There’s a feeling that I can’t find a word for, but I expect we’ve all felt it at some point. It’s the feeling you get when you suddenly realise the situation you’re in isn’t quite what you thought it was at the start.
For instance when you meet someone new, and they seem quite interesting, and then they casually mention that they hate blacks, or they ask you if you’ve been saved, or they use a catchphrase from Little Britain. You know the feeling? Your heart drops, you think ‘oh…’, and you find yourself nodding with a fixed grin, desperately looking for an escape. Well, that’s basically the feeling I got about half an hour into 300.
I’d been looking forward to 300 for months, mentioning it here back in January. It looked exciting: visually stunning and produced by many of the same people who brought us Sin City — I thought it had a lot of potential.
Then, as I said, about half an hour in, I got that feeling. it dawned on me that I was actually about to watch a really shit film. Oh…
The film is, as I expected, visually stunning, but it turns out to not be enough — not by a long shot. The script is hackneyed, the acting is embarrassing and the direction of the scenes between battles is weirdly close, with the 300 Spartans turning corners and bumping into another army, or a burning city that they somehow didn’t see or hear miles away. Every time someone new arrives on the scene the impression is that they were just standing off-camera waiting for their turn, as if it was all being filmed in a tiny BBC TV studio from the ’60s.
Impressive though the battles are, watching a seemingly-invulnerable army defeat opponent after opponent, barely breaking a sweat is…well, pretty boring, as if you’re watching a small child describe what they did on their summer holiday — and then the Spartans kill the Persians and then they kill the personal guards and then they kill the giant and then they kill the rhino and then they kill the elephants and then they kill the other Persians…
Finally, there’s the film’s politics: this film’s arrived about five years too late. If it had turned up c.2002 then its macho posturing about the glory of war, about how there is no finer thing than to die in defence of freedom, and that the ends always justify the means may have been much easier to swallow. As it is, watching feels like being trapped in a corner as Ann Coulter drunkenly rants at you about how the latest atrocity in Iraq is just a hiccup on the way to the formation of a glorious, stable democracy.
Am I taking the film too seriously? Perhaps, but with its relentless harping on about how ‘freedom isn’t free’, it’s making a political statement that’s layered on with all the skill of a sixth-form film student that’s watched Team America but hasn’t realised that Parker and Stone were taking the piss out of everyone, and not just the lefties. But even if I could ignore all of the po-faced, gung-ho nonsense, I’d still be watching a shit film, so what have I got to lose by taking it too seriously?