Reviews for “300” were across the board, but those who disliked it shared a derision that reveals at least as much about today’s film critics as it does their thoughts on the movie.
“Once the newness of ‘300’s’ look wears off, which it inevitably does, what we are left with is a videogame come to life,” wrote Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. ” ‘300’ will … be talked about as a technical achievement, the next blip on the increasingly blurry line between movies and video games,” added Slate’s Dana Stevens.
“[T]he excitement amounts to little more than a video game on the big screen,” wrote USA Today’s Claudia Puig. And in the New York Times, A.O. Scott said he would rather play “the video game that ‘300’ aspires to become.”
Those were all negative reviews, of course. For today’s movie critics, videogames are the new MTV musicvideo, a shorthand insult for any movie deemed too heavy on effects and visual panache at the expense of plot and coherence.
Anyone who has spent much time playing videogames — a category in which, it seems safe to assume, few established film critics fall — knows the comparison is both artistically demeaning and substantively wrong.
First off: What’s wrong with a movie being similar to a videogame? While it’s a young medium compared to movies or literature, any culturally literate person in the year 2007 should be able to see that videogames are creative productions, not mere pieces of software.
Those critics who complained that “300” is short on narrative and long on mind-numbing violence implied that videogames are the same. Popular videogames like “Gears of War” and “Mortal Kombat” do fit that description, but there are many other games that don’t. Even the much-derided “Grand Theft Auto” features relatively complex storylines and large casts of characters.
In reality, videogame developers have created acclaimed works that span genres.
Few horror pics are able to instill the bone-chilling terror of “Resident Evil 4.” A dramatic filmmaker should aspire to reach the epic scope of “Shadow of the Colossus.” And those looking to make the next great franchise should should only hope their movies engrossviewers half as well as “World of Warcraft.”
Stereotyping games based on a brainless, violent subset is as fair as dismissing the art of moviemaking based on “Wild Hogs.”
What “300” does share with most videogames are the digital effects that created the backgrounds, action sequences and, yes, blood. But it’s fundamentally wrong to suggest that “300” structurally resembles a game.
Yes, you can use an Xbox for virtual stabbing and killing. But no decent videogame would take place in one location and feature soldiers who use just a handful of moves to kill similar enemies over and over and over again.
Perhaps that’s why “300: March to Glory” for the PlayStation Portable — the videogame based on the movie that supposedly might as well be a videogame — got universally mediocre reviews.