Sunday, April 08, 2007

300 and the death of comics.

Hail,
It's always hard deciding on an "absolute worst film in human history". There are so many variables to take into account.

Do we go for a simple, amount-of-pain-per-viewer-per-minute calculation? This would seem to be the more democratic approach, it levels the playing field - a gifted amateur with an 8mm camera can compete in crapitude with a Spielberg or a Scorsese. This gives us "Robot Monster", or "The Rats are Coming, the Werewolves are Here", any number of seventies horror films.

Alternatively we can try to factor in other variables: look at cost, actor or director talent, and original story. By this measure only a film that that could have and should have be good can ever be truly bad - the in effect trying to compare the horror that was with the greatness that could have been? This opens the field to horrors like Independence Day, or nine out of ten SF movies made since the seventies.

Or perhaps an approach intermediate between these two extremes - dividing the cost of the film, for example, by the price of a paediatric dialysis machine to work out how many children's lives could have been saved had they spent the money on something different instead of "Battlefield Earth".

Of course, you have to factor in how many children were actually sent into renal shutdown by watching Battlefield Earth, that does complicate things, buit still, it's worth considering.

Anyway. It's not an easy thing. But by most measures, 300, which I saw two nights ago, is probably a contender.

It is unalloyed, unadulterated, 200 proof, weapons-grade turd. I kid you not, it is laughably, unselfconsciously, uninsightfully bad, less a film than a celluloid enema. CGI eczema. I would rather grate my own pancreas into a salad and eat it on icecream than watch anything like that again.

Honestly. Words do not do justice to this. 300 crosses the boundary - and I have never felt this about a film before - between being merely a crap film and being a truly bad film, a film that adds to the sum of human misery, something that actually stupidifies and lessens its audience.

Why is this so? Maybe it's the storytelling. The story proper opens with a flashback showing the early childhood of the main character, Leonidas, soon to be King of Sparta. For the first few minutes we get to see a lot of young Leonidas, as a shaven-headed youth, being beaten up, chiefly by his father. Kick, punch, strangle, gouge, that kind of thing.

This goes on for a bit, actually quite a bit, then there is a flurry of character development and young Leonidas starts beating other people up - more scenes of kids getting the bezeus smacked out of them. If there is ever some kind of award for most realistic scene of boy-on-boy violence, this would have to be it - preteen Leonidas beats the pixels off some kid in a scene that would have been cut from Deadwood.

Next teen Leonidas gets sent out into the snow and meets a cartoonish (as in cover your mouth or you will laugh out loud) wolf which he kills - an animal with the physique of Wile E Coyote but the hair of Sonic the Hedgehog. A few frames later Leonidas is king, and grown to manhood. End of that flashback.

The emissary from the Persians arrives in Sparta. He is sneering and black and wears jewellery, so we know he is bad. Leonidas (who wears, and I am not making this up, leather Speedos and a scarlet cape) takes time off from beating his own son to throw him into a well. By "him" I mean the ambassador, not the son, although that was doubtless an off-screen "test of Spartan manhood" that we missed. This is only the first of the seven squillion "screw the people and the law, I know people will see that I'm right once I start killing folk" things this loon and his equally one-dimensional wife do. Next ...

Oh God, I'm so tired already. There are simply not enough electrons in the universe to list how crap this film is. Xerxes, previously believed to be the warrior king of the largest empire the world had ever seen, is here revealed to be an eight foot tall, tinsel-wearing wimpering drag queen presiding over a carnival of freaks. Bizarrely, those grouped together as freaks consist of lesbians, amputees, (including, I think, one amputee lesbian), hunchbacks with nine-month gestation hunched backs, people with multiple facial piercings and vast numbers of what look a hell of a lot like Arabs (there is one hunchback who starts out on the Spartan side, but predictably he is rejected and ends up with the freaks, wearing his freak Persian hat).

Arrayed against them are the Spartans, who fight on the side of freedom, presumably the freedom to throw their babies off cliffs and beat their kids with sticks. When they are not doing that they parade around half naked bonding and swearing felaty to each other and sneering at the boy-loving Athenians.

But no, it's not just the storytelling.

It's the look - the whole thing looks like a video game, and that's because it is. There are almost no real actors in it. Every second Spartan warrior is computer generated, and so has that slightly out of focus, fetal alcohol syndrome look they had on Polar Express.

It's the dialogue -
Stricken father - Heart? I have filled my heart with hate.
King - Good.

It's the cartoonish correspondence between physical and moral stature - good people are beautiful, bad people are ugly. Good people are straight, bad people deviate in some way from Millers incredibly limited set of acceptable things to do with your sexual organs.

It's the whole - oh, forget it.

I think at some level the person I am angry at is myself.

See, years ago I read, and loved, superhero comics. There is probably no way to explain this to anyone else, anyone who didn't share the same experience. All I can say is that way of looking at the world, those ideas of superhuman potential and science creating wonders and secret heroism - those ideas sunk deep into my psyche. There is part of me now that was formed by reading about Spiderman and Mr Fantastic and Daredevil and the Silver Surfer, part of me that resonated to them, read about them and their struggles and felt understood.

But anyway. I gave up on superheroes for a while, and when I came back they, and I, were different. Reimaginings of the field by Alan Moore. Big ideas like Grant Morrison. Novels of psychoterror like Bendis' Daredevil. Almost unreadably tender stories like Millar's Ultimates volume 1.

Great stuff. And don't think I'm not grateful. But two years ago I was buying three or four comics a week, now it's one a month, and that's close to being dropped. The racks are full of stuff I just can't maintain an interest in.

I think the reason I am dropping stuff is I keep seeing some of Miller's stuff in comics everywhere. Ugly villains and beautiful heroes. Might meaning right. Simple violent solutions to complex real-world problems.
And it's not just Frank Miller and his imitators, which I honestly believe exemplifies is all that is bad in comics and literature and art, all that is lazy and stupid and self-indulgent and unaware about story-telling, the relentless burrowing down to the lowest common denominator. It's the whole intrinsic limitations of the media, the fact that in the end there are a very few writers who can say anything interesting anymore about human beings with the limits removed, or tell affecting stories about people who behave in ways no sane person would ever behave. It's a feeling of irritation when I get handed something on a platter instead of having to work for it, it's a resentment at being told how to feel and how to think and who is good and evil, or even that such things exist.

I don't know. I don't know that you get "over" an art-form. People don't get "over" books, or music, so I don't know that I have got over superhero comics - although, come to think of it, I got over tv and radio a while back, so it's not impossible. I will probably still continue to buy a few things every so often - maybe Daredevil, definitely the Fortean Times, a few others. Anything by Alan Moore. But maybe you do get over stuff.

Anyway. Don't go to see 300. Read the book instead, and spend the money you would have spent on the money buying tickets for someone you hate to go and see the 300. Or buy your own leather speedos and put on your own show, or maybe grate your own pancreas into a salad. Anything.

Thanks for listening,
John

6 Comments:

Blogger Benedict 16th said...

You don't like 300! You Persian symapthist!!!
It's not exactly a movie I would go out of my way to see.

My - I want the last 2 hours of my life back - moment was... Ishtar.

8:30 PM  
Blogger Midwife with a Knife said...

I haven't seen the movie, and I hated it as soon as I saw the previews. I felt this vaguely sad sort of feeling. I have read the book, and what really irritates me the most is that this is a good story. It should make a good movie.

From the previews, I figured it would be some sort of cgi nightmare. It's really too bad, because now nobody will make these stories into movies, and I worry that people will stop reading them.

10:35 PM  
Anonymous foilwoman said...

Actually, Ishtar was just 107 minutes long, but I thought (before checking its running time) that it was 180 minutes or more.

1:26 AM  
Blogger Danny said...

I thought it wasn't bad. The action scenes worked for me and it was a great movie for shits and giggles. I thought at any time Leonidas was about to say in his thick, Scottish accent, "Pick a winder Jimmy, you're fookin' leavin'!"

Nah, it was shit, script and acting wise, but then that's Frank Miller - the most over-rated writer/artist to ever walk the face of the Earth. If Alan Moore was American they'd go nuts for him. Moore, Alan Grant - God there's just so many other writers out there who can shit better than Miller writes on his best day. There's artists out there who can close both eyes and draw drunk better than Miller can on his best day. At one point in time Miller approached genius (Dark Knight Returns, Elektra Lives Again) but then he started to believe his own press and began to believe his own self-importance. The end result is the deadline missing hack we now have.

DC refuse to hire Alan Grant, a talented writer who's never missed a deadline. However they'll give Miller $1,000,000 to deliver a series and when he fails to they up the offer and give him a new project. Work that out.

However worse comic book related movie ever? You've clearly not sat through Batman & Robin with George 'Wooden' Clooney, Uma and Arnie. Now that was the biggest waste of money (I'll never saw talent because there was no talent on that film) ever.

Batman & Robin makes 300 look like Citizen Kane.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Danny said...

Oh, and further to all of that....you have to accept that Miller believes what he's told by the media and by his government. he strongly believes that Bin Laden is responsible for September 11 (hence Miller's project where he 'groundbreakingly' sets Batman on the trail of terrorists and Bon Laden, forgetting that Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle both had Batman battling Middle Eastern extremist terrorists back in the 1980s - sorry Frank you ain't got an original idea there).

Miller is what a lot of Americans want their 'historians' and writers to be - black and white. Good is lovely, evil is ugly. God is good, anything else is demonic. America is great and never does anything wrong, the rest of the world, if they don't follow America blindly, is wrong. No two ways about it. It's a credo that Ayn Rand would be proud of and it's a credo that Miller inserts into all his work from Sin City onwards.

The irony? Read Dark Knight Returns. The two characters at the end? The subversive, rebellious Batman and the government tool Superman. I'm sure Miller always wanted to be the former, but the reality is that he's become the latter. He's become a tool of the establishment.

7:31 AM  
Anonymous gothqueen said...

So, it wasn't just me that thought he looked like a Drag queen?

1:11 PM  

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