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This Week in Film: March 9, 2007

"Prepare for glory" when Frank Miller's ultra-violent 300 opens this weekend

Remember Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Cool World? Remember how neat or novel it was to see cartoon characters appearing in a live action movie and sometimes looking a little displaced? Well not long ago, George Lucas flipped that trick on its head by placing live action actors completely against cartoonish (computer-generated) environments in the last couple of Star Wars prequels. And boy did those actors look displaced if not confused. Then as the trick became more common, the results were mixed -- sometimes jarring -- but when it worked, it was quite exhilarating like it was in Sin City. So now we have the new Spartan battle flick 300, based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller (the creator of Sin City), which seems to have taken this trick to the most ridiculous extreme.

What I can see -- on a purely superficial level -- something just doesn't quite click visually. It's clear the creators have painstakingly poured a lot of beauty into each and every frame, yet the decision to emphasize the artifice over everything else (like convincing dialog) is unfortunately its greatest letdown. All signs of tactility and "lifeliness" seem drained, swept underneath the garish "painterly" visuals (a la Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow). The repetitive shots of characters standing against billows of dark clouds appear rather static and incongruent. And while costing around $60 million to make, at times 300 looks like a student film done on Adobe After Effects.

In situations like this, I could only hope the story or at least the acting would distract me long enough before I start to wonder if they were actually intending this thing for the X-Box 360. Come to think of it, I can't even recall if there was a story... or anything that resembles acting aside from screaming and dying, and uttering grandiloquences like: "Spartans, enjoy your breakfast, for tonight we dine in Hell!" Heck, there hasn't been this much sound and fury signifying nothing since Apocalypto. Granted, 300 is aware of its own preposterousness, and it doesn't let up its inventive absurdity. It also knows its audience by laying out a bloody All-You-Can-Eat smorgasbord of impalings and decapitations for those looking to gorge. It's a mild recommendation for anyone who's not a 14 year old fanboy.

Opening this Week:

300
The Namesake
Starter for Ten
The Aura (El Aura)
A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash

(* = Recommended)

On the Radar:

The World of Comedy Film Festival (March 9-11 @ U of T's Innis Town Hall)

The Academy Awards Documentary Shorts Program (March 10-13 @ Bloor Cinema)

(Photo: Warner Bros)


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