I was pleased a couple days agoÂ to find a comment to myÂ post on Will Ferrell inÂ Stranger Than Fiction from my cross-country friend Timothy Hughes who was enthused toÂ findÂ what’s become a rare film review from me, andÂ expressed interestÂ in hearing what I might have to say about 300, which Susan and I saw a couple weeks ago in the theater. He saw it earlier this week in Manhattan unfortunately with a bunch of poo-smells-like-flowers hipsters who I suspect shook many a shaggy head and clucked many a pierced tongueÂ as the movie unspooled.
For comparison purposes, we left all the hipsters to stand in line at the Vista below Los Feliz VillageÂ or swarmÂ Hollywood’s Arclight. Instead, Susan and I saw it in the No. 1 theater in theÂ all together seedy but nevertheless beloved underground bunker that is Laemmle’s Grande fourplex downtown on Figueroa near 4th. Basically the place is in the Marriott Hotel’s basement, has small screens, less-than-stellar sound systems, seats missing armrests, rather lax clean-up crews, but it’s $8 a ticket and we can leave the houseÂ praticallyÂ 10 minutes before showtime and be in our seats before the last trailer drops and not even breathing hard.
As to what I thought of 300? I freakin’ looooooved it. Let’s put it this way; the moment I got just barely a whiff of the film through the first seconds of the first commercial I saw for it, I was sold. I didn’t care if it was good, bad, or beyond,Â something about it made it aÂ must-see for me — no waiting for the DVD. AndÂ the desire wasn’tÂ because I knew about the historic battle. In fact, I’m ashamed to say that before this film’s marketing campaign landed I didn’t know a single thing about it. I vaguely recall one of my History of Western Civilization classes 100 years ago at Santa Monica College concerning itself briefly with Sparta but nothing as specific as the monumental battle of Thermopylae.
I was so eager for it I even hopped onto Amazon and ordered Frank Miller’s graphic novel from which the film is not only derived but stylistically emulates throughout. And when the bookÂ arrived I gobbled it and all the liberties it took up with glee. It made me want to see it even more, irregardless of the poor critical reception it was garnering.
What I’m trying to say is that there’s no way I can’t be comprehensively objective here. I was brainwashed by the Matrix-meets-Sin City look of the film and irrevocably taken in by the us-versus-them underdog story. That it was based on true events was a bonus. That the film played fast and loose with those events didn’t matter one bit — and this is coming from someone who’s willing suspension of disbelief often dangles by the thinnest and most frayed of threads.
There’s aÂ moment in the film that illustrates how deeply I was drawn in. It occurs at the moment of the first charge when the vanguard of Xerxes’ Persian forces first attempts to overrun Leonidas and hisÂ warriors. The camera moves in claustrophobically and chaotically close, showing Spartan feet being shoved backward in the sand against the crushing numbers of their enemy until eventually they hold fast andÂ thenÂ push back against the hordes to regain some ground and engage them in battle. When they finally did get some breathing room I caught myself exhaling strongly and realized during that shoving match not only was I pitched forward in my seat but IÂ had beenÂ holding my breath and pushing backÂ as if I was No. 301 right in the thick of it.