Thursday, March 15, 2007

WB on Greek History: 300, Alexander, Troy


Warner Bros. likes to release these big epics about ancient history -- like people took it in school in the 20s -- except now they are big R-rated pictures -- and this time TheWB proves it can pack in the malls with an R-rated epic. It's 300, directed by Zack Snyder, based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. The story of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC is told with politico-moral overtones, looking almost like animation, with an almost comic-book spectacle for all the gore. This is a Sin City kind of rendition, and I would have expected to see Dimension Films and The Weinstein Company added to the credits. It's really an art movie, however many tens of millions it must have cost.

The history had been covered in a PBS documentary The Spartans in 2003. We know the history lessons of the contrast between Athens and Spara. In this film, the Athenians are called "b- lovers" (maybe they were), but Sparta makes claims of freedom and democracy. That is, male infants are hand-inspected at birth to see if they are worthy to live, and live out their whole lives in the military as warriors. There is no other way. Women in Sparta did enjoy relative freedom. But there is something a little perverse about the ideology -- that somehow freedom is supposed to nurture a future race of supermen. That is how it sounds -- and even looks. We all know what happened with this kind of idea in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. The Persians are the enemy, and Iran is supposedly offended by the film, although the history occurs a thousand years before Islam was founded.

Troy and Alexander were both big epics from Warner Brothers, more conventional, it seems, than this latest homage to comic book culture. We all know about the controversy about Oliver Stone's depcition of Alexander the Great as gay, and that WB issued a pseudo-director's cut on DVD without the gay theme. But the original theatrical release of Alexander was an interesting film, and probably reasonably representative of what its hero was really like.

Does anybody want to go back to all of those spectacles of the 50s? I remember the love-fest at the end of Spartacus. I remember that 20th Century Fox made a lot of them, even the first CinemaScope film, The Robe, based on Lloyd C. Douglas's novel. I cried at the end of that one at the age of 10. I read the novel in middle school.

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