“You just can’t trust hunchbacks!”
Thursday night I went with some pals to see the movie “300”. I’d heard a lot of good and bad things about the film, but even it’s critics agreed it was visually stunning, so I knew I was in for some eye candy if nothing else. I’ve read several reviews where the political intentions of the film are questioned… in fact it’s a hot topic in middle eastern countries where it’s apparently widely believed to be US government propaganda to gear the US citizens up for war on Iran (modern Persia).
The movie, in case you live under a rock, is about the Battle of Thermopylae, where in 480 b.c. a force of 300 Spartan soldiers lead by King Leonidas held off the advance of an invading Persian army numbering in the hundreds of thousands for three days before ultimately being wiped out. It’s one of histories most famous conflicts.
This, however, is not the Battle of Thermopylae. It’s a MOVIE based on the Battle of Thermopylae, something the critics of the film who are lambasting it for historical inaccuracies need reminding of. In fact, it’s a movie based on a COMIC BOOK based on the Battle of Thermopylae, written and drawn by Frank Miller, he of The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City fame. Movies are supposed to be entertainment first and everything else second, especially history lessons. Actually Miller didn’t do too badly with the historical accuracy of the film, despite many liberties. 300 Spartans, with help from some other greeks, really did hold off a Persian army of between 120,000 and 250,000 at Thermopylae for three days. The real reason for the maneuver was to buy the Greek army time to escape being wiped out and keep the Persian force from attacking the rear of the Greek navy. Leonidas’s force really was made up of elite soldiers, the Persian’s “Immortals” were a real force amid the Persian army, Ephialtes was a real Greek traitor who led the Persians around the pass behind the Spartans, and other historical facts were observed like the heavy storm damage of the Persian fleet and even some of the dialog. Dieneces‘s comment about how, if the Persian’s arrows would blot out the sun then “So much the better- we shall fight them in the shade.”, and Leonidas’ “Tonight, we dine in Hell!” are taken from Greek historian Heredotus and other sources.
That’s not to say this should be taken as a serious historical documentary. Critics have been ripping the film for it’s turning the Persians into deformed monsters, full of deprivation and dripping in cartoonish evil, while the Spartans ripple with abs and fight in righteous purity with no armor. None of that is historically accurate, but again, this is a movie based on a comic book. Heroes and villians are traditionally pure good and evil in the comics, and this movie follows comic book law.
I’ve read other views of the film that defend Miller’s vision of Spartans clad not in the armor they likely fought in but in nothing more than leather briefs, red capes and helmets as a reflection not of reality but of the depiction Spartans and Greeks in their own art of the time. They glorified themselves in “heroic nudity” in their literature and on vases and statues as well as murals and other art. That to me explains the entire film’s take. This isn’t supposed to be a film by an impartial observer of the battle, but one that would be made by the Greeks if they could have made a movie of it themselves. It reflects their own art and self images. Of course their enemies would be depicted as rancid, nasty beasts and themselves as self sacrificing, buff and handsome heroes. Even Ephialtes was turned into a deformed hunchback, because such a villian could never be like a Spartan, but must reflect the twisted nature of his treachery in physical form (not very fair to all the really nice, peaceful and virtuous hunchbacks who naturally exist out there in the world, but I guess that demographic was sacrificed for ‘artisitic reasons’.) For all those who insist on harping about the historical inaccuracies and over-the-top vilification of the Persians compared to the idolization of the Spartans, I say…. uh…. “MOVIE”!
The movie itself was visually incredible. The palette, the lighting, the compositions…every frame could be blown up, framed and hung in a museum. For those familiar with Miller’s work, his stamp is all over it, especially with the bad guys, who always seem to be teeming with boils and lumpy growths in all his comics. The violence is also depicted in a way reminiscent of period art. It’s so over-the-top as to be beyond description, yet it’s clinical in a way. As my friend pointed out after the film, “Saving Private Ryan” was more violent in terms of bringing it home in a real way that this was… where decapitations were clean and had almost no arterial spray (as opposed to Tarantino and “Kill Bill” where a blood-firehose seems to reside in everyone’s necks), and bodies fell cleaved but surprisingly bloodless, to leave no stain upon the ground. Violence as depicted in classical art. The action, which features a lot of slow motion-fast motion movements may have started the next Matrix-like trend in fighting choreography. It was a feast for the eyes. The performances of the actors didn’t need a whole lot of subtlety, but they roared when they needed to roar and that was enough. Rodrigo Santoro‘s Xerxes was as creepy as you get, in a sledgehammer kind of way.
And, no surprise, this movie is for boys. The villians are gross and the heroes virtous (except for that bit about tossing defective babies over the cliff, and the brutal treatment of the kids… even heroes have their ugly warts) and the fights are testosterone-charged glory. Girls need not apply. This is boy’s clubhouse stuff, soldiers bonding and killing people for king and country. Likewise if you are looking for deep meaning or some other soul searching message you need not bother. This is pure fantasy and bloody fun. If that’s not your bag, you won’t like this film. As for the people who accuse it as US anti-mid-east propoganda… give me a break. Miller wrote the comic in the mid 90’s and it was all published by 1999… well before we went into Iraq. The film is a faithful adaptation of Millers work, so if it is right-wing propaganda Miller must have personally planned it from roughly the time of the first Iraq war. Not likely.
Personally I enjoyed it for what it was. I’m not going to read anything into it past what it was meant to be, and that was enough to be worth my $9.00 (!!!!) and a fun evening with friends. It had better come out on HD-DVD, because this is one movie that needs high definition.
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