Friday, March 16, 2007
We here at Stevereads are fully aware of the awesome power we hold over the hearts and minds of the blogosphere. We won't say the knowledge humbles us (that wouldn't be very believable, now would it?), but it does keep us mindful lest our slightest offhand endorsement send the multitudes scurrying out to buy, watch, or snort something that may end up disappointing them.
In a perfect world, we would simply refer you all to Locke's website (which, I agree with him, would really have to be called something a little less creepy than 'lockewatches'), where he would hold forth regularly on all the movies and TV that catches his fancy. You've all seen a glimpse of what that would be like; say what you want about either one of us, but one thing we certainly share in common: we both know how to entertain the troops.
Unfortunately, unlike the rest of us here at Stevereads, Locke's got stuff to do the live-long day. We'll get what he gives us, but a long, rambling website is only in the cards if Santa is very, very good to us.
In the meantime, we here at Stevereads shall shoulder on with our adjunct corollary, Stevesees! True, our impeccable taste in judging movies and performances took a little bit of a pecking at Oscar time, but the memory of the blogosphere is notoriously short, so we can forge ahead with our head held high!
Especially when this installment of Stevesees deals with a sure-fire winning bet. That doesn't happen often, so it's an easy joy to do the reporting when it does.
Of course we're referring to Zach Snyder's film version of Frank Miller's sparse, visionary graphic novel '300.'
Over at the great new literary website Open Letters, the talented young poet/novelist/literary critic John Cotter inaugurates a regular feature called 'Peer Review,' in which the critical reactions to a given thing are put under the microscope and assessed for their various woolly tendencies and drifts. If we did that here for '300,' this entire entry would degenerate into a spittle-flecked rage-fest such as the Interweb has never seen.
The Boston Herald talked about the movie's 'homoeroticism' and gave it two thumbs up 'from the Third Reich.' The Boston Globe talked about the movie's 'homoeroticism' and went on about how its subtext was the straights versus the gays. The New York Times talked about the movie's 'homoeroticism' and went on about the analogies to the Iraq War and American xenophobia.
All of which makes you want to lock all professional reviewers in a small room and then lose the key.
'300' is the story of King Leonidas and his loyal band of Spartans who held the Hot Gates pass against probably no more than 50,000 Pesians and Persian allies (in Herodotus' original account, it's about 100,000; in Frank Miller's graphic novel, it's rounded up to a million - gawd only knows how many it is in the movie). They knew they would die (according to Herodotus, that is - it should be borne in mind throughout ALL discussions of the movie that in all likelihood the events it depicts never in fact happened at all), and just as in Miller's 'Ronin,' that knowledge gives the Spartan almost superhuman abilities.
Almost superhuman. They all still die. But in the process, a movie is delivered the likes of which the waiting world has never seen. There were glimpses, yes - in 'Sin City,' and in Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil' - but absolutely nothing in all of cinematic history prepares the customer for the experience of watching '300.'
It isn't at all like watching a video game. It certainly isn't, as one critic maintained, like watching your buddy get a lap-dance. It isn't a grey wash of CGI with no heft or meat on its bones.
Instead, '300' (not 'Sin City,' in which the black-and-white only served to make the seams show - in addition to the known fact that no movie featuring Josh Hartnett in any capacity can possibly be good - nor yet again the 'Lord of the Rings' movies, in which the effects were seamlessly enslaved to the live action) is the very first example of a completely equal marriage of men and machines, of effort and effect.
This movie, this thing, is like nothing ever created before. Time and again, while watching it, the viewer is struck by that one fact: I've never seen anything like this before.
It's not just the exotic imagery and broad vistas - although no imagery has ever been more exotic, and no vistas have ever been broader (except maybe in Akira Kurosawa's 'Dreams,' but even that was circumscribed by non-CGI boundaries). Every single frame of this magnificent movie looks better than it could ever have looked with entirely live actors on an expensively-purchased soundstage in Lower Belgravia. This movie is the moviemaking of the future, at least if movies care about spectacle in the future. In recent memory, only 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' even comes close to it for sheer self-confident otherworldliness.
Here is the sheer eye-popping wonder of the Siege of Gondor, but entirely without the sense of scrimping for cost. Here is the baby-archangel sequence from 'Brazil,' but entirely without the virtually visible strings attached.
It isn't all spectacle - contrary to what every single reviewer has maintained, there's quite a bit of good acting in this movie. Butler himself is quite good as King Leonidas, and his supporting cast turn in uniformly strong performances, especially considering the fact that they were emoting and responding in many cases to empty sceens and blank backgrounds.
There are, then, human elements a-plenty to this movie. But there's no doubt about it: they aren't its point. Its point - its challenge - is to up the visual ante for all future 'epic' movies. In fact, watching this movie - being subsumed into it, really - made me yearn for this same amazing technique to be applied to EVERY epic storyline out there. In the hands of a director as game and capable as Zach Snyder, just imagine how many eye-feasts like '300' could be enfleshed in gorgeous, reality-warping, unprecedented visuals. The technique of '300' would at last make possible a living rendition of Ariosto's 'Orlando Furioso' (you all snicker, but only because you haven't read it ... if there is anywhere in literature a precursor to comic books, Ariosto is it) (and yes, I'm aware that a very fragmentary, very partial two-hour 'adaptation' of the 'Orlando Furioso' was already filmed, a weird, utterly unsatisfying movie starring a very young Ron Moss ... but geez! It's SUCH a small fraction of the whole it doesn't warrant serious consideration), or the full panoply of the Mahabarata (once again, yes, I'm aware of the BBC adaptation from a decade or more ago ... in this case a much, much worthier version, but still cripplingly limited when compared to the original), and most of all, most achingly of all, Homer's Iliad - not the latest effort by Wolfgang Peterson, worthy though I alone seem to find it, but the real thing - gods romping everywhere at their will, action in outsized portions - that has never been captured and has never been ABLE to be captured, before now.
Notice I'm not punch-drunk on this new technology ... I'm not, for instance, saying it could be used on a work such as 'War and Peace' (which is, nevertheless, badly in need of SOMETHING ... great works of literature shouldn't languish as long as this one has in between viual adaptations) or even 'Life and Fate.' No, I'm only talking here about works that beg for a gigantic canvas, shot through in unbelievable colors and shapes.
The 'Lord of the Rings' movies are pretty nearly perfect, it's true; but 'The Lord of the Rings' as a novel veers constantly between the high epic and the wee folk boiling potatoes - it couldn't have made use of the techniques of '300,' at least not in the way I'm suggesting. Peter Jackson handled his material with confident genius, but there are no boiled potatoes in '300.' as everyone who's seen it would readily acknowledge. It's grand-scale entertainment, and as such it's beyond comparison with anything that's come before.
One thing above all others: there isn't even a hint of homoeroticism in this movie. Unless all these critics are saying so merely because our Spartan heroes where no shirts and have buff bodies - which, if true, would be pretty damn dumb. The Spartans are topless to denote an easy, offhand fearlessness; the Persians are decadent and effeminate not for petty sexual reasons but to display the enervating effects of unlimited wealth and power. This movie is above all a daring thing, and daring things are always vulnerable to cheap jibes
We here at Stevereads urge you all to ignore such cheap jibes, even the jibes you yourself might already have thought up. Go and see '300.' Go and be amazed.