Tuesday, March 31, 2009
If you haven't seen the film, it's the tale of the legendary battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans (along with a much larger force of other Greek slaves and soldiers) held off a radically larger force of Persians due to the tactical advantage provided by a narrow pass. In the end, all but a few died, but the delay allowed preparations to be made, and the next year, the Persians were defeated by a large army of allied Greek city states.
The film, on the other hand, nearly deifies the martial prowess of the Spartans, casting them as supreme combatants to a man, and each of them the physical embodiment of the human ideal. During the course of the film you will see many things that even a casual observer will immediately recognize as ludicrous from legs being hacked off with a short sword (the femur is the largest, and strongest bone in the body) to a man being knocked off a horse and thrown back many yards by a hand-thrown spear. The Persians are either deformed or sufficiently covered as to look inhuman, and are characterized as hedonistic brutes (except for their women who are writhing objects of lust).
So what could redeem this film after it finished savaging one of the most important battles in history? Well, you'll want to read this after seeing the ending of the film... I'll give you a chance to go watch.
OK, so the film ends with Dilios (a soldier who had been sent back from the front lines to tell the tale of the battle, based loosely on the historical character of Aristodemus) recanting the tale that we've just seen to a massive Greek army that is preparing to face the Persians. In this moment it becomes clear, but is never stated, that what we've been watching is in no way an attempt to tell the tale of what actually happened, but an attempt to vilify and dehumanize the Persian army while glorifying the dead Spartan 300, specifically to rally this larger Greek army. The film turns itself into commentary on the nature of wartime propaganda, and it provides a unique opportunity to see its effects.
Looking around the theater, during the film, I saw many younger men on the literal edge of their seats, attention entirely caught by the action. They were ready, I'm sure, to jump in with the 300 and give their lives to stop these monstrous Persians! But it's not a film about the Persians, is it? In fact, it's not really a film about the Spartans either. In essence it's about the timeless art of propaganda and its continued use today. Had this film been about Iraq or Afghanistan it would have been too obvious, but casting it as an ancient battle between Europeans and Middle Easterners made it just hard enough to see through. The majority of the audience was taken in, and I have to admit that I was one of them. I very nearly walked out of the theater in disgust at one point (I think it was when the spear knocked a horseman onto the ground several yards from where he started), but I was rewarded for keeping an open mind and sticking with the narrative until the end. I hope you did too.
Monday, March 30, 2009
I won't review Tales as if it were a stand-alone work. That would be unfair, since it's the B-story inside a larger work. Instead, I'll deal with its merits as an adjunct to the Watchmen film.
First off, the details. I got Freighter on Blu-Ray which was probably overkill. The animation quality isn't really that impressive, and DVD might have been the better choice in order to let its slightly retro look blend a bit more rather than having every pencil line (yep, hand drawn by Korean animators) pop out of my screen. It's animated in a very Heavy Metal style, though it's much smoother and obviously computer-colored. I think it's a good look, and certainly a less realistic style was the right choice to pair with Watchmen's over-sharpened reality.
The major points of the story hold up well. The colors are as hellish as they need to be. The growing tone of madness and despair is palpable and the voice work is perfect.
That's where the praise and criticism really has to stop though because there are only two options here: either you are a fan of the book enough to have wanted to see this the moment it came out, or you should wait. The extras on this disk make it abundantly clear that there's a special edition in the works that will thread Freighter and Under the Hood back into the movie the way they were in the original book. That's really the one to buy. This is for fanboys like myself.
That brings me to Under the Hood. This is a live-action short that follows some of the back-of-the-book text from Watchmen as a series of interviews. Some of this is directly out of the book and some is not. Some of it has been re-written so that it will work as a single piece. I won't say I like or dislike it, but I will say that where Freighter and Watchmen felt a bit rushed, this felt slow. That might work out well once the whole film is stitched together, but for the stand-alone it just doesn't work out very well. It's very nice to see more of the first wave of heroes who get limited screen time in the film (except for Comedian). The interviews are well constructed. There's also a bit of repetitious use of some sequences (I'm now sick of the Minutemen group photo), which could use more aggressive editing before it's added back.
So to wrap up: these are very faithful adaptations of the book. They capture what the book brought to bear, but without the main story they feel disembodied. I would recommend that anyone who isn't absolutely foaming at the mouth to see them wait for the special edition of the movie.
Notes from the behind the scenes extra:
- The showed the attack on Hollis being filmed, so I expect that to be either back in Watchmen for the DVD or in the deleted scenes.
- A nice point about Rorschach's first journal entry being a play on lines from Three Penny Opera (the origin of the Black Freighter story)
- They do seem to have filmed sequences to bridge between the main story and Freighter with the boy reading the comic at the newsstand.
- I don't know why, but showing the year that the interview is from in the lower right hand corner bothered me.
I started by searching for a pub. Then I saved that location ("save to my maps") and did another search and so on until I had saved all of the pubs I was interested in to a map of their own. I then clicked on that map name in the side-bar and found that there's a drawing tool, so I was able to draw a line connecting the pubs.
The final result is saved in a map that's publicly viewable as "Cambr
It seems as if, every day, I find new reasons to be impressed with Google's services.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Most of all, I remember Ralph as a man who was constantly looking for a way that his work could benefit others. He was the first hero I knew, and I never got the chance to tell him how much that changed the course of my life ... before his ended.
R.I.P. Ralph Fasanella, and thank you. I will continue to hang your prints with pride in my home and tell your story to those who see them.
Every now and then I come across a direct-to-video sequel like Prophesy 5 or The Crow 4 that just begs the question (yeah, yeah, colloquial usage, blah blah, get over it): what were they thinking... and when exactly did the other ones come out? Well, I had that feeling again today with Butterfly Effect 3. Three? There was a two?! Well, I guess there was.