300 directed by Zack Snyder, written by Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Michael Gordon from the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, with Gerald Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West and Rodrigo Santoro. A Warner release. 117 minutes. Opens Friday (March 9). For venues and times, see Movies, page 97. Rating: NN Rating: NN
My comic book consumption is limited to checking out those items that are coming out as movies.
However, from what I've been seeing since the days when John Romita Sr. was drawing Spider-Man back in the 60s, the best comic books inevitably aspire to be movies. The artists who create them are always trying to bust out of the frame.
I can understand comics' appeal to lazy directors - the stories arrive already storyboarded. The graphics package is in place, so there's no need to think about how the movie is supposed to look. It becomes a question of whether you want to adapt a Jack Kirby X-Men or a Neal Adams X-Men.
But the best comic book adaptations transcend their origins. Directors put their own stamp on these films, whether it's Sam Raimi's hyper-caffeinated lyricism in the first Spider-Man movie or Robert Rodriguez's strategy of pushing Frank Miller's noir stylings to their logical conclusion in Sin City.
Note that Rodriguez did this with the full cooperation of Miller, who is credited as co-director. Sin City the movie looks like the comic book but throws away the frame.
Another Frank Miller adaptation arrives this week, Zack Snyder's 300. In Miller's retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, a tiny force of Spartans under Leonidas hold off the massive invading Persian army under Xerxes.
Miller's work, as always, is graphically striking, and Snyder has gone out of his way to copy almost exactly the visual style of the graphic novel. By stretching and slowing the speed of the action in the battle scenes, he seems to be trying to redraw the frame around them.
We won't go into the questions of the political subtext of the film - specifically, as noted in a March 5 story in the New York Times, whether George W. Bush is Leonidas holding off a massive alien army, or Xerxes, invading a smaller, fiercely resisting country with a superior force.
It's an interesting line of inquiry, but Snyder says he wasn't thinking about Bush while making the film. Having heard the director's commentary on his remake of Dawn Of The Dead, I don't think he's someone who thinks deeply about this sort of thing.
I do think he worries a lot about things looking cool, and 300 looks wicked cool. On the other hand, if you're going to call a movie 300, it should have at least one shot that makes the Spartans look like a force of 300.
The film is a bit long and repetitive. The battle scenes have one model: a bunch of Persian soldiers charge the Spartans, the Spartans stab with spears and swords and smash them with shields, the Persians retreat.
Xerxes, who looks about 8 feet tall and heavily into body piercing, occasionally, utters a deep-voiced threat. Leonidas sneers a reply. That's pretty much the whole movie.