Meet the Spartans: Pit of Death Edition (Unrated) – DVD Review

Meet the Spartans cover
Available at Amazon.com

“I can’t believe it.”

Those were the words I told to a friend after I watched Meet the Spartans. I followed that statement with, “I think I’ve seen the worst movie of all time.” Though, in hindsight, I’m questioning the validity that it was even a movie. Yes it was produced and released theatrically. It has a beginning, middle, and end. But the plot consists of one gay joke after another, tired pop culture gags and heinous product placement.

Those are just some of things I noticed in Spartans. There are many other things I could write about the movie and the duo that also gave us Date Movie and Epic Movie. Questions like, how do Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer still have careers in Hollywood? Or, how did these three films manage to gross more than eighteen million dollars in their opening weekends? It’s easy to blame Friedberg and Seltzer, but the theater-going public is probably the biggest culprit. Idiots paying for crap; the fast-food culture that is drawn to reality television and makes celebrities out of Paris Hilton, Idol singer Sanjaya, and Lindsay Lohan.

Honestly, for all the time and work that went into making a spoof it’s even harder for a critic to review. Because for every lame gag and stupid pop culture reference you have to double-check a thesaurus and find a synonym for the phrase “this sucks.” There is a lack of effort in the parody genre; has been ever since Lieutenant Frank Dreben of Police Squad survived the “final insult.” In the 2000s, the best parodies have been produced outside of the U.S. by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz).

Maybe Friedberg and Seltzer don’t understand the definition of the word “parody.” Parody is most often defined as a humorous or satirical imitation. However, it also describes an imitation that is done poorly or feebly. The duo’s movies seem to fall into the latter classification. Their humor is pointless, and with them needing to explain every intended punch line it comes off as tacky and sad.

As far as the story goes, Meet the Spartans adapts the 300 narrative and substitutes jokes that play off the homoeroticism of the source material. The gags are vulgar, repeated way past the point of nausea and are outright dumb. And there are satirical jabs that don’t make a hell of a lot of since either. The pit of death sequence, which made for an awesome visual in the surprise blockbuster of 2006, is used as a device to punish those so-called celebrities that are the bane of our existence. Brittany Spears sitting in a barber’s chair shaving her head, Kevin Federline, the judges of American Idol.

For the epic battle pitting the Spartans against the Persians, which continuously gets stupider the longer it goes, there’s a moment where Ghost Rider appears only to have his flame put out by a fire extinguisher. The kicker is that Rider repeats “stop, drop and roll,” after the fire has already been put out. A mishmash of TV references, like Ugly Betty, America’s Top Model and Deal or No Deal clutter an already bloated line-up of Spider-Man 3, Grand Theft Auto, and Transformers retreads.

Friedberg and Seltzer also manage to find a spot for the “Leave Brittany alone!” video from YouTube, and they borrow lines of dialogue from other works and pawn it off as original. As deplorable as this is, they also don’t know when to say when. They incessantly point out what is being referenced like we don’t get. I almost want to meet the duo and mutter “a sphincter says what?” under my breath and gage their reactions.

Other than the ineptitude of the creators, what is even more amazing is that the actual length of the movie is just 67 minutes. They couldn’t even script out enough pages to make a 90-minute comedy, and instead settle for an hour’s worth of material. An hour! Once the film ends, there’s another musical scene, five minutes of deleted moments and the slowest end credits crawl imaginable. The added padding bumps the running time up to 86 minutes. Short but still an acceptable length.

On a brighter side, box office receipts continue to drop for each new release, and credible actors have remained unscathed from taking part in such crap. The only people who sully their names are either supporting players (Borat‘s Ken Davitian and Diedrich Bader of The Drew Carey Show), or those whose last big gig was starring in TV’s Hercules. That’s right, Kevin Sorbo plays a Spartan. He’s probably the second biggest name in this turd next to Carmen Electra, who we know will appear in anything.

Due to a digital watermark, I can’t properly critique the anamorphic widescreen transfer. It is, however, presented in a 1.85:1 ratio and is pretty much a low-budget recreation of 300‘s look. But the artificial artifacts and the jittery picture make the backdrops and bad special effects stick out like a sore thumb.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is used sparingly, getting most play during musical and dancing scenes. During these sequences the side and rear speakers boost the songs, while the audio effects mix in nicely with the front speakers. Other than that, the mix lacking range, as most of the audio is a comedy dialogue track. This DVD release also includes French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, along with optional English and Spanish subtitles.

Having never watched any of the extras on the previous Date Movie and Epic Movie discs, I remember reading that Epic had three commentaries including one with critics who tore it to shreds. We only get one audio commentary this time with Friedberg, Seltzer and stars Sean Maguire (King Leonidas), Kevin Sorbo, Nicole Parker (Paris Hilton) and Ike Barinholtz (Prophet, Dane Cook, Bond Villain). All six seem in a good mood and had a fun time recording the track, but are a little too pleased with their work. They goof around, crack jokes and basically stay clear from giving us a play-by-play with what’s happening on screen. Thank God for that.

After the track the extras get considerably worse. There’s a “Know Your Spartans” pop culture trivia game that has nothing in common with the movie aside from the references. With each correct answer we are rewarded with King Leonidas pushing or kicking some random celebrity into the Pit of Death. Meet the Spartans: The Music is a scene selection menu that has eight musical scenes that can be viewed. Intended for those with ADD who don’t want to wait to see their favorite three-minute and forty-five second riff of You Got Served and Stomp the Yard.

In the feature that had me at least crack a smile, the four-minute gag reel. Finishing the extras is a pair of featurettes and three trailers (two for Spartans and one for the direct-to-DVD release of Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs). “Prepare for the Thrusting” is a five-minute piece with interviews with cast and the exercise regiment they went through in preparing for Meet the Spartans. Just imagine The Ambiguously Gay Duo working out and you get the idea. The second feature is an on-set tour with Ike Barinholtz. For 6:39 we see the actor get teased from the likes of Kevin Sorbo, Carmen Electra and Diedrich Bader. A throwaway feature that features one unintentionally funny comment from the movie’s production designer: “We let the comedy come through the writing and the actors.” What writing, a napkin with half an idea?

Never underestimate the ineptitude of the American public. It is because of them that guys like Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, who built their reputation as being two of the six writers of Scary Movie, have careers in Hollywood. They keep churning out crap without an ounce of originality and people keep spending ten bucks a ticket to see it. This, along with countless other poorly-conceived parodies, is the reason why the genre has long lost its appeal – the only recent exceptions being Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. While my preconceived notions of Meet the Spartans were dire to begin with, nothing could have prepared me for such garbage. Not once did I laugh or crack at smile. The fact that this was released theatrically when so many other independently financed features can’t find a distributor is a travesty. Unless your body is hard-wired to enjoy unfunny spoofs, avoid this movie at all costs.
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Fox Home Entertainment presents Meet the Spartans. Written and directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Starring Sean Maguire, Kevin Sorbo, Carmen Electra and Method Man. Running time: 86 minutes. Not rated. Released on DVD: June 3, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.