300: Culture-clashing brilliance.

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Forget whatever you may have heard about 300 looking like "a video game." I only wish video games looked this good. I refer of course to some of the ridiculous reviews like these, which have popped up here and there for no apparent reason other than to remind us that movie critics in the age of the internet are about as relevant as 8-Track stereo systems:

"History is inconveniently complex. And so we get Frank Miller's version, in which everything is simplified to the point of porridge." - Stephen Witty

"Months before its release 300 already was revered by those who consider it a magnificent achievement for a live-action film to look exactly like a video game. Forgive me, but I don't see that as a reason to celebrate." - Jeffrey Westhoff

"300 is about as violent as Apocalypto and twice as stupid." - A.O. Scott

Ah critics. Hold on to that job with every bit of strength still left in your fingernails, guys. It's a long fall that awaits you.

The truth is that 300 is one of the most visually stunning movies you'll ever see. Every frame looks like a painting. It is absolutely gorgeous.

Yes, most of the visuals are CGI, but that is completely irrelevant since... (hello?) the movie is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel (comic book) and NOT intended to be a historically accurate documentary of the brave 300 Spartans' last stand.

With its hyperstylized visual style, 300 works hard to be the most faithful big screen adaptation of a book. More so than Sin City (also based on Frank Miller's work.) More so even than Chuck P.'s Fight Club. And those were already remarkably faithful to the material they were based upon.

If what you're after is a historically accurate and realistic rendition of the battle of Thermopylae, watch The History Channel. 300's intent is to bring Frank Miller's work to the big screen, not photorealistic history. There is a huge - and obvious - difference between the two, and in that respect, the movie delivers in every way. Anyone - especially a movie critic - who fails to grasp this simple enough notion should stick to watching gameshows and reality TV. Maybe sitcoms, but only the ones with the cued laughter so they will know when a joke is supposed to be funny.

Enough stupidity already.

The cold hard fact is that while not all of 300's reviews are stellar, the movie found its audience long before its US release last week. There has been more excitement over this movie than any other release this year.

Vox populi et al.

The line at my local theater reminded me of opening weekend for Star Wars, Episode 1, and the movie has already grossed well over $70M in its first week, which isn't far from a record for a March release - and an R-Rated one at that. Sure, it probably won't make as much bank as Shrek 3, Spiderman 3 or Pirates of the Carribean 3 (all 2007 releases, and none with an R-rating), but... as I've said, it has found its audience.

And it has easily secured its place in the pantheon of cult movies.

Ultimately, the success of this movie will be based on a number of things:

1. It is visually stunning. I mean, really. Sword fights, wheat fields, knights on horseback, dancing oracles, elephant charges, sea tempests and massive armies have never looked so damn good. It's gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

2. The 300 Spartans are badasses and heroic, and let's face it, there's just something inspiring about heroic, supremely confident, loyal, fearless, principled characters like these. Especially in the world we live in today.

The word you're looking for right now is "introjection."

3. It is the ultimate underdog story... and we like those, don't we.

4. Despite the orc-like Persians, the giant rhinos, the mythological creatures and the stylistic liberties taken by Frank Miller, it is still a true story of courage and sacrifice... which, again, in this day and age, holds some relevance.

5. Everyone can appreciate superhero-like bodies on the big screen. (I've been working out a ittle harder since watching the movie. Ahem. I don't think I am the only one either.)

6. It is shorter than any of the three The Lord Of The Rings flicks, and at least as good in every way.

7. Jar-Jar Binks is not part of this mythology.

8. The wolf hunt. The Oracle's dance. The sea tempest. The battles. Arrows blotting out the sun. The bad guys. The leap. One of the strongest female characters I have seen in a movie in a long time. The end credits. The wow factor.

9. Visually, it's a landmark film. Period.

10. It's a healthy blend of mythology, cultural relevance, technical perfection and escapism, which is the magic formula for any successful blockbuster.

11. Remarkable work combined with excellent, simple, to-the-point marketing.

And despite the fact that it's just a movie about a comic book, it does have something to say about who we are as people. About the sacrifices that we are willing or unwilling to make in this day and age. About courage. About guts. About loyalty. About honor. In other words, despite what a few malcontents would have you believe, it is far from just being about special effects, violence and escapism.

Even if the movie isn't exactly true to what these 300 Spartans may have actually gone through over two thousand years ago, the movie and the comic book it was based upon are 100% true to the ideals that these 300 men lived for, fought for, and died for. It doesn't matter that they fought men instead of orcs, giants, and exotic creatures. It really isn't the point.

The word you're looking for right now is "metaphor."

It also doesn't matter whether you're a Greek fighting Persians, a GI fighting Taliban soldiers, a small company fighting a mega corporation, an accident victim fighting an unscrupulous insurance company, a child fighting an abusive parent, or a minority fighting against discrimination.

"Metaphor." Really. Look it up.

And... once you look just slightly beyond this wonderful work of art and entertainment and become conscious of the central message it lays out for you, it can - and should - make you want to be a better man. Even if only for a day or two. Or three. It may seem cliche, but that's more than I can say about most movies these days, blockbuster or not.

We all have more in common with these 300 men in our every day lives and our own personal battles, choices and demons (as insignificant as they may be compared to... a savage and murderous million-man army) than with Peter Parker, Captain Jack Sparrow, or King Shrek.

Or Paris Hilton, for that matter.

Eh. Not too bad for a video-game of a movie that's twice as stupid as Apocalypto.


Go see 300 and make up your own minds. (Unless your absolute favorite movie of all time is "On Golden Pond," you'll have a great time.)

Have a great Thursday, everyone. :)

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