300: Rise of an Empire

When I first heard about this film, my first thought was, “Didn’t everyone die at the end of the first movie?” The answer to that was a resounding “yes.” So, going into this film, I was confused on how they would make a sequel.
After seeing the film, I can say that this is not a sequel, but the original 300 film is a part of this film. The events of 300 actually take place concurrently with a portion of 300: Rise of an Empire. That being said, this film’s story is very ambitious. It is the tale of Themistocles of Athens (played by Sullivan Stapleton) and his rise as a warrior, then his leading the Greeks against the naval armada of Xerxes (played by Rodrigo Santoro) commanded by Artemisia (played by Eva Green).
The movie is dark and bloody. The colors are very subdued, with the exception of the Athenian Blue cape of Themistocles which is bright and vibrant. The dark of the movie at times detracts from the detailed visuals of the ships, costumes, and sets; much the way the rain and dark steals from Pacific Rim. The grey of the movie is overwhelming. It is at times feels like watching video game cut scenes. The big difference is that you don’t control the action but are a passive voyeur looking at the carnage around you.
Carnage is just the right word for this film. There is death, death, destruction, and more death in this film. The movie is plot, tactics, then action, action, and more action. I think the first thing people need to understand is that this is based on a Frank Miller comic. Like everything I have seen based on his work it is nonstop gratuitous violence. The story is there, but hiding behind fight scene after fight scene.
The acting in this movie is acceptable. As a high point Eva Green does a great job portraying a psychotic vengeful military leader bent on the destruction of Greece. Her backstory gives insight as to what set in motion the events of the original 300 film. Sullivan Stapleton does an acceptable job as Themistocles. His delivery of lines is what you would expect from a comic book blood bath.
A high point of this film is that for the ladies who aren’t into the blood and guts, there are a lot of buff, topless men running around flexing their muscles. For the men there is a gratuitous nude/sex scene between Eva Green and Sullivan Stapleton where Ms. Green shows off her very nice breasts.
The 3D use in this movie is actually fun. Director Noam Murro makes excellent use of the 3D gimmick by using it to have weapons, blood, and ships come off the screen into the audience’s world. This, while a gimmick, adds to the enjoyment of the film and reminds the user that this is a comic book adventure.
In conclusion, this movie is not for everyone. This movie is targeted at a very specific audience. If you want to see an over the top action movie with a simple plot, a lot of eye candy, lots of fighting, and are willing to turn your mind off and eat some popcorn and enjoy the spectacle, then this is an absolute must. If the previous does not apply to you, then it is probably best you skip 300: Rise of an Empire.

On Haganai and the struggle to adapt

On Saturday, Japanese theaters will premiere the live-action version of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai aka Haganai. Creator and writer of the original light novels Youmi Hirasaka initially wasn’t keen on the idea of a film, but acquiesced in the Spring of 2013 while deciding to be hands-off. His definition of “hands-off” likely differs from mine, because in an interview to promote the film, director Takuro Oikawa said neither he nor the film’s actors watched the anime adaptation, based on a suggestion from Hirasaka. Reaction to this comment hasn’t been the most positive, with most comments accusing Oikawa of completely disregarding the source material. That may or may not be accurate, but Oikawa’s reasoning for doing so is actually quite sound, especially if it was as Hirasaka’s behest. Oikawa mentioned in the interview that Hirasaka told him the Haganai anime was an interpretation of the novel, so using that as the basis of the film would make it a copy of a copy. Is Oikawa wrong to want to shoot a film in his own style, even if he may have gone to extremes to do so?

The backlash against the Haganai film speaks to an interesting situation that has arisen in the fan community. When you read a book, your imagination provides all the visuals for you. When those books get turned into movies or films, chances are what you saw when reading isn’t going to match up with what you see on the screen. (This could also be said for radio programs that made the transition to early TV.) Ordinarily, though, there wasn’t much of a fuss raised when the film and book didn’t jibe. I personally don’t know how much deviation happened in the film versions of Wizard of Oz, Gone With The Wind, or Jurassic Park, but I’m sure no one really cared. (I could bring up Harry Potter as well, but even the books got some re-working for the States before movies happened.) Of course, this is also a good example of the sports adage, “winning solves everything” as every one of these films were well-received. This was also the case with the some of the comic book adaptations, especially anything that came from FOX. (Not only did they air X-Men and Spider-Man, they also had the first entries in the DCAU.) Adaptations that didn’t succeed (Dune, various Superman sequels) failed on their own merits, but the critique of “unfaithfulness” tended to show up every now and again.

However, as the years passed, our technology improved, our storytelling became more visual, and our perceptions became more cynical. Going back to the first Crisis or even earlier, narratives have been constantly reworked in lieu of creating new ideas and the Hype Machine keeps saying the new film will be the Next Big Thing. When it fails, or even if it succeeds in spite of itself, we cite the failure to adhere to the source material as opposed to it just being a bad movie. That mistaken ire has grown to the point where faithfulness is expected (even though Marvel Studios laughs at this notion while swimming in their Scrooge McDuck vault) and I’m able to essentially troll my co-workers. You don’t want to see the Ender’s Game movie, you want to see the Ender’s Game book!

I admit that as a rule, adaptations have to have certain beats and tropes to remain consistent with the source, and the amount of which is open to debate. However, as someone who bows to the Jurai Royal Family, I can say that there is nothing wrong with making your own interpretation. Conflating “faithfulness” with “quality” and automatically writing a film off because of a lack of the former is just dumb and short-sighted. Also, I fail to see how Oikawa is the only one “at fault” here. What Hirasaka calls “a bold step” is what a corporate suit would call “increasing brand awareness” or what a cynic would call “a cash grab.” If there is supposed to be only one truth, shouldn’t the creator of that truth share the blame when he wants to allow a different version? If Haganai fails this weekend, it’ll be because it’s not a good movie, not because no one watched the anime. Keep an open mind. Maybe the film will be a hit and find that new audience like Hirasaka and Oikawa are banking on. Then, maybe you’ll make more friends.