News

Opening haul by '300' is a stunner

Steven Rea
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

Right now, the title "300" refers to the number of sword-slingin', codpiece-sportin' Spartans who fought a behemoth horde of Persian invaders in the famous fifth century B.C. Battle of Thermopylae.

In another couple of months, though, it could be a reference to the Zack Snyder-directed combat pic's cumulative box office -- as in $300 million.

Debuting over the weekend on about 4,800 screens, the no-star "300" took the multiplexes by storm -- and Hollywood by surprise -- by earning $70 million in three days. That's $30 million more than even the most optimistic oracular forecasts, including those from Warner Bros., which released the film.

It puts "300" in the record books as the third-biggest opening for an R-rated movie ever, after only Mel Gibson's equally violent "The Passion of the Christ" and the Wachowski brothers' equally cyber-spacy "The Matrix Reloaded." (Not to mention as the biggest March opening ever, and biggest Imax opening.)

And all this despite a pretty dramatic thrashing by critics. At metacritic.com, a tally of 32 reviews nationwide gave "300" a meager 53 rating out of a possible 100. At the high end, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Gianni Truzzi gushed, "Wholesale human slaughter never looked so pretty!" At the low end, the Village Voice's Nathan Lee sneered, "It's a ponderous, plodding, visually dull picture."

Somewhere in the middle, this critic called it "'Gladiator' for the gamer set."

Indeed, "300" wasn't shot anywhere near the Aegean locales that hosted the historic fightfest. It wasn't shot anywhere near anyplace, really, unless you call a warehouse in Montreal a place.

That's where, in the fall of 2005, a cast of buffed-up, Coppertoned actors, led by "The Phantom of the Opera's" Gerard Butler (as Sparta's King Leonidas), engaged in elaborately choreographed combat sequences, dressed in capes and jockstraps, battling a multi-pierced and freakish bunch (the Persians) in a big cold hangar against a green-screen backdrop. All of the sepia-hued thunderheads, all of the magic-hour sunbeams and altitudinous cliffscapes were filled in later by console-tweaking digital renderers.

Director Snyder, a commercials whiz kid whose only other movie was 2004's digital-heavy remake of "Dawn of the Dead," put his cast in a room with props and costumes and told them to pretend they were in ancient Greece, fighting for their lives on the cliffs of Malis. And the movie looks like pretend -- like the actors have been sucked into a vacuum-sealed video game. Even the blood is computer-generated.

And that, in large part, is why "300" is a hit. Its visual vernacular, rife with heavily manipulated effects shots and fight sequences that have the not-quite-real hyper-reality of God of War or Devil May Cry, is recognizable to the zillion-strong legion of gamer geeks, lured from their dark nerd-caves to a theater near you.

"We've been cultivating the techie crowd of 15-to-24-year-olds who play video games and watch DVDs," said a happy Greg Foster, the chairman of Imax, the giant-format theater chain that enjoyed a whopping $54,500 per-screen average with 300 over the weekend. In an interview in Monday's Variety, Foster noted that the gamer crowd is a demographic that's difficult to lure to the movies, "but we finally nailed them."

So, yes, "300" -- with its sloganeering freedom-fighters ("No retreat! No surrender!") striking fear into an alien-looking enemy representing "tyranny and mysticism" -- successfully tapped into a certain militaristic, xenophobic mind-set. Despite disavowals from its director and studio, "300" does make allusions to the war in Iraq.

But that's not where most of that $70 million came from. It came from a behemoth horde of Xbox-ers -- making a rare excursion to the cinema.

___

TOP R-RATED MOVIES BY OPENING WEEKEND

"The Matrix Reloaded" ($91.8 million, 2003)

"The Passion of the Christ" ($83.8 million, 2004)

"300" ($70 million, 2007)

"Hannibal" ($58 million, 2001)

"8 Mile" ($51.2 million, 2002)

(Figures not inflation-adjusted. Source: BoxOfficeMojo.com)


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.