The legend of the Battle of Thermopylae stands the test of time for reasons that go beyond the battlefield. A small army of Spartans gave up their lives in order to protect their homeland, but it is what their stand represented that makes the feat live on. The new film “300” intertwines traditional lore and radically polished visuals into a big bloody ball of honor and testosterone.
The film takes place in 480 BC, when Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his Persian army reach Greece. It is here that King Leonidas of Sparta (Gerard Butler) rounds up a small number of Spartan men to cut the Persians off at the narrow pass of Thermopylae. The battle itself is not only significant because the Persians overwhelmingly outnumbered the Greeks, but because it began the Persian empire’s downfall.
“300” is less concerned with history and instead stresses honor and its relation to Spartan society. The film opens with an engaging montage of how Spartan boys are raised, testing their will and strength from an early age. Their martial nature provides a template for all the Spartan characters. Because all Spartans hold glory and honor above all else, all warriors are ultimately similar and more like muscle-bound robots than humans. The audience is more inclined to identify a Spartan by their hair style than by an intricate personality trait. Leonidas himself is a strong protagonist, but his tunnel-vision motivations make his film equivalent pale in comparison to celluloid heroes Maximus and William Wallace.
The film works best when it juxtaposes the relentless motivations of the Spartans with stylized battle sequences. Shots of the phalanx holding firm and slow-motion decapitations work well because the audience believes in the Greeks’ cause. However, the film cuts through ambiguity like an unarmed Persian and every other line of dialogue is about honor. The film’s themes basically dictate this structure, but it would benefit from a few scenes where the importance of glory is not pounded into our heads.
According to Octavio Ramos of the Religious Studies Department, “300” is a fairly accurate historical movie. The battle itself is accurate, except for the size of the two armies (the Greeks had more, the Persians had less) and the complete dismissal of the coinciding naval battle at Artemisium, which protected the 300 from a sea assault. Still, it is amazing that most of the film is true, including a scene in which Xerxes deploys an elite force known as the Immortals to fight the Spartans.
“300” will get attention for its breathtaking battle scenes, but it is the undying conviction of the Spartans in their cause and in each other that elevates it above other action movies. The filmmakers deserve credit for weaving historical accuracy between shots of headless torsos and impaled foot soldiers, and for making us believe in a simple yet profound idea.
Fun Facts about “300”
“300” was released March 9 and continues to top box offices reaching number one this past weekend and pulling in over 31 million in estimated receipts.
The movie is based on Frank Miller’s novel about the Battle of Thermopylae in 480BC
The film was shot in 60 days
The work was filmed entirely in Montreal, except for two days of insert shooting in Los Angeles
10 visual effects vendors contributed to the film
Notable Quotes from Spartan King Leonidas: “Remember this day, men, for it will be yours for all time” and “Spartans! Enjoy your breakfast, for tonight we dine in Hell!”
*Trivia facts provided by IMDB.com
Gabe Habash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.