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300 (2007)

There are macho movies. And there are manly movies. Then there are those movies that are so laced with testosterone that they are very likely to impregnate any unprotected females who watch it. When Frank Miller sets out to make a graphic novel, he seldom takes half-measures, and this pseudo-historical account of a bunch of buff, half-naked warriors defending their nation against the Persions is no exception. After all…

This is Sparta.

300 historical fantasy film based on the graphic novel of the same title retelling the Battle of Thermopylae. It was directed by Zack Snyder, with Miller riding along as executive producer and consultant. It stars Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Dominic West, Vincent Regan, and Rodrigo Santoro.

Dilios, a warrior of Sparta, relates the story of King Leonidas to an unseen audience, telling of his gruelling boyhood under the Warrior Code of Sparta to his ascension to the throne. Leonidas is a born badass. Naturally, when a messenger comes to Sparta on behalf of the god-king Xerxes and demands that Sparta submit to Persia, Leonidas basically tells him to blow it out his ass and kicks the messenger into a pit. Knowing that this display will incite war with Persia, who boasts an army ten million strong, Leonidas visits the Ephors, whose blessing he needs before the Spartan council will go to war. The plan he proposes will force the numerically-superior Persians into a bottleneck at Thermopylae, thereby eliminating their advantage. The Ephors refuse, as their oracle decrees that Sparta must not go to war during a religious festival. Fine. Leonidas is not just going to lie down and submit to the Persians, regardless what the Ephors say. Why? Because he’s Leonidas, dammit. He gathers 300 of his best men and head off to Thermopylae anyway to cockblock the Persians, unaware of the corruption stewing within his own city. And badassery ensues.

When I watched 300, I knew that it was based on historical events, though they were passed through the filter of a narrator who knew his audience and wasn’t about to let the facts get in the way of a rollicking good story. Add to this the Frank Miller filter, and you’ve got a tale whose historical content is more in line with Clash of the Titans than Saving Private Ryan. That’s okay, though, because it looked really awesome. A few characters and storylines were added to Miller’s material to offer a bit more depth and conspiracy to the narrative, and this decision did help break up what would otherwise be about an hour and a half of muscular, half-naked Spartans beating the everloving hell out of muscular, half-naked Persians, and offered a glimpse of what might have been happening back in Sparta while King Leo was at Thermopylae kicking ass and chewing gum. The stylized presentation of events didn’t detract from the movie at all – Miller had researched the Spartan lifestyle and how Greek warriors preferred to be portrayed, and the finished movie was very much in line with this. I call it the Testosterone Filter.

Despite the wall-to-wall asskicking that one would naturally expect from this movie, the setup and some of the filler did offer chances to get to know the Spartan characters, and provided a coherent introduction to the Spartan way of life to an audience that might not have a military history background. Leo et al were taught to fight and be strong from an early age. Men who died in combat were honored, as were women who died in childbirth. Queen Gorgo herself was beautiful but hardly a retiring queen, stepping up to directly garner support for Sparta going to war against the Persians while her husband and his 300 closest friends were fighting the good fight at Thermopylae. Men born crippled or deformed were considered lower than human – fitting in a society where you were expected to fight or die. The Persians were also depicted as subhuman monsters, a frequent complaint as it smacked of racism, but consider the narrator – a Spartan Warrior trying to convince the rest of Greece to unite against The Enemy. In that respect, Dilios’ account of Thermopylae was informative propaganda – look how hard our king fought against Those People who want to take everything we have and enslave us! Incidentally, I found David Wenham an amusing casting choice for Dilios, considering I’d seen him previously as the decidedly noncombatant comic relief inventor Friar Carl in Van Helsing.

If you want to see a manly movie, featuring manly warriors fighting a manly battle against manly enemy forces, I recommend 300. What it lacks in realism, it easily makes up for in impressive visuals and an exciting, action-packed story plucked from the pages of ancient history.

  1. Mars
    04/26/2011 at 9:48 am

    erm… I think part of the reason the movie was annoying was that indeed, it was “featuring manly warriors fighting a manly battle against manly enemy forces” – but Xerxes and company set off every gaydar within a three-mile radius of the theater…

  2. Mars
    04/26/2011 at 9:56 am

    and as a chaser to the above: it’s a known fact that many of the residents of ancient Greece were not particularly picky about the gender of their partners, that’s fine, but putting someone who’s *limp-wrist* as the head subhuman monster and getting an offspring of Conan’s to smack him down is a bit…

  3. Mars
    05/29/2011 at 9:31 pm

    also just stumbled upon this…

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