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300 – Tyler Bates

Original Review by Clark Douglas

You know, I’ve been rather critical lately of the way movies are advertised. “Bridge to Terabithia” and “Stranger than Fiction” are pretty notable examples. The first was billed as a “Narnia”-like fantasy, the second as a goofy concept comedy. If you’ve seen either of those films, you know just how ridiculous that is. But I must give credit to “300” for delivering pretty much exactly what it advertises: Half-naked men in boots and red capes shouting a lot and killing each other on various copper-toned computer-generated sets.

The film is based quite faithfully on the graphic novel by Frank Miller (“Sin City”), who based his story quite loosely on the famous historical tale of the 300 Spartans (I’m too lazy to re-tell it here, but it’s a lot like “The Alamo”). This story was originally put to film in the 1960’s under the title of “The 300 Spartans”, and indeed, it was Miller’s love for that film that inspired him to create this interpretation of the story. Now, let’s get one thing straight. I really like Frank Miller. I thought his “Batman” graphic novels were brilliant, and his “Sin City” books are fascinating works. But “300” doesn’t do too much for me as a book, and it does even less for me as a movie.

The film’s hero is King Leonidas (played by Gerard Butler as the most Scottish Greek man you are ever likely to meet). Leonidas, like all the other Spartan men, was raised to be tough. Spartan boys are apparently trained in combat at a very young age, taken away from their mothers when they turn seven, and then spend the rest of their childhood beating fellow children and getting whipped and beaten themselves. They grow up to become soldiers with a real death fetish, as you might imagine. They revel in self-torture, and gleefully dream of one day getting a chance to die on a battlefield.

Anyway, back to Leonidas… let’s just boil it down to the core, here. After a couple of sex scenes designed to inspire teenage boys to purchase the DVD and a couple of conversations that set up just enough plot, Leonidas and 300 Spartan soldiers go to war with the Persians, who have an infinitely bigger army. For the next 90 minutes, it’s one battle scene after another, as the Spartans battle off increasingly difficult batches of opponent… I believe it’s an unwritten rule of action movies that things must progress this way. Before each scene, lines like “Tonight, we dine in hell!” or “We are undone! Undone, I tell you!” are spouted off, and then a lot of limbs, heads, and torsos take some serious punishment.

“300” is actually guilty of the last crime I expected to accuse it of: it’s boring. I was hoping to be interested by something, anything, but there was nothing I could latch on to. First of all, I wasn’t able to connect with any of the one-dimensional characters. These blood-thirsty warriors are not only hard to identify with, they simply aren’t interesting. Second, the visuals are often surprisingly mundane, a disappointment considering the computer-generated possibilities here. Most of what is used here looks like a rejected idea from “Gladiator” or “Lord of the Rings”. Third, the action scenes are blandly staged. It’s just one person after another getting stabbed, beaten, sliced, diced, or decapitated in fairly typical ways. The action here is gruesome and sloppy, as opposed to the action in, say, “Apocalypto” or “Kill Bill”, which was gruesome and superbly well-staged. Fourth, the dialogue is simply awful, some of the worst I’ve heard in a while. I’ve complained on many occasions about the bland, portentous babble often associated with historical movies, fantasy films, or sci-fi adventures. Here it’s taken to an obnoxious extreme, with a narrator spouting off pointless play-by-play action as the movie progresses, and soldiers speaking in phony theatrics at all times. There’s a lot of yelling and screaming and shouting and speech-making (Dominic West does a particularly dull closing monologue), but no real emotion or feeling. None of it works. Finally, the slow-motion effect is overused to an extreme – were the film shown at regular speed, it would probably be about 25 minutes long.

The music is by Tyler Bates, who also scored director Zach Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake. Bates has a bit of talent, but he also seems to be a composer who is quite comfortable with following the temp track to a disturbing extreme – his score for “Slither” ripped off a theme from Harry Gregson-Williams’ “Spy Game” note for note. As for his “300” score, much has been made of the fact that a couple of his cues steal shamelessly from Elliot Goldenthal’s brilliant “Titus”. Indeed, the rips are quite blatant, and the most lawsuit-worthy cues I’ve heard in a while. Unfortunately, these are also the best pieces in the film. The rest of the score succumbs to the new wave of “historical film” musical clichés, with lots of ethnic instruments, synthetic string solos, and wailing female vocals (over the image of a wife and child standing in a wheat field, of course). There’s also a heavy rock element here, and the battle scenes that employ this style seem like corny Spartan music videos. At best, the score is derivative, and at worst, it’s utterly obnoxious. The score isn’t entirely without merit, I’m sure… but I just can’t think of anything particularly kind to say about it. It’s unbearable both in the film and on album.

There are plenty of movies I found myself comparing “300” to while I was viewing it – “Gladiator”, “Titus”, “Apocalypto”, “Kill Bill”, “Lord of the Rings”, “Sin City” – but rather than breaking down individual things about those movies that are far better than what “300” has to offer, I’ll simply say that those are all far better movies “300”. I have no doubt that the teenage fanboys and gore-hounds and Miller fans will eat this movie up with glee (most of the audience I watched the film with seemed to be in cinematic heaven), but I was entirely unmoved by the entire affair. “300” may be using groundbreaking technology to create a new world, but somehow I felt that I had seen it all before, and that it was more interesting then. A remarkably dull slaughterfest.

Rating: *

Track Listing:

  • To Victory (2:34)
  • The Agoge (2:24)
  • The Wolf (2:10)
  • Returns a King (2:24)
  • Submission (2:40)
  • The Ephors (1:59)
  • Cursed by Beauty (1:41)
  • What Must a King Do? (1:05)
  • Goodbye My Love (3:32)
  • No Sleep Tonight (2:33)
  • Tree of the Dead (2:25)
  • The Hot Gates (3:00)
  • Fight in the Shade (3:17)
  • Come and Get Them (2:05)
  • No Mercy (2:23)
  • Immortals Battle (1:53)
  • Fever Dream (2:33)
  • Xerxes’ Tent (3:20)
  • Tonight we Dine in Hell (1:15)
  • The Council Chamber (2:35)
  • Xerxes’ Final Offer (2:39)
  • A God King Bleeds (2:16)
  • Glory (1:44)
  • Message for the Queen (2:32)
  • Remember Us (2:56)

Running Time: 59 minutes 45 seconds

Warner 101-272-2 (2007)

Music composed by Tyler Bates. Conducted and orchestrated by Tim Williams. Special vocal performances by Azam Ali. Edited by Darrell Hall. Album produced by Tyler Bates.

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