Thursday, June 14, 2012

Review: 300

Version I Watched: High definition blu-ray.

History: An adaptation from the graphic novel created by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, and directed by Zack Snyder. The film is very heavy with special effects and specialized costumes. So while it only took 60 days to shoot the film there was at least two months of pre-production and then post-production took almost a year. Every shot an scene with the exception of one was shot in front of a green or blue screen so the film could get it's signature style down right. It was a massive hit theatrically bringing in a total of $456 million worldwide, making leaps and bounds over their original estimated budget of $65 million.
My Personal History: This was the first full length feature I saw on the IMAX screen. Before this all I saw were the short educational documentaries through class outings and other vacations. This is also one of the first blu-ray films I ever bought. I have seen this multiple times since buying it and it was easily one of my favorite films the year it came out.
Review: I want to get this out of the way before continuing. I get that this is not based on history. It's based on a graphic novel which was inspired by a historical event when a very small group of Spartan soldiers defended Sparta against a large group of Persians many many MANY years ago. The graphic novel took a different spin on the history and became it's own thing. So to put it very simply I am not comparing this in terms of historical accuracy as nobody should. At the same time I am not comparing it to the graphic novel. It's hard for me to because I only had minor exposure to it in the past. Although I feel as if I should. The film has been noted as being a shot for shot recreation of the graphic novel. I do admire this ambition on a project keeping it close to it's source material. But then comes the irony of a film being too accurate in comparison to it's source material. A strange criticism that I heard a few times for Watchmen a few years after this one came out. So it's easy for me to assume that it is close to the original source material after what I've read about the shot for shot reproduction into a film format. This brings me to my first criticism. The problem with being too close to the source material is it brings over all the things that only work in the original medium it started with. There are things that only work with books, only with film, only with comics, only with TV, etc etc etc. As a whole and on the technical side this is a well put together film which I'll expand upon in a little bit. However in order to stick with the shot for shot idea causes a poor transition and execution in the visual choices made. What this comes down to is some of the editing. There are a few key moments that I felt were poorly put together because of wanting to stick to this. These moments are things like a soldier flying through the air, swinging his sword down, and then awkwardly cutting to a sliced off arm heading in a strange direction one wouldn't guess based on the way it was sliced off. This was the same for a similar moment later on during a decapitation. It just comes off as really poorly put together, momentarily taking the viewer out of the moment wondering what just happened. This is me being really picky about what's only a few specific shots in a nearly 2 hour film.
What does make this film great is it's action and it's technical execution. I think we all can agree that we all watched this film for it's intense, fast paced action sequences. That's what's so great about this one. There is a ton of action with minimal dramatic sequences between the setup and going back to Sparta to see what's happening politically during the battles. With every battle it feels like the next one is trying to top the last one which is pretty excellent. Even as early as the first big battle when the Spartans create their wall of soldiers defending against an army way bigger than their own was excellent and exciting to watch. Here's hundreds of enemies coming all at once yet none of them can seem to kill a single Spartan. Yet all the Spartans are able to destroy the enemy one jab at a time creating a pile of corpses at their feet like it was nothing at all. Not only that but these guys look good doing it. I am as straight as an arrow but I can still say totally heterosexually that these guys looked beefy great. This is what someone would imagine these characters look like if all they heard was the story without seeing it. This is one of the most powerful small armies in history so one would expect to be in far better shape and filled with more power than any foe they face. The hard work and effort all the fighters put into their pre-shooting workout routine paid off big time. Those expectations are fulfilled from that imaginary sense with an enhanced assistance from an actually well done, well placed narration.
As I keep stating over and over this is not actual history, it's fantasy history. One may even call this mythology. As a big fan of Greek and Roman mythology usually when I read or hear those stories I let my imagination go wild with the details and fantastic tales that go throughout it. What tends to happen in these tales of mythology is it could and usually is based on something that really happened only over time the details were exaggerated. So when Xerxes comes to King Leonidas offering him anything he wants as long as he kneels before him, he comes in on a throne that's the size of a small apartment. Carrying that throne is a couple hundred men directly beneath it. It's exactly what I would imagine that detail to look like after hearing it from and old Greek whose had the story passed down from many generations. This is also true for the brief moment when it rains arrows as well as the size of the army the Spartans face. The idea of such a small group of men facing off such a huge army tends to be a thing heard in legend. These details help make the narration of the film actually worth while. Those who are familiar with some of my opinions may know I do not care for narration in general. I feel it insults in the intelligence of the audience who apparently has to be told exactly what's happening on screen. This on the other hand is exactly the way the story should be told. A story of legends battling the world's worst evils there are. It makes it very exciting to listen to. The visuals help assist this. When using your imagination it's not always a realistic image that comes to mind. It tends to be heightened or with a distinct style depending on your imagination. What I felt the computer generated imagery did for this film was very complimentary. Not to mention it stayed consistent. It didn't use CG against a real world, on location setting and used CG when necessary. What this did was create an entire world with a distinct tone, feel, and hell even color to the world. It decided what it was and stuck with it. It's use of CG was really well done and didn't feel as fake because of this consistency.
So it's pretty safe to say I really like this movie. I do like this because of the intense action and it's comic book style. Very fun, exciting, action packed. That's not to say it's without it's flaws. I don't usually take too much of a close look into these things when watching it mostly because I try and avoid those flaws for the mindless action. Sometimes it's good just to be entertained and this is one of those. With that said I have two main complaints for this one. The first is ironically some of the tech in the film. While the visual style and editing is really well put together. There are some very noticeable moments of poorly done tech work. The first that comes to mind is the slow down/speed up style of editing. Now slow motion looks awesome. It's dramatic, intense, gives the right feel for a powerful situation. Keeps a focus on the scene and raises the tension in a situation. Now I get the idea of slowing down an action packed moment only to speed it back up to say normal speed making said action in the action sequence seem like a harder hit than it really is. What 300 did that didn't quite work is it went from half normal speed to twice the normal speed really rapidly. Instead of making the hit more intense it makes the film look sloppy. This wouldn't be as big of an issue if it were only a couple times it was done, but with Snyder's trigger finger on his editing style he went pretty nuts putting it in spots that was unnecessary. Slow down looks cool, speed up looks like Benny Hill. On a similar level some of the after effects used in this were also really sloppy. I realize this is a comic book movie but that does excuse the poor, poor looking blood splats that come out of the wounds inflicted. The blood splatter tends to look very 2D as if it isn't really there. Not to mention one of the other moments I felt was poorly put together was the scene with the rhino attack. When the rhino is charging ahead it's taking out soldiers along the way. However the execution on them flying away is pretty bad. What was probably used for this were wires that were eventually removed obviously to make it appear they are flying through the air. The big thing that makes it look bad is when the rhino swings at them sending them into the sky it doesn't even look like it's making contact, and delayed, it just looks really poorly done.
My other complaint is in the story department. Lucky for those who came for the action are given a film where it knows what it is technologically and stylistically speaking and stays consistent to that. However when it comes to the overall story it doesn't quite cut the mustard. One of my biggest annoyances with action films is when they try really hard to incorporate a bunch of story which keeps them FROM THE ACTION! I paid my money to see some of the good old ultra violence. I am not interested in hearing about the politics of the city at the time, mostly because this is FANTASY HISTORY! It makes sense to have story at the beginning to set up the reason they're at war and of course to show King Leonidas' origin story (which makes him even more badass) but every time they cut away from the action to sit in on the equivalent of anything C-SPAN broadcasts any time of the day puts a bore to the film only wanting the audience to get back to the action. On top of that this film takes itself a bit too seriously in it's dramatic sequences. With a film that has the creatures for enemies it does, the way Xerxes is presented, and the stunts they pull making it worth it's title of fantasy history and then go over to delivering it's serious story in such a straight face does not fill the overall feel that well. Stick primarily to the action, please! If I wanted a serious dramatic piece I have plenty of other options I would enjoy far better.
Overall this is very fun and I love putting it in for some cool, fast paced action. This is definitely a popcorn flick at it's core and I don't really see it as anything other than that. The style is great and looks cool. I also have three key images in this film I enjoy quite a bit specifically for their artistic looking style. The first is when King Leonidas returns from his exile in his origin story. Upon his return the city bows down to him. The image is shot from a portrait angle with the snow falling down. It's beautifully put together and I can imagine seeing a similar image as a painting one would find in a museum filled with ancient art. The other that's similar to this is shortly after it when the Persians first arrive in Sparta. The Persian messenger comes to the gates of Sparta holding a batch of skulls in his hand while his horse pulls it front hooves up in the air. It's looks beautiful and quite similar to the image I mentioned before it. The last is the same idea only a different visual perspective. It's the image toward the end after the Spartan army was defeated. It starts with a closeup on King Leonidas dead. The camera slowly pulls back showing body after body of the defeated army. This is my favorite image of the film and it looked especially good on the IMAX screen when I first saw this. It truly looks like a work of art.

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