300 -- 03/19/07

Last night I went with Jill and Eli and a friend of theirs to see 300.

You may have seen Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire -- I read it back when it first came out (about eight years ago) and thought it was a very well-written historical novel. It is about the Battle of Thermopylae where 300 Spartens held off vast numbers of Persians (a hundred thousand? four hundred thousand? a million? The actual number was probably toward the lower end of those numbers, but even though there were eight hundred to a thousand Greeks they were outnumbered by at least one hundred to one and probably more.)

When I first heard of 300 I hoped that it might have been based on Pressfield's book but it is based on the graphic novel 300 by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. (What's a graphic novel? That's a comic book that comes out in hardcover with a thirty dollar list price.)

At first I wasn't sure if I wanted to see it. I liked Pressfield's novel, had never seen the graphic novel, and didn't think that I wanted to watch a two hour video game. Then I began to read the critics -- who mostly seemed to dislike 300 but their negative reviews made me want to see it. (By the time I read Neal Stephenson's essay "It's All Geek to Me" I was already convinced I wanted to see it; it was just scheduling conflicts that had kept us from seeing it earlier than we did.)

I loved it. (So did Jill -- but then she loves role playing games, D&D, World of Warcraft, etc.)

It shows its graphic novel roots quite clearly. It is quite stylized, subdued colors, exaggerated stances and movements, rippling muscles, swaggering, posturing -- and very violent and very bloody -- endless battles where the action suddenly goes to slow motion just as swords strike bodies and slow motion blood drifts weightlessly through the air along with sweat and severed heads and other body parts.

If you find the story of the Battle of Thermopylae, with free men refusing to bow down to an invading tyrant -- giving their lives to buy time -- to be an inspiring story, then you will find 300 to be an inspiring movie. If you don't, then avoid it because the violence and blood will be all you will see.

The movie is a smash hit -- took in seventy million dollars on its opening weekend (the third largest opening for an R-rated movie in history) and continues to have strong box office. Imagine what the total take will be once it opens around the world and then goes to DVD.

When I got home I told Nancy that she had been quite right to stay home (she does not care for violent movies) and that director Zack Snyder (previously known for having directed a remake of Dawn of the Dead a couple of years ago) must be experiencing a sudden rush of Hollywood financial types coming to him with big bags of money trying to get him to do a picture for them.

Nancy suggested a movie called 400. (Can't you see it? Bloody and violent infighting among the members of high society in New York a hundred years ago?)

I thought of one called 600 -- about the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War -- the one that inspired Tennyson's The Charge of the Light Brigade (the link leads to the full poem).

Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns' he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd ?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

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