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'300' points way to new possibilities

Category: 300 News
Article Date: March 23, 2007 | Publication: Mobile Register | Author: Lawrence Specker
Source: http://www.al.com/entertainment/press-register/

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On one end of the track, you have animators getting better and better at making cartoons seem like real people. On the other, you have computer-effects wizards getting better and better at making people seem like cartoons.

You can't help but think that if they collide, it might create some new style of storytelling, one capable of representing the range of human reality and human imagination all at once. One fit for creating new myths, rather than re-hashing old ones.

Unless, of course, the two factions miss each other completely and steam off into entertaining but increasingly irrelevant extremes.

The latest evidence that it could go either way: The unexpected box-office success of "300," a technologically intriguing adaptation of a Frank Miller graphic novel. Here's a tale that locked up the No. 1 spot at the box office for two weeks, raking in more than $130 million in the process, even though it portrays the Spartans at the historic battle of Thermopylae as xenophobic Chippendale's dancers with a death wish.

Like "Sin City," an earlier Miller adaptation, it sets flesh-and-blood actors in an almost entirely computer-generated landscape. Like that movie, it has eye-popping visual style and a stirring, take-no-prisoners mentality.

Miller gets most of the credit for both assets. But both films also are hobbled by fetishes that appear often in his work, notably a pornographic taste for violence and a generally medieval take on physical deformity.

As much praise as he's gotten over the course of his career, he's a hit-and-miss creator. "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" revitalized a tired, cheesy franchise in the '80s, making big-budget Batman movies seem like a good idea. It's compelling reading to this day, in part because it perfectly captures the late-Reagan-era sense that the world was going to hell.

"DK2: The Dark Knight Returns," released this decade, was a flimsy ripoff. His other works fall in between: "Sin City" is something I've flipped through a dozen times in comic shops and never bought into.

As a movie, "300" gets by purely on style. Only about 15 of its 116 minutes actually feel heroic -- and those are the 15 in which it's finally, fully clear that yes, the good guys are going to die.

But it's a vivid vision that stands out in a bland field. From the second I saw the first trailer, I knew I'd be buying a ticket. It's making boatloads of money, and if there's one thing the movie industry is good at, it's at following the money.

Following it with sequels and knockoffs, that is. But this time, maybe that's a good thing.

For me, at least, "300" produced exactly the same reaction that "Sin City" did: I found it generally enjoyable but still sat through parts of it thinking about how cool it would be to see the same marvelous technology used in service of better storytelling. Specifically, I couldn't help but imagine how cool it would be if fantasy author Michael Moorcock's "Elric" tales were put on film with the same visual approach used in "300."

Miller and his helpers, notably directors Robert Rodriguez and Zack Snyder, get credit for blazing new ground. And so the future may have an irony in store for Miller. Instead of being most famous as the guy who reinvented Batman, he may end up being remembered as the artist who invented a new paintbrush.

He's created a new palette that other artists may use to paint true masterpieces. That might seem like faint praise to Batman or a hypermacho Spartan, but in the real world, it's a pretty big deal.

 


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