Two parallel discourses emerged in the popular press coverage of Zach Snyder’s 2006 film adaptation of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s graphic novel 300. The first celebrated the innovative use of special effects and digital aesthetics, while the second glorified the brutal training regime endured by the film’s actors as well as the lean and sculpted physiques that resulted from the intense training. While much could be said about 300’s advances in digital effects, the adaptation from book to film, and the fetishization of bodies within the film, I am more interested in the ways in which the hyperphysicality of the bodies interacts with the simulated space of the film and the claims this interaction makes about the materiality of digital space.
In the wake of the genomic and information revolutions of the 20th century, our 21st century cultural logic fantasizes about a transhuman utopia where flesh and information can be easily exchanged. This fantasy is sustained by a belief that both humans (their DNA) and informational structures (their bits of data) are fundamentally reducible to their constituent parts, and within this framework, ‘code’ functions as the universal equivalent. (I am deliberately invoking Marx’s terminology here – he refers to the money form as a universal equivalent – in order to trace a connection between the reductive and essentializing powers of capitalism and the informationalist fantasy I am describing.)
In this clip, we see the interaction between the hyperphysical bodies of the actors and, except for the ground and a few stalks of wheat, the completely simulated space that they inhabit. Despite the different ontologies of the pieces of the image, the resulting composite image is notable for picturing the easy exchange of information between its analog and digital pieces. The physical bodies of 300 are folded into the virtual spaces of the film, providing a visualization of the material expression of information. 300 provides a material instantiation of a central contradiction of our digital cultural logic. It visualizes the tension between analog and digital technologies, refusing to relinquish the physicality of the body while simultaneously imagining an environment in which flesh becomes merely one additional informational pattern. As such, 300’s use of special effects is symptomatic of not only contemporary approaches to image production, but also indicative of our increasingly digital view of the world.