Is that a sword in your pocket?

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I can envision – a decade from now – a legion of school children taught by lazy history teachers who screen “300” in class to depict the famous Spartan army battle against the never-ending hordes of Persian soldiers.
“I know all about the Spartans,” says little Timmy. “They’re the ones who bust out those ‘Matrix’ -style moves and fight everyone in slow motion.”
“Yeah,” chimes little Suzie. “And the Persians were mutant ninjas who owned 8-foot ogres as pets.”
“And Xerxes, the Persian king, looked a lot like RuPaul,” Timmy adds.
“Who’s RuPaul?” Suzie inquires.

OK, the role of the Persian king was actually played by Rodrigo Santoro, but I actually think good old Ru would feel right at home with this bunch.
For in director Zack Snyder’s film, the Spartans are no mere men, they are the manliest of men – sweaty, hulky, oh-so-butch lads clad in little more than capes and codpieces. Any one of them looks as though they could have wandered in from a Right Said Fred video.
Sure, there are a few women that scurry about Sparta, but when director Snyder snuck in a subplot with Spartan King Leonidas (played by Gerald Butler) and wife (played by Lena Headey), Miller fussed that he wanted this film to be “for the boys.”
I’m not sure if he meant actual young men with a lust for mayhem and violence, or those looking more for a “Brokeback Sparta,” but let’s just say that both demographics would walk away from “300” more than satisfied.
For everyone else, it’s probably best not to scratch the copper-colored surface of the film, though, for there are flaws galore. Snyder stayed faithful to Miller’s illustrations, almost to a fault. For what worked well in catchy little balloons over the characters’ heads in the confines of a comic panel does not make for a rousing speech when fleshed out and coming from human form.
Sure, the soundbites from Leonidas are pre-packaged and commercial friendly (“Spartans!!!! Enjoy your breakfast and eat heartily!!! For tonight, we dine in hell!!!!!” and “We Spartans have descended from Hercules himself!!!! Taught never to retreat, never to surrender!!!! Spartans: the finest soldiers the world has ever known!!!).
In fact, there is so much shouting, posturing and chest-thumping throughout that those male audience members with masculinity closer to Conan O’Brien than Conan the Barbarian, may experience subtle breast development by the film’s end.
Don’t get me wrong, “300” is an orgy for the eyes, even while the brain is being assaulted. Every frame is rendered in a sepia-stained paradise, augmented only by the velvet capes of our Spartan heroes and the matching geysers of blood that bubble about like a lava lamp convention (strangely, none ever stains the ground, though…I suppose that would be overkill).
And for those who fancy Bowflex abs, there are more six-packs on display than in a liquor store. (For all those blood-hungry alpha males who become confused and nervous about Snyder’s lingering lens on the male anatomy, take heed. He also tosses in a pair of boobies and a brief lesbian romp in Xerxes palace to pacify).
But these images do not add up to much more than leafing through a pretty picturebook. There are only so many times we need to be treated to the oceans of soldiers lined up to take a swipe at the Spartans. They were outnumbered. We get it. Move on.
The other bothersome element is the crunchy electric-guitar-driven score that may be at home on the video game adaptation, but feels more invasive to the film than the Persians themselves.
I certainly appreciate the attempt made with “300,” and would happily pay to see such bold, visionary strokes on the screen than such studio-sanctioned pabulum as “Wild Hogs” or “Norbit.” But in Snyder’s future (and after “300’s” $70-million opening, he’s going to have a big one), he should pay a tad more attention to the tale that stitches all those gorgeous images together.
If he does that, he’ll have an average that much better than 300.

~ by usesoapfilm on September 11, 2007.

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