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Dear Battle Movies, Be Epic Or Fuck Off.

I hated "Gladiator".

Which is probably weird because:
- I like Ridley Scott
- I don't mind Russell Crowe
- I fucking love epic battle movies, sword fights, savage beatings, crazy weaponry, etc.
And here's a surprise... I love hot, sweaty, half-naked guys.

But really, I don't like Hollywood's bottom line (making money VS making smart, original stories or creative re-inventings of existing material).

"Gladiator" just feels like crap to me. It was a big-budget ($103 million) summer block-buster. Is that bad? Only if you have a brain and you want it to be stimulated while watching a movie. Traditionally, "summer block-busters" are the film equivalent of the greasy corn you devour while watching them. They reach the masses by meeting only the lowest common denominator. You sit down, turn your brain off, and turn your eyeballs into sponges just soaking up the pretty colors.

Let me just interject here: I have a soft-spot in my heart for action movies. I really like my fair share of schlocky, action movies. I even own my fair share of them.

Actually, I'd be lying if I said I've seen Gladiator more than once - although I have caught stray moments of it on television over the years... just enough to remind me that I disliked it.

So let me shock you all when I now write that I liked "300".

Is it the source material? The extreme-stylization? The director? The characters? The fact that Gerard Butler was, um, fucking delicious?... Probably.

Probably all of those things combined.

And possibly it's the "tone" that I'm really showing preference for: "300" is very "graphic novel" and "artsy" VS the pseudo-seriousness of "Gladiator".

Yes!

That's my primary sticking point: "Gladiator" took itself too seriously for me to respect it. It has an air of seriousness that irks me because it is really just an action flick set in the past, it's not historically accurate. It's not a documentary. There's nothing "real" about it yet, it has this tone of "reality" and this underpinning of historical truth that traditionally commands a level of "awe" and a degree of reverence that I'm unable to show.

So - putting those two movies on the back burner for a moment, let me now attack two newer movies: "Centurion" & "Valhalla Rising".

Earlier this year I saw trailers for "Centurion" and I nearly exploded with excitement: epic battles, bad-ass characters, and all directed by Neil Marshall.

And I read a couple of reviews that talked about how the characters in "Centurion" put the guys from "300" to shame. On the surface, this idea seemed imminently appealing to me; the men of "300" are action-movie bad-ass to the extreme. They are stacked (thanks, in part, to the use of computers!), they are fierce warriors, they are fierce lovers, they have are willing to fight against insurmountable odds.

If you can make those guys look like pussies - well fuck. I'm impressed.

Now, I'm a fan of Marshall as a writer - he has a sensibility that appeals to me: it's brutal. It's honest. It's tough. It's smart. And it's insightful. His characters are sprinkled with enough "humanity" that you can both believe and connect with them. They also have enough rough edges that you're constantly thinking, "which one of them is the hero?" That moral ambiguity is the key to strong character development, in my mind.

And while some of his work feels, if not straight up derivative than at least very "inspired by" other movies, it still feels fresh enough that I want to watch it. Sure, "Doomsday" is clearly a combo-pack of earlier post-apocalyptic movies (From "Mad Max" to "Escape From New York" to "Death Race 2000" to even "WaterWorld" or "No Escape") but he still manages to bring an attitude to the subject matter that keeps it exciting.

I'm also a fan of Marshall as a director - he has a similar energy and enthusiasm that Guy Ritchie has. Maybe it's a Brit thing but, they both have an eye for capturing action sequences in totally engrossing ways. I never want to look away from their movies - not for a second! because I'm worried about what I might miss.

Now, did the movie live up to my lofty expectations? For the most part.

There were awesome fights. There were grizzly deaths. There were some kick-ass characters. There was brutality. There were hot, barbarian women. There were some fine male specimens (mostly right off the set of "300", I might add!) The story mostly kept my attention through out. I was somewhat disappointed by the implication of a possible happy ending; it just didn't sit right with me. After being fraught with so much betrayal and tragedy, having even a chance for a happy ending really didn't work for me.

What can I say? I'm a jaded bitch with a heart made of ice.

(You can check out the trailer for "Centurion" here)

So following on the heels of that moderate disappointment came "Valhalla Rising".

If I were grading movies solely on visuals, "Valhalla Rising" would ace the test; it was beautifully shot from the scenery down to the action sequences. There was also an element of "low-budget" quality (which is crazy considering their actual $6 million budget!) that actually worked out very well for them; the grittiness certainly added to the film's strength.

If I were ranking movies on a scale of zero to "completely zen" well, "Valhalla Rising" would be "completely zen" + 1. The simple fact that there was no dialogue for the first, what? 10 minutes of the movie was equal parts "too damn slow" and "thought provoking."

It's akin to that concept where you lose one sense and so others become heightened: with no dialogue, I'm free to process the vast emptiness of the world these characters live in or question what their motives are or ponder reasons a warrior befriends a small child...

If I truly wanted to watch an exploration of the nature of life, after-life, and the depths of men's souls - well, I'd have chosen "Waiting For Godot".

Where am I going with this? I think the point I'm reaching for here is that I had specific expectations of bloody Viking battles where men behaved like beasts and villages were laid to waste and instead I got a snail-paced diatribe on how the evils of war may come back to haunt you in the afterlife.

Lame.

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