Monday, January 14, 2008


"This won't be over quickly. You will not enjoy this"

Two characters say this in "300," but it might as well have been me when I walked into the theater. I'm not a fan of Frank Miller, the comic-book artist-turned-writer who breathed new life into Marvel's "Daredevil" and DC's "Batman." I enjoyed his work on those, but around the time of his "Sin City" output, I began to think of his work as campily overblown and corrupt. When he ran out of ideas, he'd have one of his characters cut off a limb and do something that defied the laws of physics and that would serve as plot advancement. So, upon seeing the extremely faithful adaptation of "Sin City" years ago, I just hung my head and thought that was the end of Miller doing anything good ever again. His hack-work was too successful. A second Batman "Dark Knight" series was a sporadically illustrated mess, and his current work on an "All-Star" version of the character has been embarrassing. His scripts for the "Robocop" series were terrible. His co-directorial debut with "Sin City" was a frame by frame recreation of his original illustrations, and in those, there was power, no matter how thick-headed the concept or eye-rolling the dialogue that accompanied them. It did point out, however, why films are one thing and graphic story-telling is another. Comics have the luxury of leaping from high-point to high-point. They suspend time to make way for mouthfuls of dialogue. They focus the eye and mind. Film does this, too, but at 24 frames a second, rather than the one comics afford. A film has to crash through that white border separating panels, and that's the difference between art and artifice.

Now, Miller's "300" has hit the screen, and unlike "Sin City," director Zack Snyder has taken the concept, the tone, and Miller's design sense but gone his own way with the direction. Key frames of Miller's book are reproduced, but for the most part Snyder has found a way of taking Miller's trope and making it move and breathing life into it. And it's Snyder's efforts to connect the dots and make Miller's flat-panels three dimensional that lets "300" rise above most comic book adapatations. It's still overblown. Some of the dialogue is not only bad, it's bad for today, much less ancient Greece (When King Leonidas meets his opposing King, the bling-encrusted Xerxes--who's not nearly as gay as Miller made him in the book--he takes a look at the Persian's elaborate transportation and says "Let me guess. You must be Xerxes"--a line more weisenheimer than kingly. But it beats the fade-out line on the eve of the final battle: "Unless I miss my guess, we're in for one wild night!" Oy. So bad it stings!), it's a bit too enamored by the CGI-technology to create blood-spurts, but damn, if it doesn't move and hold your interest! There's one shot--of King Leonidas providing point (literally) to an attack done in one long take, and as he dispatches opponent after opponent, at each impact the film is speed-ramped to a crawl, which is as ingenious a way of recreating the framing ability of comics in a moving picture as has been devised. Sort of like Peckinpah's slo-mo cut-aways but self-contained in a single shot.

So, what did I think of it? I enjoyed it! I may not like Miller's current writing, but one can't fault his illustrative sense, and Snyder brings it to glorious life. It may be gratuitous "homo-erotic war pornography," but it's sure well-constructed homo-erotic war pornography. It makes one anticipate Snyder's promised version of Alan Moore's "Watchmen," although one quails at the suggestion (and it's only been suggested) of Tom Cruise at Ozymandius. Not even a Spartan could face that!
"300" is a rip-snorting, shield-pounding, popcorn-throwing, CGI-scenery-chewing matinee.

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