They say that inside the chest of every man beats the heart of a lion, a Viking, or some other barbarous beast with sharp, drool-dripping fangs. It is this savage core, this chest-thumping inner-thread which periodically causes men to lose control, to throw judgment, taste, and propriety to the wind. Critics blame it for a culture which glorifies violence, subverts reason, and spins backward the clock of human progress and social justice.
Last Wednesday night, it caused Dad and I to drive to the Hanover Mall theater and buy two tickets to 300, which might possibly be the worst film I have ever seen. I will admit to having a soft spot for the ancient historical epic genre. As a college student, I reveled at Gladiator’s romanticized portrayal of Maximus, the Man in Full: cunning general; beloved leader of men; fearless killer; unflagging idealist; dedicated husband; and loving father. His virtue and perfection would inspire laughter and cynicism, if Russel Crow’s performance weren’t so sympathetic. Crow imbues Maximus with a sense of humility and vulnerability that I find irresistible.
I realize that, by any objective standard of cinematic quality, Gladiator is not a great movie. Film historians will remember it as a “box office hit”, a mere “crowd pleasing action epic”. And they would be correct, I suppose. The plot is simplistic and straightforward: a good man is wronged by a bad man, chaos ensues; then the good man gets even, order is restored. Simple, yet I feel compelled. The screenplay isn’t exactly Shakespeare, Trumbo, or even Mamet; yet “Strength and Honor” never fails to light a fire in my chest. Altogether, it’s grand meal, made from humble ingredients. A tough-handed carpenter in regal clothing.
Nobly human. As opposed to 300.
“Spartans! Tonight, We Dine on Turkey!”
Bob Longino of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution managed to encapsulate the movie perfectly: “This film is both beautiful to look at, and bombastic tripe to listen to.” He continues:
“300″ is extreme on every level. It imagines strange beings — a kind of pig man with blades for arms and toady oracle devotees who insidiously lick scantily clad vestal virgins. It presents bottomless pits, a hunchback uglier than the Elephant Man, and the evil invasion leader Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) as a kind of giant she-he cross between a bald, chain-wearing Grace Jones and “Stargate’s” Jaye Davidson.
As a lover of film, I can appreciate the sensuous visual spectacle director Zack Snyder has wrought, and his desire to remain true to Frank Miller’s graphic novels, on which the film is based. As a lover of history, I’m incensed by the flagrant falseness of some of the liberties taken with the historical record. For instance, King Leonidas (Gerald Butler) gives his hoplites a pre-battle pep talk in which he proclaims the dawning of a new age of freedom. This is ridiculous, considering the source: Sparta was less a city than an armed camp, a Stalinistic tyranny in which all inhabitants were enslaved to the belligerent whims of their king. Even in rival Athens, cradle of reason and humanism, slavery was explicit and common. Perhaps in writing 300, Frank Miller was referring to some archaic, Grecian notion of freedom which allowed for the owning of slaves. I can’t say for certain.
I can say with absolute certainty that I will be getting my ancient history fix from other sources. Namely, the books of Michael Curtis Ford. If you can get past the ludicrously comic-bookish cover art on the dust jacket, you are in for a real treat. History brought to life.
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