Opus on “300″, and More on Why I’m Not Getting in Line

I’m responding yet again about the movie 300 for this simple reason:

I have been baited, again and again, into extremely violent or explicit films that proved to be empty… and worse, even abusive to audiences.

I have been told, “You have got to see it!”, and I’ve been promised that all of the graphic material was justified because of what it meant. “It’s about fighting for freedom! It’s about fighting for a higher cause!”

Most of the time, I’ve regretted it. While a character or two might say a few words about honor and courage in the film, they’re really just saying them. Time and time again, I’ve staggered out of the theater, weary, dispirited, beaten down by all of the graphic bloodshed on the screen, with precious little to think about or discuss. And I haven’t learned the slightest thing about freedom, truth, love, or what’s worth fighting for.

Dick Staub blogged yesterday that I’m just dismissing 300 as blood, guts and sex. If I understand him correctly, he’s saying that I missed the point as to why it’s popular:

It would be easy to dismiss 300 and to explain it’s popularity among young men by pointing out its gratuitous nudity and mind-numbing, over the top violence.

Reviewers I respect have taken this position–Jeffrey Overstreet decided not to see the movie commenting, “300 is rated R because it is an elaborate display of graphic bloodshed and sex… the film exists primarily to show off dazzling digital effects and to thrill audiences with a spectacle of gratuitous violence.”

I think there may be other explanations for the popularity of 300.

First of all, Staub’s excerpt of my post is misleading.

I did not say “the film exists primarily to show off dazzling digital effects and thrill audiences with a spectacle of gratuitous violence.”

I said this: “While reviewers are divided over whether the film is worth seeing, they almost unanimously agree that the storytelling is shallow and insignificant, and that the film exists primarily to show off dazzling digital effects and thrill audiences with a spectacle of gratuitous violence.”

See the difference? I was telling you what *other people* claim, not what I claim.

Okay. Now onto his point that there “may be other explanations for the popularity of 300.”

I agree. I’m sure there are plenty of explanations for why people would watch 300.

There are also plenty of explanations for why people watch the World Wrestling Federation. You can easily excuse all of the WWF’s excess, brutality, and sexploitation by saying, “Well, people are easily drawn into cheering for a symbolic battle of good versus evil.” But if we stop our analysis there, well, we’ve just thrown the door open wide for all kinds of exploitation.

Again, I haven’t seen 300… and I’m holding back based on the responses of some thoughtful moviegoing friends. So, to “flesh out” some of the reasons why I’m not convinced I need to see the film, I’ve obtained permission from Jason Moreheadto re-print his full review of 300 at Looking Closer.

You can read it there now, and maybe you’ll see why I’m not too keen on seeing Zack Snyder’s film “about freedom” at this point.

In fact, I would be very pleased if the film represented all of the things Staub suggests it does.

But I have yet to read a persuasive review that tells me just how the film accomplishes all of that noble stuff about freedom and virtue and fighting for something meaningful.

Friends who have attended the film have testified that the young men who are making the film a box office success are not walking out of the cinema talking about freedom and virtue… but about just how many cool ways that human beings were butchered in the film.

That’s not encouraging.

Hey, I speak as a big fan of Fight Club and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Branagh’s Henry V. I think Full Metal Jacket and The Thin Red Line are great films. I don’t mind battle scenes, so long as they are essential to a meaningful work of art. They have their place in a story where a great deal is at stake … for characters that have been powerfully developed.

But I didn’t care for Braveheart, or Gladiator, or Troy, because the plots felt like excuses to unleash big screen mayhem. They were simplistic frameworks on which to hang far more violence than we needed to see. The violence was portrayed with so much energy and so much screen time that the rest of the story was given short shrift. I wasn’t drawn into complex and interesting characters. Sure, there were moments in which these things began to emerge (I’m intrigued by how Gladiator scratches the surface of an interesting story about father/son relationships), but then the film’s urgency to get to the next big spectacle of bloodshed left me reeling, wanting so much more storytelling.

Those films exhausted me. And they undercut their own messages so severely that most of the guys I know left the theaters raving about moments of exhilarating death blows rather than how the story might change their lives. Just watching people shred each other while shouting “freedom!” doesn’t do anything for me. I’d rather watch football.

It’s all as disingenuous as a movie about a husband avenging the death of the wife he loved above all else in the world… a husband who stops along the way to “seize the day” and make love with a sexy princess who has a crush on him. Ahhh… the power of love. (Ahem, Braveheart, ahem.)

And what about 300‘s sex scenes? Perhaps they are depicted responsibly. Perhaps they are meaningful, appropriate, and contribute significantly to the story. I don’t know. But based on what I’m reading in the reviews, I have a hunch….

If I’m going to see 300, that will happen because someone convinced me that it’s a meaningful, worthwhile work.

As it is, I’m missing too many great films right now. (There are some masterpieces being revived on the big screen in Seattle right now, and I’m missing them all due to deadlines. I haven’t seen any of the local Christian film reviewers or cultural commentators blogging about the historic significance and meaning in films like Renoir’s The Rules of the Game or the revival of Jacques Rivette’s films…. and these are films that remain important for decades, regardless of the latest innovations in animation.)

I understand that Staub is trying to address why 300 is popular… and as far as that goes, I respect his insight and even agree with him. Staub has a lot of wisdom when it comes to cultural trends and why they happen.

But here, Staub is talking about the audience, why they are buying tickets, and what the seekers are looking for. I, on the other hand, am talking about the film itself, what it delivers, and how it won’t give those seekers
what they’re looking for.

Sure… people (mostly men) are flocking to 300, and they may find some glimmers of meaning to help them make sense of the madness in the world around them. But the question remains… is the work actually honorable and meaningful? Should we embrace it and encourage more films like it? Or are we kidding ourselves, and coming up with a convenient excuse for our enjoyment of sex and violence?

I’m just asking.

If we really want to stimulate cultural discussion about important themes, I suggest we focus our attention on films that explore those themes in responsible, rewarding, exemplary ways. If your high school boys are really so interested in history, I suspect that I can find a few that will teach them a heckuvalot more than 300 does. Again, I may be wrong. But it’s just a hunch…

As always, I reserve the right to be wrong.

*(For the record, I thought Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven struck a better balance than most … especially Scott’s director’s cut. That movie actually tried hard to be about something, even if I still don’t like the conclusions it reached.)

  • Facebook
  • Bill Hogg

    Jeff, Peter regarding Braveheart come on!!
    The film resonated with the contemporary Scottish quest for self-determination ,nationhood and independance as evidenced by the Scottish National Party taking an unauthorised Mel as Wallace picture and plastering on campign materials under the heading: Scotland’s Future: Bravehearts and wiseheads.We know from history that the beleagured Scots saw their battle against De Longshanks in Maccabean terms : the oppressed righteous Scots fighting for freedom from a pagan king. This notion of the righteous remnant gainst an evil pagan oppressor is re-inforced by the Declaration of Arbroath where there is a vision ( framed in 1320) of Scotland under the Lordship of Jesus with the Pope being only earthly ruler being recognised.
    So for the ilustrious Chattaway to dismiss B’heart as a Mel revenge flick is just bollocks. It touches an historic nerve.
    Now I reckon most of that would be lost on North Americans. However the Braveheart depiction of Wallace shows the main man as a visionary, a man of passion, a servant leader etc. I think William wallace is one of the few contemporary truly heroic cinematic depictions in recent years.

    That said I think Jeff as a man with your growing influence you need to put your revulsion for on-screen violence to one side andgo and see some of these films ( not the execrable Hostel 3 ,Saw 15 etc) and then lend your wisdom & voice to the conversation.Perhaps more telling of your avoidance of 300 was the fact that you initially refused to see United 93..that left me bemused How can you truly critique art that you don’t engage or interact with?

    yours with warm regrads & respect
    Bill

  • David

    i agree that gorgo’s role was expanded to help at the box office, although my guess would be it was more because they anticipated that the film would be labeled misogynistic seeing as to how all the other female characters are weak, whores (in the technical sense), or effectively both. i just don’t think that it actually helps since gorgo still isn’t portrayed as a strong character like the men; she’s just less weak than the other women.

    and i guess that’s what i found horrifying: that snyder could look at his sort of half-hearted attempt at, i don’t know, actually adapting the work and think to himself, “yeah, that’s definitely way better”. that’s the general thrust of my criticism of the film, that there was room for improvement and snyder didn’t make any.

  • Phill Lytle

    Christian:

    Thanks for the response. “Goading” or not, I was going to respond in a more detailed fashion.

    Just to be clear, I was not criticizing Jeffrey for not seeing the film. I only wanted to point out the dangers of being overly critical of a film one has not seen.

    The nine on the tension scale was a joke. It’s from my favorite Tom Hanks movie, The Burbs. I thought it was appropriate to attempt to lighten things up a bit.

    I am not offended or hurt. I have enjoyed the lengthy debate of a film that most likely will not be in my top twenty list of 2007.

    David:

    As I stated in my previous posts, I think Gorgo’s role was expanded to attract more women to the film. I don’t think her story is all the interesting and it could have been reworked to strengthen her storyline, or develop other characters. Good observations though.

  • David

    phill:

    i apologize, i believe in my attempt to refrain from writing a whole review on a real reviewer’s website, i was unclear in my original comment.

    what i meant to say is that snyder’s adaptation deviates very little from miller’s (in my opinion) highly flawed graphic novel and the places it does deviate — the expanded role of queen gorgo — i believe it weakens the work, rather than strengthening it. the whole corrupt politician who uses a strong but desperate woman’s love for her husband to force her to have sex with him only to use the indiscretion against her later seems like such a tired trope, especially when used to such little effect. in the end, it gets the revenge scene which actually takes away from the payoff at the end where dilios’ speech rouses sparta to war. that entire subplot could be expunged from the film and i think it would be difficult to argue that 300 would be worse for it.

    as a bit of an aside, it also weakens the movie’s historical accuracy (i know, i know; i found a flaw in the movie about the rapping genie). in sparta, adultery wasn’t considered immoral. rather women were encouraged to have as many strong children as possible because the need of the community for soldiers outweighed personal qualms or jealousies.

    so i suppose i agree with you in the sense that there was nothing extremely horrible about the way that specific scene played out. i just feel that when you’re talking about putting a rape scene in a movie, i think you really have to justify it within the context of the narrative and i felt like 300 definitely did not do. essentially, i was completely baffled at the inclusion of the entire subplot, and especially this particular scene.

    i’m curious, though, if the 300 spartans might have had something like this in it. miller was apparently inspired to write his graphic novel adaptation by his experience seeing the 1962 movie, so maybe snyder thought it might be fun to have the adaptation of the adaptation include something the adaptation excluded from the original. it’s on the top of my netflix queue, so i’ll let you know if that’s the case.

    and all that being said, i actually enjoyed 300, more or less. my biggest complaint was the ayn rand-ian objectivism that’s very much there in the source material but seemed to play much worse in the movie. frankly, of those on the board, i’m probably the least concerned about the moral implications of the content of movies.

    if i had to sum it up in one sentence, i would say: “a highly entertaining gore-fest that ultimately falls short of those films that define its genre of ‘beautiful trash’ (kill bill, sin city, the matrix)”. if i had a second sentence, it would be: “but it is really, really shiny”.

  • Christian

    Phill: I got aggressive in my earlier post because I read your earlier missive as boiling down to “you have to see something in order to make a proper judgment about whether it was *worthy to be seen in the first place,” an argument that has always struck me as tiresome and circular.

    I appreciate the way you laid out your arguments in favor of the film. I goaded you into that, but that was my intent: to get you to defend the film, rather than go after Jeffrey’s decision not to see it. I was too pointed in implying that there’s no way to appreciate “300,” and that anyone who does should have their morality called into question. And I want to clarify that I was speaking only for myself there, and not for Jeffrey or anyone else involved in this discussion.

    In sum, I wanted you to go to the same lengths in detailing your reasons for enjoying the film as Jeffrey did in explaining his decision *not* to watch the movie.

    As for me being a “9 on the tension scale,” my wife might agree with you, especially after I’ve had some coffee. Alas, tension does not equal reasonableness, and to the extent that my post was unreasonable — and it was, to some extent — I apologize.

    I look forward to reading your future comment in this, or other posts.

    And I’m still waiting to find out from Jeffrey whether he’s seen “Apocalypto.” I believe he advocated it for “Best Makeup” at this year’s Oscars, which led me to believe he *has* seen the film, although I don’t think he’s commented on it.

  • Nance

    I didn’t realize that people were talking about how good 300 was based on it’s positive messages of courage, sacrifice, etc. I only saw the film because it looked cool. That’s completely shallow, but on occasion it’s nice to watch a movie where little thought it required(like a Bond film or something). Also, while I understand Jeffrey’s position(“why I’m not gonna see this”), most folks on here are simply judging the book by it’s cover. If Lewis wouldn’t take Freud’s word on philosophy, I can’t see justification to takes seriously critics–not just people musing over a film, but critics–of a film that is to themselves unseen.
    That being said, the film was cool and macho, making you want to do push-ups or attack people. Enjoyable? If you’re okay with such a superficial film, yes. John Eldredge just might pick up this one and run with it someday.
    I thought the movie was okay on the whole, but I certainly have some problems with it. None of the sex should have been there, as none of that(King/Queen or rape) was in the graphic novel, to which Snyder generally stayed true. There was a lot of nudity in said novel, but it was the Spartan troops who did almost everything naked.
    However, I really hate to see all of these comparisons made to Braveheart; yes, I’m one of those guys. Braveheart is easily the greatest film I’ve ever seen. Second is PJ’s King Kong. It’s not up there because of the sex or gratuituous violence; heck, I can’t even remember much about the battle scenes at all. It’s up there for character development, the acting, the cinematography, the story about Robert the Bruce and William Wallace, the relationships between the Scotsmen, in short, all the things that can make a movie great. The most that I recall about a battle scene is WW’s speech before the famous one. The film does indeed have a message, and, although most comments I’ve read seem to have missed it, only begins as a ‘revenge’ film while it develops into so much more. It’s also the first film that ever left me speechless. I watch a lot of movies, too.
    300 is not a great film, and it’s certainly not redeeming, so don’t expect that of it. It’s not epic, only macho. No Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, and some people will definitely want to stay away from it.
    Anyways, that was fairly disjointed, but I didn’t have time to make an outline of my response ;)
    have a great day!

  • Phill Lytle

    Christian:

    Where to begin? I don’t know you. You don’t know me, though you pretend to believe you know why I would or would not enjoy a film. In the next few paragraphs I will attempt to explain my “enjoyment” of the film, and answer of few of your questions.

    To begin, I did not call Jeffrey blind to insult him. I used that word to describe the group of people who had posted on this site, who have not seen the movie. Here is my quote:

    Don’t get me wrong, the film is not perfect. I have issues with it, but it pains me to see people who are “blind” telling everyone else why they shouldn’t be watching a particular film. By “blind” I am only referring to the fact that you have not seen the movie.

    Maybe I wasn’t clear enough with that last sentence. That was not a put-down. I was not trying to attack or belittle Jeffrey or anyone else who had posted. I apologize to everyone who perceived it that way. That was not my intention, and I honestly believe I explained my usage of the word in my original post.

    Christian said: Saying “he hasn’t seen it” earns you no points, not in my book.

    I wasn’t trying to earn points in anyone’s book. If that were the case, I would have followed right along with the rest of the “posters” and rejected the film outright. But, I have seen the film. And my point in posting was to bring to light the fact that almost everyone who had rejected the film had not seen it. (Addendum: I understand trusting friends and critics, when deciding which films are worth watching, and which films are not. I have avoided many films based on what critics, like Jeffrey, have said about them. But, I do not condemn those films outright without having seen them. I think a good no comment is in order for those situations. On the other hand, I have watched some “questionable” films based on what critics have said about them. Case in point: I decided to avoid Eyes Wide Shut when it was released based on the media’s obsession with the sexual content in the film. After I read Jeffrey’s review, I decided that the movie was much more than just a few sex scenes. I watched it and consider it one of that year’s best films. Recently I have had to defend it to friends, who lumped it in with films like Virgins of Sherwood Forrest, The Seventh Sense and other films of that sort. They have not seen any of those films, yet they decried Eyes Wide Shut as nothing more than soft-core pornography.) The point I am attempting to make is that it is good to make careful decisions based on the opinions of those you trust, but if you have not seen a film, you really are not entitled or qualified to critique it. Even if you know enough about this *type* of movie, and this *particular* movie (from reading about it), to make an informed judgment. Jeffrey has clarified his position since my original post, so my concerns have been addressed.

    Christian said: You go after him for his description of the rape scene, which, if I’m forced to take sides on, I’d agree with Jeffrey. But the truth is, anyone who’s still giving the movie the benefit of the doubt by that late stage of the film won’t agree with anything Jeffrey writes in this post. The movie lost me somewhere around the 20-minute mark, maybe earlier.

    I think I clarified that already. I did not “go after” Jeffrey. Jeffrey did not comment on the rape scene. So, if you agree with him, then I truly can’t argue with you, because he has not expressed his opinion on that scene. Jeffrey has not seen the film and would probably have very little to contribute to the discussion of specific scenes.

    The sex scenes:

    Do I “enjoy” the sex scenes? I would have to say no. Do I appreciate someone taking my comment of “I enjoyed the movie” to mean I enjoyed everything in it? I would have to say no. Since you have seen the movie, I will get specific. Spoilers ahead – go with caution.

    “Sex” scene number 1. The Oracle’s Dance and Message:
    It is true to the graphic novel. It is excessive and adds little to the film. I understand the use of the oracle in that scene, but Snyder is a little too concerned with seeing how much of her body he can show. Now, having said that, I don’t think the scene is only concerned with encouraging lust. The film explains who the oracles are. It explains that they are hand picked by the Ephors due to their physical beauty. It tells, and shows how corrupt they have become. That is the subtext, though probably not the main reason why Snyder included this scene.

    “Sex” scene number 2. King Leonidas and Queen Gorgo:
    Is this sex scene too much? I happen to believe that just about every sex scene is too much. Yes, there is some skin on display, but I believe it was for more than just titillation. In some ways, modern audiences need a physical display of affection to really believe in a relationship. Without that scene of tenderness and intimacy, the Queen’s actions later in the film might be judged much more harshly. This scene demonstrates to everyone their love for one another.

    “Sex” scene number 3. Xerxes’ tent:
    Depravity and excess. That is the point. He believes he is a god, and in his world, he pretty much is. He can have anything or anyone he wants. You contrast his behavior and lifestyle to that of Leonidas, and you see who the honorable and noble king is. Yes, the camera lingers too long and focuses too often on the state of undress of the people in the tent, but this scene is not entirely without merit.

    “Sex” scene number 4. The rape scene:
    Regardless how some might misconstrue it, this is not a sex scene. And it is not excessive or unnecessary. I have already explained this scene, so I won’t take the time to repeat myself.

    Christian said: But enough about me; I just wanted to “prove” to you that I’d seen the film, so you wouldn’t call me “blind.”

    About a nine on the tension scale there Christian.

    From time to time, I enjoy good action movies. I really like movies such as, The Matrix, Equilibrium, and many others. I have seen many movies that are more disturbing in their portrayal of violence than 300. A History of Violence comes to mind. The violence is grisly. The sex scenes are explicit. And if I had not read Jeffrey’s review, I probably would have passed on it. Instead, I was rewarded with one of my favorite movies of 2005. I hear the groan that tore from your lungs. I am not saying that 300 is in the same ballpark as A History of Violence. But, a lot of the same concerns were raised with both films. Another example would be The Black Dahlia. I have not seen it. The previews and the early reviews focused on the sexual content to the point where I didn’t want to spend my hard earned money on it. I’m not going to condemn it though. Some people truly enjoyed and appreciated it.

    Why did I enjoy 300? Honor and courage are on full display. The decision that Leonidas makes, to break Spartan law and take 300 men to fight an army of thousands is truly courageous. The cinematography and look of the film is unique and impressive. The acting was effective. Gerard Butler, with the right material and proper direction, could become a top of the line leading man. (For his acting strengths see Dear Frankie.) The action is spectacular. It is not filmed to disturb or to horrify like so many new films that have been labeled as horror or violence porn. It is extremely stylized and exciting to watch. I wouldn’t rank this movie in my top 100. It is not a great movie, and I’m slightly amused that I have become the 300 apologist on Jeffrey’s blog. When I said I enjoyed it for what it was trying to accomplish, I meant just that. It is an action movie. It has its flaws and excesses, but overall, I walked awa
    y p
    leased.

    I hope this answers some of your questions. I will ask one thing of everyone. Please read my post carefully. Don’t take my words out of context and use them against me. We should be able to have a civilized discussion without all the finger pointing.

  • Tim

    Quick answers to a couple of comments:

    Jeffrey, I wasn’t making veiled criticism to any of your specific reviews. I was just making veiled criticism to a general attitude I’ve noticed among a lot of reviewers who rant about gratuitous violence, but freely excuse gratuitous sex & nudity, as long as there’s some “good” somewhere else in the movie. Not YOU, in particular, but in general.

    Peter – I haven’t seen 300, but here’s a quick comment on the difference between men seeing half-naked women and women seeing half-naked men: It’s science. Women can TALK about how hot a guy looks, but that’s all it is – talk. When men see a sexually-charged image, there’s a chemical reaction – Epinephrine is secreted into the bloodstream and locks that image into the memory. Women do not experience that reaction, so it’s not the same thing. (I’m not excusing anything – just pointing out the difference.)

  • andrew

    alas, perhaps i’m too late to join the fray. jeffrey, i think it’s wise that you chose not to see this film. if you don’t like bloody mel gibson films, you probably won’t like 300. although the violence of 300 seemed more like the violence of the KILL BILL movies to me.

    to the filmmaker’s credit, the movie was beautifully shot. i’m not familiar with the cinematic terms for its style, but there was a certain artistry to the entire picture.

    perhaps there’s at least a little value in resurrecting ancient stories of honor and courage. however, while most fans of the film were probably enamored by the stylized violence, i think there’s also some ambiguity to appreciate for the discerning viewer: it may seem like the spartans are the good guys, but as peter points out, during the course of the film we see the “good guys” commit infanticide and murder (of a persian diplomat). they are a culture that preaches blood-lust. personally, i’d rather be a seattlite, and i’m not sure about snyder.

    -andrew

    by the way, hi, jeffrey, i’ve been reading your blog off and on for a few months now. great stuff. beth at image recommended you to me.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    That is, unless the only reasons why she allowed herself to be raped were purely pragmatic ones — so she could get some revenge, remove a political obstacle, etc. Which strike me as just as distasteful as if Snyder had shown less “restraint”.

    I suspect the scene is also there to set up the “revenge” scene later on — people applaused pretty loudly when the rapist got his comeuppance, when I saw the film, and I believe I have heard of similar reactions elsewhere.

    I wonder why everyone assumes the sex scene is there for the “adolescent boys”. What about the women? Gerard Butler has his female fans, and the focus of the scene, as I recall, was on the woman’s heavy breathing, more than on any sort of eye candy. (Which is not to say that the eye candy — both male and female — isn’t there too.)

    I have also heard of women saying how much they enjoyed the sight of all those buff men. It’s strange how everyone seems to think half-naked men are put into movies primarily for the gay-male audience.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    As much as I love this blog, and as much as I think you are a good critic, I find it totally baffling, and even a little upsetting, that you continue to cast judgement upon and to make definitive statements about movies that you have not seen.

    It seems that you are basing this statement on Dick Staub’s blog, which claimed that I said this:

    “…the film exists primarily to show off dazzling digital effects and thrill audiences with a spectacle of gratuitous violence.”

    But look at my original blog post, and see what I *really* said:

    “While reviewers are divided over whether the film is worth seeing, they almost unanimously agree that the storytelling is shallow and insignificant, and that the film exists primarily to show off dazzling digital effects and thrill audiences with a spectacle of gratuitous violence.”

    There’s a big difference. In Staub’s quote, I appear to be making a definitive statement.

    But when you read my quote in context, you see that I am merely sharing what *other* reviewers have said, and expressing concern.

    I have come across very forcefully in my previous posts on 300, and that has given you the impression that I have judged it. Forgive me for speaking too forcefully. I swear that I am not, and will not, judge this film without seeing it.

    But I do reserve the right to express concern based on the testimonies of trusted friends who have seen it. That’s only reasonable.

    And also, forgive me for my sarcasm earlier.

    I’ve taken a lot of mean-spirited posts from people calling themselves “Anonymous.” I shouldn’t make guesses about who is hiding behind that name. I’ve just come to have knee-jerk reactions to that label because I’ve received some really ugly messages under that banner before.

    So I shouldn’t have been so sarcastic. My apologies.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Anonymous, I’m responding to you via email. Let’s chat that way for now.

    Jeffrey

  • Anonymous

    Jeffrey,

    As much as I love this blog, and as much as I think you are a good critic, I find it totally baffling, and even a little upsetting, that you continue to cast judgement upon and to make definitive statements about movies that you have not seen.

    It’s one thing to say you don’t want to say something based on something you’ve heard – that’s fine – but it’s another thing to say anything at all about the actual qualities of a film based only on the opinions of others.

    This is a bad habit for any film viewer, but an incomprehensible one for a film critic.

    About 300, you’ve said: “The film exists primarily to show off dazzling digital effects and to thrill audiences with a spectacle of gratuitous violence”

    I won’t even bother posting my argument for why I think this an untrue statement about 300, because don’t care to argue the qualities of a movie with someone who hasn’t seen it.

    If you don’t want to see a movie, I think that’s fine. I do think it’s questionable (but not necessarily wrong) for you to state in public that you don’t want to see a movie based on the opinions of others. But I find your continuing practice of making declarative, judgemental statements in public about films you haven’t seen both obnoxious and HIGHLY unprofessional.

    I really wish you would stop doing it.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    For the sake of accountability, I am putting a “no anonymous comments” rule on this thread from this point on.

  • Christian

    [Hesitates. Wonders if posting this is worth it...]

    Phill: I don’t know you, but I’ve appreciated some of your comments on this blog, and your passion about film, even when you disagree with Jeffrey. I disagree with Jeffrey from time to time myself. But I think his impulse about “300″ is dead on, and to see you criticize him as “blind” galls me. So what if he hasn’t seen the movie? He knows enough about this *type* of movie, and this *particular* movie (from reading about it), to make an informed judgement. Saying “he hasn’t seen it” earns you no points, not in my book.

    You go after him for his description of the rape scene, which, if I’m forced to take sides on, I’d agree with Jeffrey. But the truth is, anyone who’s still giving the movie the benefit of the doubt by that late stage of the film won’t agree with anything Jeffrey writes in this post. The movie lost me somewhere around the 20-minute mark, maybe earlier.

    But enough about me; I just wanted to “prove” to you that I’d seen the film, so you wouldn’t call me “blind.”

    What about this other part of Jeffrey’s post?

    “And what about 300′s sex scenes? I’m looking forward to hearing someone explain how those are examples of meaningful artistry rather than an excuse to indulge the other primitive appetites of adolescent boys (and adolescent men).”

    You said earlier that you “enjoyed it,” meaning you enjoyed the film, as a whole. Did you enjoy those scenes between Leonidas and his wife? Why, or why not?

    As for whether your “morality or ethics are being brought into question” because you liked the movie, I’m inclined to say that yes, they are. Why shouldn’t they be? (I’m not as polite as Jeffrey.) Why should enjoyment of a film not be questioned when the film is full of sex and violence?

    You haven’t taken the time to explain WHY you enjoyed the film, so here’s an invitation.

  • Anonymous

    If you take a graphic film full of dismemberment and cruelty, and have one side of the fight announce that they’re fighting for honorable reasons, does that redeem the film?

    Let me say that in light of that statement, I find it exceedingly difficult to believe you could have watched, much less enjoyed, The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

  • Phill Lytle

    Jeffrey:

    I apologize for not being specific. You did not make that comment – and I was not trying to attribute it to you.

    Opus:

    Yes, The Queen’s role was expanded to try to attract more female viewers. The scene is there to illustrate the “evil” of Dominic West’s character. It also shows what lengths the Queen is willing to go to save her husband and her country. I’m not condoning her decision, I just feel that is what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish. I don’t think its inclusion in the film was for any sort of prurient reasons.

    Jeffrey:

    When you refer to the “trend”, are you talking about the films you previously mentioned, i.e. Gladiator, Braveheart, Troy?

    Thanks for responding.

  • Anonymous

    You can easily excuse all of that excess, brutality, and sexploitation by saying, “Well, people are easily drawn into cheering for a symbolic battle of good versus evil.” But if we stop our analysis there, well,l we’ve just thrown the door open wide for all kinds of exploitation.

    Yeah, just like pornography is a way to celebrate God’s gift of femininity — by distorting it and cheapening it into mere self-gratification.

    I actually find it a little sad that this film is becoming a guy thing b/c its masculinity seems so distorted.

  • opus

    Apologies in advance, but this comment does contain some spoiler-esque material…

    With regards to the rape scene, Phill Lytle’s right. Snyder did show a lot of visual restraint with that scene (i.e. there’s no nudity, the scene is not dragged out too long, etc.).

    However, the scene does not appear in the original graphic novel (indeed, the queen’s character is much more prominent in the movie — perhaps to pull in more female viewers?). It’s inclusion in the film feels rather pointless given what we’ve been told with regards to the queen’s strength and resolve.

    That is, unless the only reasons why she allowed herself to be raped were purely pragmatic ones — so she could get some revenge, remove a political obstacle, etc. Which strike me as just as distasteful as if Snyder had shown less “restraint”.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Phil wrote: >>“Horrible rape scene”? – What are you talking about? … It’s all a bit disingenuous for you to attack a film that you haven’t watched.

    Whoah, Phil. I didn’t bring up the rape scene or Hitler. As I repeatedly said, I haven’t seen the movie, and I’m merely writing about why I don’t want to see the film. Don’t criticize me for something someone else said. (Unless that comment was directed to somebody else, but you didn’t specify.)

    Further, I didn’t say that the opinions of those who find value in the film don’t matter. I’m just saying I haven’t found a pro-300 opinion that is persuasive or that adequately answers the concerns raised elsewhere. But that’s just me. As I’ve always said, I don’t doubt that God can use films of all kinds to speak to people. But I’m concerned about a trend… a steady parade of films that pound the same simple drum while focusing their energies on reinventing the violent bits in new and dazzling ways.

    Tim wrote: >>Mind if I substitute a few words there and turn this around?
    If you take a graphic film full of casual sex and nudity, and have one character at the end announce that he’s realized how shallow all this is or how marriage really is the best, does that redeem the film?

    Tim, am I sensing a veiled criticism of my review for some other film? Your description doesn’t match any film that I can remember celebrating…

    If you’re referring to a film like Little Children, well, that movie is so loaded with smart, thoughtful storytelling … every scene contributing something that gives us something to think about or changes our impressions of the whole … well, that is an entirely different kind of thing. And the fleeting scenes of a graphic nature take up about, oh, 20 seconds of big-screen time. I haven’t seen 300, but I think the proportion would be somewhat different…

  • Christian

    Peter wrote: “It’s just another Mel Gibson revenge movie.”

    Hey, that reminds me, Jeff: Did you ever get to see “Apocalypto”? Same argument applies.

  • Tim

    I’m finding this conversation all very interesting. I won’t be seeing 300 myself for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are the things Jeffrey’s listed.

    I’d like to comment on this:

    If you take a graphic film full of dismemberment and cruelty, and have one side of the fight announce that they’re fighting for honorable reasons, does that redeem the film?

    To me, it just sounds like some fairly shallow speeches used to justify a lot of onscreen butchery.

    Mind if I substitute a few words there and turn this around?

    If you take a graphic film full of casual sex and nudity, and have one character at the end announce that he’s realized how shallow all this is or how marriage really is the best, does that redeem the film?

    To me, it just sounds like some fairly shallow speeches used to justify a lot of onscreen pornography.

  • Phill Lytle

    I enjoyed the film, for what it was trying to accomplish, and I almost feel like my morality or ethics are being brought into question because of that. For crying out loud, I’ve been lumped into Hitler’s camp because I enjoyed it!

    “Horrible rape scene”? – What are you talking about? Yes, it was disturbing, but Snyder actually showed a lot of restraint in that scene. Don’t misrepresent one scene to try to make your point. Especially in a forum of readers that haven’t seen the film. It’s all a bit disingenuous for you to attack a film that you haven’t watched.

    Don’t get me wrong, the film is not perfect. I have issues with it, but it pains me to see people who are “blind” telling everyone else why they shouldn’t be watching a particular film. By “blind” I am only referring to the fact that you have not seen the movie. And when other respected, or conscientious Christian reviewers say that there is something worthwhile in this film, their opinions don’t really matter. That should not be.

    Don’t watch the film. You have already decided that you will dislike it. But, leave the criticism of the film to those who have actually seen it.

    I don’t mean for this to be antagonistic. I really can’t think of any other way to put it. I’m at work and I don’t have the luxury of crafting a well worded response. I just feel that this needs to be said.

    Keep up the good work. I have almost finished Through a Screen Darkly. It is a very thought provoking and challenging book. Well done!

  • Thom

    “I just don’t understand why they’re revered more highly amongst Christian moviegoers than almost any films in the last two decades.”

    Honestly? Because people like John Eldrige have held them up as prime specimens of true “Godly” manhood.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    As I’ve said or suggested at my own blog, there is absolutely no way anybody should be taking this film and its politics seriously if they are not going to take into account the opening scene’s emphasis on infanticide, and the role that infanticide has played in making Spartan culture so formidable on the battlefield.

    I repeat: That’s the opening scene. That means something.

    And I still say that the basic theme of Braveheart is: “If you f— our women, we’ll f— yours.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, there’s all that talk about “freedom” too, but name me one battle epic in which our heroes haven’t claimed to fight for that. No, what makes Braveheart distinct from all the other battle epics — what makes it Braveheart — is what it has to say about sexual relationships, paternity, the definition of masculinity, and so on.

    That, plus it’s just another Mel Gibson revenge movie.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Hi, Geoff!

    I know, I know, I need to get those DVDs back to you. Send me your mailing address and I’ll send them. (I actually got the same set for Christmas!)

    >>Consider that there are so many movies out like Saw and its sequels, the Hills Have Eyes with its new sequel, Hostel and others that glorifiy violence – why is 300 so much more worth discussing?

    Geoff, I totally agree. It’s not really worth much attention. My posts have been prompted, however, by reviews appearing in popular Christian-press publications that seem to think it does deserve to be taken very seriously, and even celebrated, whereas those publications ignored the other films you mention.

    And I agree with you about Braveheart and Gladiator being well-acted. There are things about both films that I like. I just don’t understand why they’re revered more highly amongst Christian moviegoers than almost any films in the last two decades.

  • Geoffrey S. DeWeese

    Well, I haven’t seen 300, but I think the most interesting thing about it isn’t the story, which seemed simple from the first preview, but the film’s effects and looks.

    So I’ll probably not rush to see this film – four kids (with twin babies) leaves precious little time for movies anyway. BUT, this film hardly seems worth as much energy as it’s getting. Consider that there are so many movies out like Saw and its sequels, the Hills Have Eyes with its new sequel, Hostel and others that glorifiy violence – why is 300 so much more worth discussing?

    I love Braveheart and Gladiator. I cried in both – and I don’t cry often in movies. I did not find either gratitious. Both movies are about men who fight but who would rather be with a family. As a Soldier with a family maybe that means more to me. Also, those films were very well made and had great acting and great characters all around. Somehow these movies moved me and thrilled me and it wasn’t about limbs being cut off or blood.

    I am glad that you like the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven though – been wondering when we’d get that back!

  • Eucharisto

    I’m skipping out too. You said it, Jeff. The message just doesn’t justify the violence.

    By the way, thank you for not liking Braveheart. I felt guilty for ages, because it is such a well-loved film by most people I know, and I felt a little pummeled by the blatant and bloody violence, not to mention disappointed by the so-called “messages of courage and honor”.

    I didn’t know that I wasn’t the only person in the world who didn’t think BH was the best thing since cheese pizza.

    I have a feeling that 300 will incite similar sentiments (albeit sans me this time around!).

  • Phillip

    I love what Kyle Smith says at The New York Post:

    “…it isn’t a stretch to imagine Adolf [Hitler]‘s boys at a “300″ screening, heil-fiving each other throughout and then lining up to see it again.”

    Everyone says I have to see it, but I’m sticking to my guns (or axes, or spears … whatever is apporoprite in this situation).

  • Adam Walter

    Jeffrey wrote: They were simplistic frameworks on which to hang far more violence than we needed to see. The violence was portrayed with so much energy and so much screen time that the rest of the story was given short shrift. I wasn’t drawn into complex and interesting characters. Sure, there were moments in which these things began to emerge . . . but then the films’ urgency to get to the next big spectacle of bloodshed left me reeling, wanting so much more storytelling. Those films exhausted me.

    I don’t doubt that you’re right about 300. (I’m not seeing it right now either, but mostly from a new personal resolution to spend my theater dollars on small-release films that might not come to DVD for a while.) However, what you wrote above characterizes my own reaction to Pan’s Labyrinth to some degree.

  • David

    it’s amazing to me that with all the resources at his disposal, snyder’s adaptation is basically a transliteration of a deeply flawed graphic novel wherein miller does his best ayn rand imitation without understanding that nuanced ideas need nuanced art to express them. in the end, snyder’s sole true contribution is a horrible rape scene that we begin to suspect, with sickening horror, he thinks makes his film somehow less misogynistic than the source material.

  • Stephen

    Right on! There are plenty of other films that express the same noble sentiments that 300′s defender’s claim it does i.e. courage, sacrifice, winning isn’t everything, etc. How about THE MISSION for one?

    And I’m always surprised when Christians say BRAVEHEART is one of their favorite movies.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X