazetta in parts too, and not just the parts where we could see scantily clad women.

Mark Russell said...

Gord - I hear you, and share your concern, at least with a lot of media. But I personally I have a rather different perspective.

I do not consider movies are art to be teaching tools. Rather, I think most people bring their morals and ideas to art, then judge and disseminate that art based on ideas they already have. Everyone knows (or should know) what brutal jerks the Spartans were, so when a crazy film comes along making the Spartans look all he-manly and cool, so what? We know history, and this film makes zero pretense at being history, so I can just enjoy the ride. Similarly, when the TV show 24 glorifies torture, so what? Any thinking person knows that torture is ineffective at getting information, and as a plot device is pretty silly... so it makes 24 look dumb and lazy more than it makes a good case for torture. (I think 24 is a pretty stupid show, btw).

Or as Oscar Wilde once wrote: There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.

(Btw II, what is it with number programs? 7. 24. 300. All slick and violent).