Moviegoers who never discovered comic-book artist and author Frank Miller through such geek-culture touchstones as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns got a crash course in his penchants for bullets, babes, and blood in Sin City, a stylish adaptation of his neo- noir comics that Miller co-directed with Robert Rodriguez. Now his graphic novel 300, a hyperviolent retelling of the ancient battle of Thermopylae, gets its own cinematic treatment, this time by director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead). Miller spoke with Dave Itzkoff about Spartans, heroes, terrorists, and Angelina Jolie.
Is this really the right historical moment to be releasing a movie about an army of civilized Europeans taking on invading hordes of Middle Eastern barbarians? I can’t really think that way, because I wouldn’t get any work done. I think it’s the same story it was in 480 B.C., when heroes were tested for what they are. A hero wasn’t necessarily the best-looking guy in town, or the one who got the woman or got all of Harry Potter’s schoolmates to cheer him. It was the person who did the absolute right thing, even if it meant he would die, forgotten, in disgrace.
Where did your fascination with the battle of Thermopylae begin? When I was 5 years old, when the movie The 300 Spartans came out. It was an old Universal movie, kind of a clunky thing. I was sitting in the theater with my older brother, two rows ahead of our parents, and toward the end of the movie, I went over and asked my dad, “Are the good guys losing?” And he simply intoned, “I’m afraid so, son.”
So, could America be seen as a modern-day Sparta? Certainly, but we’ve also got a lot more bombs. I think there’s no denying that the same ideas are at stake, just that the odds are very, very different. [And] I don’t think anyone would mistake my Xerxes for Osama bin Laden.
But couldn’t a story like this have its message co-opted by a pro-war audience? Sure, but I see a lot of that on both sides of the political front these days—taking whatever facts are out there and screwing up the language to make it fit a preconceived notion. Michael Moore referring to people who chop people’s heads off as “minutemen.” It gets pretty sick.
You’ve been talking about doing a new graphic novel called Holy Terror, Batman!, in which the Caped Crusader would literally fight Al Qaeda. Is that still in the works? Yeah, I’m writing for my fatwa now.
You’ve also just started the casting process for a Sin City sequel. Is Angelina Jolie in or out? I’m pretty confident, but we’ll see.
Would you say the grim, fatalistic Sin City stories are a fairly accurate distillation of the Frank Miller worldview? No, not really. I don’t really believe people talk that way. I just sometimes wish they would.