300 (2007) – still looks homoerotic, or just over-the-top?

Oh, the silent beauty of a strong, muscular body. Whether it’s male or female, it’s always a beautiful sight, especially if presented well, with confidence and taste. After all, just like the character in that old Mel Brooks film (later to be remade into a musical, and back into film) – “if you’ve got it, flaunt it”. The sports industry and the fashion industry are all built on that single premise – good, appealing looks. So what’s wrong with a movie celebrating good, healthy bodies? Especially if it’s disguised as a historical drama. Apparently, there’s plenty wrong with it. You’ve read all the previews and reviews of Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel (a fancy new-age title for “comic book”), 300. Almost every one of these reviews reeks of homophobia – calling the movie “macho”, “homoerotic”, “exploitative”, and so on. What’s wrong with scantily-clad men, fighting side by side, dripping sweat and blood all over corpses? Visually stunning – yes, but homoerotic – no. This is Sparta. Or, in the words of Leonidas, the main character – THIS IS SPARTA!!!

Frank Miller’s novels stand out from other comic books in that they’re provocative. Sin City, The Watchmen and 300 – their pages are full of nudity, gore, decapitations, guts and tits. Not breasts, but tits – glorified violence and sex combined into great-looking storyboards, memorable scenes and very appealing characters. The fully-developed characters and conflicts come later – and they’re fantastic. But the visuals are the first thing you notice in Frank Miller’s work. You probably remember the look and feel of Robert Rodriguez’ Sin City – that was shot almost frame by frame from the graphic novel. It was over the top, it was style over substance, but it was a story that took your breath away. 300 is very much the same experience – first, the movie grabs you with its visuals, then it adds historic battles, epic armies, and brings in the heavy plotting and characterization. Yes, it’s definitely style over substance, but in light of recent historical films, this is a few levels above in quality. And you gotta be quite insecure to bring out “homoerotic” from a film like that. Or, perhaps, you’re a closeted bigot, protesting a bit too much.

300 tells a story of a handful of Spartans who set out to defend their lands from a Persian invasion. Led by Leonidas (Gerard Butler), the film frequently flashes back to his childhood days – when he was trained to survive in the wild, and live the way of Spartans. There’s also a lot of exposition of the Persian armies – not exactly historically accurate, but it’s close to source material – the graphic novel. Persians, led by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) just keep coming, wave after wave of ruthless, ALMOST vilified conquerors. Then there’s series of sequences back in Sparta, where Leonidas’ wife Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) is struggling to get support for her husband and takes on the corrupt Greek senate. If you want to see allegories and draw parallels with Iraq, and Dubya’s presidency, go ahead. I was enjoying the movie for what it was – a stylish epic based on a graphic novel.

Loud, dark, bloody and full of slo-mo shots, you would expect this movie to play like another music video – to bored, unattentive audience. And yet, we were engaged. In the world of stifling political correctness, it was refreshing to see nipples for a change. It was cool to see buff, topless men, exercising, fighting, running, and dying. It was cool to see limbs flying, and horse being but by swords. Yes, how else would you effectively disable a horse-rider? Try to fling a sword at a mass that’s galloping at you? No, you cut off the horse’s legs, and hope that you disable two killing machines at once. I’m sure that’s how it was done back then, but in movies you never see details like that – no animals should be harmed. In 300, everyone who gets in a way – gets harmed You only have enough time to gasp in surprise, and the battle moves on to another spectacular scene. You got a strong feeling this movie could have been so much worse if it was filtered down by polit-correctness.

300 is no Ben Hur, but it’s up there with Lord of the Rings and King Kong – a great-looking action with enough plotting and characters to keep you involved. I would have preferred a bit more historical accuracy – I’m a sucker for Greek and Roman mythology, but this was good enough for me. All the over-the-top yelling, loud music, and huge sets that were distracting in Alexander and Gladiator – actually worked here, because they fit the mood and the pacing. 300 might be uncomfortable at times – with its in-your-face speeches and frequent blood spurts, but it is such a complete, faithful adaptation of the comic, it can stand in its own genre – above action flicks, and just below historic epics.

Check it out, and go get a comic book. Who would have thought that Frank Miller’s creations will flourish now, after nipplegate, after FCC wars, after network self-censorship. And yet, all the gorgeous excess is right there on the screen. We need more films like that in the summer. Intelligent, engaging blockbusters with some guts. Pun definitely intended.

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