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Jumbo-Sized Beefcake

March 20th, 2007

The postponement of last weekend’s planned Warhammer 40K event gave me an opportunity to drive to Northwest Indiana and visit my dad instead. And while I was up there, I took advantage of the presence of a nearby IMAX theater to catch up with the historical blockbuster 300. Why in the hell Portage, Indiana rates a spanky-new, gigandous IMAX screen is beyond me, but it was rilly niiiiice. And the first movie house I’ve seen with self-serve soda refills!

300, which recounts the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., isn’t the sort of subject matter that would typically attract me to the movies, but the visuals were striking and I knew that they’d greatly benefit from the big-screen format. And boy, howdy, they did.

Based on a “graphic novel” by Frank Miller (I employ air-quotes because most books which claim that title are graphic novellas at best), 300 is every bit a comic-book movie. On one hand, it does what comics do best: present stunning vistas and hyper-realities; and break the laws of physics. On the other, it also embodies the term “comic-book” in the oft-used pejorative sense: appealing to adolescent fantasies; featuring trite dialogue and thin characters.

Those latter criticisms aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It’s just the sort of experience I seek at the movies: a larger-than-life, transcendent journey. Other, “serious” dramas might have more compelling performances and wittier scripts, but honestly, what’s the point of taking an intimate story and blowing it up to four stories high? TV is great for close-up conversations and plodding portrayals of everyday life, but movies, in my view, should be about spectacle. That’s not to say that they should be empty-headed–a charge I would not level at 300 anyway–but that bigness is what sets movie-going apart from other forms of mass media.

One aspect of 300 that I feel I cannot avoid mentioning is the beefcake. My God, it’s full of rippling pecs, eight-pack abs and more leather codpieces than a row of Sunset Blvd. speciality boutiques. Virtually every scene would qualify as what the late, lamented Mystery Science Theater 3000 jokingly termed a “buffalo shot.” While I question the wisdom of battling 250,000 screaming Persians in a cowhide Speedo, I must say that if I were into that sort of thing (if you know what I mean, and I’m told that you do) I would be very into this movie indeed.

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