Not often do I see a film and think it could have been better made by another director. It’s happened a few times, but generally, I do not like to pigeonhole any individual I consider an artist, regardless how I feel about their work. So it pains me to say that I believe the story 300 could have been more of an adrenaline shot to the heart if it were only helmed by someone like Oliver Stone (more on that later). Since my wishes went unrequited, we instead have been given the version in theaters by Zack Snyder.
I like zombies and especially zombie films, so I was rooting for Zack upon entry into the theater, but I left with a sense of disappointment. In comparison to the exceptional technical SFX and genre craftsmanship of his first film, 300 was a letdown. For starters I’m not fond of CGI, especially when it has been thrown together haphazardly and without concern for realism or even continuity. The special effects and computer animation felt rushed here, as if there wasn’t time to be meticulous, (like a Frank Miller comic, or even one adapted by Robert Rodriguez, would be); only time to meet the studio’s Spring premiere deadline.
So, for a director who filmed one of the gorier zombie flicks this side of 1999 (props to Peter Jackson for the goriest prior to that), I don’t think I should be able to feel cheated. For instance, like Snyder’s earlier Dawn of the Dead, there’s a lot of blood flying and splattering in this movie, but unlike Dawn of the Dead, none of it ever lands anywhere! With the way these 300 men went through a 1,000 Persians like some human woodchipper, you’d think – if not them – at least the ground would be covered in blood. You’d be wrong. The question is: was it for ratings, or simply hackneyed SFX?
Technical aspects aside, I did enjoy this movie. While it’s certainly not riveting material, I was ultimately lulled by the sometimes creepy, sometimes blissful, bedtime story-like narration. This narration was so noticeable to me as a viewer, I wanted it to create a hard contrast to the imagery on screen. This is where I believe Stone would have excelled. Think Alexander, only written like Natural Born Killers and fused with the editor-as-storyteller quality of any recent Peter Jackson film. However, what Snyder leaves us with is a campfire fable processed through some sort of a post-1990s-genre-exploitation machine, and handcrafted for syndication on MTV at a later date.
One review that I read spoke of how the film was bad due to its not being “realistic.” This type of criticism appalls me as I believe that the critic in question should have been well-versed enough to understand that no Frank Miller story, transcribed to film, could (or should for that matter) ever be realistic. That’s not the point of such movies, and especially not of such stories. Though events depicted in the film are based on true accounts of a small army of Spartans defending themselves against the Persians, even in such accounts, just how much realism can really be expected or attained? I mean do we really know if the exact number of Spartans fighting equaled 300? My point in harping on this one negative review is that its critics like this, which defile the important meaning of the criticism of movies and cause both the filmmakers and audience such distaste for film reviews in general.
While I can’t deny the film is fun, and engaging, it’s like a less hard-boiled, less edgy, and less monochromatic Sin City with its colorfully dark characters throughout, but unlike Sin City, these characters have no dimension to them. The one exception being Xerxes, with whom some character traits are revealed, but for such a cruel person, he seems to realize his faults all too easily in the end. Additionally, all the other standard storytelling methods are in place here: foreshadowing, irony, flashback, and the favorite of scriptwriters everywhere, the red herring. But none of these do the plot any justice with the exception of the foreshadowing which comes at the very onset of the film, and is unnecessarily reinforced later through the use of flashbacks.
Here’s my advice, before you go out and drool under the concave silver screen of frenzy that is the film 300, add the third revised, and nearly 300 minute, unrated director’s cut of Oliver Stone’s Alexander to your Netflix queue. Only then will you really understand what Zack Snyder’s film was lacking.