Fighting in Underpants

Yesterday, we went to see 300. I thought it was a well-made and reasonably entertaining way to kill two hours. Not bad, not brilliant, but pretty good. Worth matinee admission prices, anyway.

Here's the thing - I'm already getting a little tired of highly stylized adaptations of comic books that are absurdly faithful to the source material. The previous entry in this field, Sin City, was similarly well-done, entertaining, gorgeous to look at. But I'm getting tired of drooling
fanboys getting nerdboners over side-by-side comparisons of frames from the movie and
panels from the comic book. It's certain to happen again when Sin City 2 comes out, and even moreso when the long-awaited adaptation of Watchmen comes out next year.

Here's what I don't get - why does there have to be a movie in the first place? A lot of fanboys seem to be under the impression that having the comics they love adapted into movies validates them in some way. Maybe once there's a Watchmen movie, then the public will finally recognize comics as a brilliant art form and the fanboys as the geniuses who knew what everyone else was missing for all those years.

is stunningly brilliant in comics form - why does it need to be a movie? Even though comics and movies boil down to essentially the same thing - visual narrative - the two forms aren't nearly so compatible as some people seem to think. Take a look, for example, at the "manga adaptation" of Hiyao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. It's just word balloons and sound effects slapped onto frames from the movie, and it just doesn't work. Everything is stilted and strange, because the visuals were created for film, not comics. It reads like a glorified storyboard.

300 has the opposite problem - in his eagerness to recreate the panels of Frank Miller's comic book, director Zack Snyder has created something that plays at times more like a noisy slide show than a movie. And it really is just like its comic book source - entertaining and forgettable.* I read the book shortly after it came out, enjoyed it, and have never felt much need to own a copy so I could go back and read it again. Similarly, I can't imagine any desire to see the movie again having seen it once.

I found it quite amusing how carefully Leonidas described the strength of the Greek phalanx, how important it is to stand side-by-side, each man protecting the man next to him with his shield. Then when the battle begins a few minutes later, the Spartans are dashing around, jumping and thrusting in stylized slo-mo like they're in a Bronze-age version of The Matrix, fighting in a way that bears absolutely no resemblance to the style of combat Leonidas explicitly described not ten minutes before. Not that I begrudge Miller or Snyder their right as storytellers to play it fast and loose with history, mind you. But why have such a detailed description of exactly how the Spartans do not fight? It makes no sense.

Of course, historical accuracy isn't the aim of the movie, nor should it be. Real Greek soldiers, Spartan, Thespian, Athenian, Theban, whatever, wore quite a bit of armor. 300 Spartan soldiers wear underpants and red capes. A little beefcake eye-candy for the wives and girlfriends brought to see the movie by the nerds, I guess. The body-jewelry covered Xerxes is perhaps the least threatening villain in a movie since the makers of Stargate said, "Hey, let's see if we can get that skinny, androgynous dude from The Crying Game to be our bad guy!"

* For a deeper and more involving look at the Battle of Thermopylae and Spartan society, try Stephen Pressfield's novel Gates of Fire. Good stuff, I tells ya.