Days before the release of the latest comic-book adaptation 300, a scathing attack on the film from American leftists and rightwing groups started to surface. The right believed that the portrayal of an imperialistic Persian Empire is a symbol of America s misperceived endeavor to conquer the world, while leftists accused the film of portraying the Greeks as the brave, freedom-fighting nation defending western virtues against the eastern hordes.
Shortly after the release of this year s biggest box-office hit, the Iranians themselves joined the front, calling the film vile American propaganda to distort their image.
The Arabs and Egyptians weren t far behind. The Egyptian press has unanimously branded 300 another Hollywood blow to garble history and pave the way for a possible American war on Iran.
What these critics have failed to see is that 300 is just another formulaic Hollywood action piece devoid of any meaning or hidden intentions. The stereotyped approach employed to depict Greeks and Persians is based on fixed narrative formulas Hollywood and other popular world cinemas have always utilized to construct commercialstories that attract an audience comfortable with their familiar elements and characters.
Egyptian cinema, for example, has long had a history of misrepresenting almost any non-Egyptian character.
Jews have always been portrayed as misers and cons that would evolve into Satan s reincarnations on earth after the 73 war; Greeks are the shady bartenders or the sensuous seamstresses; Armenians are the greedy and cunning jewelers; other Arabs are always dumb and uncivilized, the French are craven men with homosexual tendencies while Americans are usually blunt with little human emotion.
All nationalities share one common trait: lack of morals or remotely positive human quality.
Any popular cinema, including Hollywood, uses typecasting to present entertainment aspects that avoid any deviation from the preconceptions imbedded in the audience psyche. Any departure would immediately convert an average commercial flick into an art-house piece and thus reduce its commercial appeal.
300 is based on the best-selling 1999 novel by Frank Miller, the great comic-book author of Sin City and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. His famous graphic novel is loosely based on the 1962 epic film The 300 Spartans; a movie which is suspected to include some Cold War overtones.
The latter film was inspired by the 480 BC battle of Thermopylae that saw an allied army of the Greek city-states lead by a contingent of 300 Spartans, fighting off thousands of invading Persian troops.
The largely outnumbered forces, lead by the Spartan King Leonidas, blocked the only road leading to Sparta for three days and were only beaten when an Athenian called Ephialtes showed the Persians a secret mountain passage that directed them to a spot behind the Greek lines. All 300 men were killed but only after causing enormous damage to their enemy in one of the longest last stands in history.
According to some historians, every Spartan killed at least 40 Persian soldiers.
Although the comic-book is based on this true historical event, both Frank Miller and director Zack Snyder took the liberty to tweak the facts in order to create an action-packed story that overly exaggerates the intensity of the battles, heroism of its protagonists and wickedness of the antagonists.
In other words, 300 is a big, dumb, violent movie that works so well exactly because of that.
Each of the 300 Spartans, lead by Leonidas (Gerard Butler), are all muscled-up wearing nothing more than tiny trunks and Superman-like capes. They are an over-the-top version of the ultimate male hero with his glory, splendor and unbending valor.
Nevertheless, there is some truth to the machismo of the Spartans: male children were enrolled into military service as soon as they turned seven. And the film does resort to several historic truisms; Spartan women did indeed tell their men folk to return frombattle with their shields or on them.
On the other hand, the Persian King Xerxes, with earrings and tens of other different-sized trinkets covering his body from head-to-toe, looks like he s just come off a grand gay parade. Xerxes men are either ugly-looking dark-skinned sinister men or deformed beasts riding numinous creatures.
It is plainly cartoon evil played to the extreme.
The dialogue is composed of chest-beating chanting on the vein of Prepare for Glory, Give them nothing but take away from them everything, Today we dine in hell and This is not madness, this is Sparta.
The actors deliver these trite lines with so much energy and ferocity though you might actually join them at certain points despite knowing perfectly well how cheesy and ridiculous you may sound.
The visual aspect of the film, however, is the most rewarding feature of the experience. Director Snyder, who recently directed the surprisingly good remake of George A. Romero s Dawn of the Dead, shot the entire film using blue-screens to create a surreal world that faithfully matches the look and tone of the original comic-book.
The texture of the film is made up of different shades of brown mixed with the crimson red of blood deluging abundantly throughout the course of the film. Action sequences are acted out in slow motion, followed by a sudden rapid reposition executed in a larger-than-life, highly stylized fashion that gives the viewers enough time to ogle atthe jaw-dropping images.
300 is a big, silly B-movie elevated to blockbuster status after succeeding in capitalizing on the audience desire to watch something that looks different, containing none of the politically correct baggage recent Hollywood flicks are carrying.
The film, in essence, is a bad picture with lots of thunderous violence and a great sex-scene. It is so bad though that it s actually good and although this may sound contradictory, this radical type of filmmaking has produced many of the cult-classics of the mid 70s and 80s that are now considered to be defining moments in the world spop culture.
They just don t make them as bad as they used to.