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Real Men Don't Wear Pants (DVD Review)

Category: 300 News
Article Date: July 31, 2007 | Publication: MSN | Author: Norman Wilner

Posted by: maryp

DVD guru Norman Wilner weighs in on the release of 300

There are few things as satisfying, in the action movie, as the moment when the hero realizes it is time to abandon the pretenses of pleasant society, pick up his broadsword and do some serious killing.

This week’s DVD releases offer a surprising number of movies dedicated to the fine art of brawny slaughter. Not all of them are exactly what you’d call good – in fact, there’s only one I’ll be rewatching six months from now – but they’re all poised to move huge numbers of discs, so let’s get right into it.

The week’s 800-pound gorilla is obviously 300, Zack Snyder’s relentlessly faithful adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel about the siege of Thermopylae, when a tiny contingent of Spartan warriors held back the entire Persian army all by their lonesome, was a massive success on the big screen, and will surely be the action-geek’s title of choice, whether said geek picks up the movie-only DVD, the two-disc collector’s edition, or the high-def versions available on separate HD-DVD and Blu-ray platters.

Shot almost entirely against a green screen, with digital backgrounds and opponents added in post-production, like Robert Rodriguez’ adaptation of Miller’s Sin City, 300 is almost nothing but killing, as Gerard Butler’s ferocious King Leonidas leads precisely 299 of his fellow bloodthirsty warriors to face the overwhelming Persian threat, which includes a coterie of archers, masked swordsmen, lobster-clawed giants, and at least one of the Muppet Musicians of Bremen. Oh, and they’re all led by Paolo from Lost, playing the god-emperor Xerxes as an eight-foot-tall club kid.

If one is picking at nits, one might bring up Snyder’s demented formalism and utter lack of self-knowledge. And one could bemoan the decision to depict the Spartans as almost completely humorless, when their entire culture dictates they’d be having the best day of their lives; surely they’d be happy as little Greek clams to be marching into battle against overwhelming odds. Think of the Klingons; they’d be slapping each other on the back and telling off-color jokes right up until their heads came off.

But one brief interlude aside, 300 has no time for levity; it’s about one stylized act of violence after another, with Snyder re-creating the panels of the source text so lovingly that it almost defeats the whole concept of the motion picture, constantly slowing the action down so we can note the precise dynamics of an individual image: See how I got the arm up just so? And how the sword pierces that guy’s kidney? Awesome, right?

Still, 300 plays likean exquisite celebration of the human form in motion – you know, like Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia – when compared to something like Pathfinder, Marcus Nispel’s brawny, brainless tale of a culture clash between Native Americans and the invading Viking hordes, centuries before Columbus.

As explicit in its savagery as 300, but way dumber, Nispel’s storyline follows the evolution of Karl Urban’s tragic warrior, who survived the wreck of an earlier Viking ship as an infant, was raised by the natives as one of their own, and now must save his adoptive family from his biological one when the Scandanavians return with their big-haired rage. But what really drives Nispel is the crack of a mace against a human skull; if 300 is just an excuse to string together a bunch of battle sequences, the dialogue scenes of Pathfinder are just there to set up the next massive cranial injury. Sometimes, just to change things up, a guy gets a sword through the gut. But mostly it’s cranial injuries, because those are the awesomest.

This is why I love Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, who effortlessly puncture the whole macheesmo thing with their new movie Hot Fuzz. A pitch-perfect fusion of dry British comedy with American action-movie posturing, Hot Fuzz reunites the Shaun of the Dead team (star Pegg and director Wright, who wrote both films, and co-star Nick Frost) to take on the buddy-cop action movie as perfected by Jerry Bruckheimer.
The tale of a hyper-competent London policeman who’s transferred to the sleepy country village of Sandford and almost immediately stumbles across a series of bizarre murders, Hot Fuzz works as both loving homage and hysterical send-up, leaving no bullet left unfired and no cinematic touchstone left unreferenced.

I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that it doesn’t quite match the consistently brilliant, emotionally charged Shaun, but even so, this is one of the year’s best comedies, and one of the decade’s best action movies. Give it a spin when you’ve had enough of the shirtless bloody maniacs.


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