Berlinale Dispatch. 300
Adrienne Hudson, always up for a good fantastical tale well-told, on an already controversial Out of Competition Berlinale entry.
"Prepare for Glory!" No, really. Prepare for it. This movie is stuffed with glory. In fact, I kind of suspect Zack Snyder partially chose to make 300 [site] because he wanted some of that Frank Miller glory that's rubbed off on Robert Rodriguez. I don't think he quite got close, though - for every cheerer at the press screening there was at least one booer, and the battle was on as the credits rolled.
But let me back up a bit.
The first half hour was nearly abominable. This was when most people walked out. I mean, it wasn't just like, "Okay, I know this is silly but somehow it's cool," no, it was seriously stupid. The coming-of-age beating the young Spartan boys have to go through, the soft-porn sex scene and even the young King Leonidas versus the anorexic, flashlight-eyed wolf duel simply couldn't add up to glory, by anyone's definition. These Spartans swagger around, haughtily killing messengers and I couldn't help but be reminded of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, dropping her suave pun-stuffed lines after every kill.
In Sin City, Rodriguez's comic style is completely in tune with the behavior of his characters, who'd otherwise come across as not so cool and heroic. Snyder does develop his own style by filming everything in front of green screen and later pulling out black and pushing the color saturation. Though that creates interesting pictures, for me it was not surreal enough to legitimize the overly dramatic plot and a voice-over narration that could easily compete with trailer narrations for bludgeoning the obvious.
Now, once the battle scenes come up, things start to turn around. I'm one for battle scenes anyway, as long as they're halfway good. And there were a few things I really appreciated here. You know how our hero usually just clobbers one of the countless enemies over the head and that guy's out of the game? That's always annoyed me. I only started paying attention to this about halfway through, but from then on, our hero always came back to chop the clobbered guy's head off. Now he's down. Thank you, Snyder. I also enjoyed the bloody effects - take the 300 logo as reference.
Still, the battle scenes are far from flawless. Our guys have supernatural reflexes, but when it's fitting to have one of them dramatically killed, he's incredibly slow on the uptake, what with everyone yelling and pointing behind him. The 300 never look like more than 50 at most and in those scenes where there are thousands of nearly identical soldiers covering the hills, even the ones furthest back understand every word of the pep talk the captain holds hunderds of yards away. Oh, well. I was into this by now and even the stray bizarro creatures couldn't get me down. Most of us just had a good hearty laugh at them.
The soundtrack is so-so. Taking in the music in only subconsciously for a while, I'd find my attention suddenly snap to it as I thought I recognized a fragment here or there. Whoa, Pirates! Hey, Lord of the Rings! Et cetera. So you have your classic fantasy thing going and suddenly, as our 300 Spartans are charging, hard rock thunders in. Not very fitting to ancient Greece - all they had were lutes without amp adaptors - but after laughing incredulously, the music, damn manipulative as it is, gave me an adrenaline boost.
What can I say, I'm a sucker for that kind of glory, when it's justified. After sticking through the beginning, I enjoyed myself. No, it's not all good from then on, but the bad parts are amusing, even if not intentionally so. According to the press notes, Frank Miller was delighted with Snyder's work. Still, I say, if you're going to spend money to see this movie, I advise you, spend a little more and watch it in the theaters. The overblown effects are 300's single glory.