Over the last years we have had several movies based on historic persons and battles like King Arthur, Troy and Kingdom of Heaven to mention some. We have also been served a lot of stories with superheroes from the comics with Superman, Batman, Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, and anti-heroes in Sin City - not all with good results on the big screen.
300 combines the historic references and drama of the battle of Sparta and the graphical aesthetics of the comics. And the movie succeeds. But it is not as comic-like as Sin City and not as realistic as Troy.
The story in short is about the war between Persia led by king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and the Hellenic city states, led by Sparta and king Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and the year is 480 B.C. The Persians ask for an agreement with Sparta of earth and water - submission and free entry for the Persians - in exchange for still freedom. "This is blasphemy! This is madness!" - words in despair from the Persian messenger is met by King Leonidasí "THIS IS SPARTA!" - and the scene of the movie is set.
King Leonidas doesnít only have the Persians to fight, local politics and intrigues are also present and considering war, the king consults a local oracle - communicated through some mystics, lepers on a mountain - and no king has gone to war without their blessing.
The plan to fight the Persians is to force their army through the hot gates of the Thermopylae passage and block these gates with the Spartan army. The number 300 refers to the number of Spartan elite soldiers in these joined forces with other city armies and slave soldiers.
When we first meet the elite warriors of 300, itís an impressing gathering of male muscles and shiny armour. And the Persian fleet is another aesthetic element along with the grotesque built wall on the shore, a combination of rocks and Persian warriors. Then the fighting begins. There are elephants, and rhinos, monsters and freaks, millions of arrows, spears, axes, and a lot of blood.
The scenes are impressing, the attacking Persian army vs. king Leonidasí "Stand still" and the shores and the mountains as the background for it all. The movie is dominated by brownish colours except of the red robes and the blood. This leads us as viewers into the Miller universe detached from realism and the scenes often halts in mid-action with the blood splattering across the screen. And the battle scenes are numerous with different groups and clans from the Persian army. The Immortals were perhaps the scariest ones with their masks and monsters.
I mentioned politics and political intrigues that take place in Sparta at the same time as Leonidas fights the Persians. Xerxes persuades some of the Spartans to help the Persians and then the 300 are outflanked. Itís obvious that sex, money and power as ingredients of a good story arenít modern inventions. The 300 Spartans are finally conquered but the Persian army is suffering de-moralising after such great losses and are beaten by the Spartan re-enforcements.
I read somewhere about this movie and the use of the blue screen - the actors acting in front of a blue screen, sketching out the scenic exterior and the battle effects afterwards. And the amount of such blue screen acting in this movie exceeded previous movies. And it got a lot cheaper this way instead of several on-site re-plays of gigantic war scenes. Letís just hope that just itís cheaper doesnít result in poorer movies.
I am no historian able to judge the accuracy and correctness of the facts behind the story - but the battle is well described also by the historian Herodotus. And Frank Miller himself once stated that the story of the battle of Thermopylae was "the best damn story I've ever gotten my hands on." But correct or not - both Frank Millers version in paper and Zack Snyders movie are both well worth the time.
Bottom line: A film I would recommend, especially if you enjoyed films like Sin City and Kingdom of Heaven. To me, this movie is one of the best transfers from the comics to the screen I have seen, together with Sin City.
Reviewed by Hiro
- Title: 300
- Director: Zack Snyder
- Based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller
- With Gerard Butler, Rodrigo Santoro, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Dominic West
- Producing company: Warner Bros
- Movie website: 300themovie.warnerbros.com