300 Sequel: The Bush-Era Thrill Is Gone
I think 300 is easily one of the best movies of the last twenty years, the only movie I've seen twice in a week since Hitchcock died, a film that will be re-watched and remembered long after most if not all of the prestige art films of our day are forgotten.
The tale of the Spartan battle against the Persians at Thermopylae was released in 2006, when Hollywood, entering its most shameful days, was beginning to churn out despicable anti-war on terror and anti-military propaganda even while American sons were actually on the battlefield in harm's way. 300 was instead a stirring W-style call to defend the age-old values of the west against an oppressive and ignorant foreign invader.
But what made the film special — even brilliant — was the wild, confident imagination it brought to the screen from Frank Miller's graphic novel. Though the story stayed very faithful to the history in Herodotus, it introduced fantastical beasts, over-the-top video game violence, outsized characters and even bulked-up muscle suits to give the story a larger-than-life feel. It was as if the movie was saying to the Islamic-fascists who had attacked us: "You think we're decadent because we sit around and play video games? Let us show you the sort of western courage that inspired those games, Islamo-schmuck!"
As I noted in my David Horowitz Freedom Center pamphlet, The Crisis in the Arts, I found it frustrating when some conservatives failed to understand and praise what was clearly one of the great cinematic paeans to liberty.
I read conservatives criticizing the very over-the-top fantasy elements that made the movie a massive hit. I even heard some conservatives complain about the bare chests of the Greek warriors as if that made the film homoerotic. (Heaven forfend a film about ancient Greece should be homoerotic!) Did these right wing critics want the left to love them for their objectivity? To hell with the left. We need many more successes like 300. Buy a ticket, applaud, go home. That's all you have to do.
But what is even more puzzling to me is what the filmmakers were thinking when they set out to make the sequel 300: Rise of an Empire. With the exception of the over-the-top gore, all the exuberant originality of the first film is gone. No monsters (except in a dream). No body suits. No grand, out-sized characters. Except for one cool scene at the beginning when the Persian emperor Xerxes is transformed into a god, the film opts for a dull realism reminiscent of old gladiator movies. And, meanwhile, the story from the Herodotean source is completely ditched for one that's nowhere near as interesting.
Listen, the film is watchable and entertaining. And the 3D is absolutely amazing. Some of the crowd scenes were genuinely thrilling and took you right into the world of the movie.
But where is the belligerent confidence of the original? I wonder if it dissipated during these puling, apologizing, whining and self-hating Obama years. I wouldn't be at all surprised.
A quick update to respond to the excellent comment below by Brent Glines: I could have forgiven the film's more human characters if they symbolized the fact that Salamis was won by wily Athenians not spartan Spartans — the shopkeepers of democracy rather than the soldiers of a military state. But if that was the point, why not tell the TRUE story of Salamis. The final battle was a masterstroke of Athenian strategy. But in the film, it's shown as a caution-to-the-wind charge. I fear Brent understands the story better than the folks who made the movie! For a vivid factual account, please check out my friend Barry Strauss's excellent book: The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter that Saved Greece — And Western Civilization.