Skip to main content

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #337: 300

Now here is a movie that was both incredibly macho and incredibly gay at the same time. On the one hand, Zach Snyder’s “300” features a group of Spartan soldiers fighting a bloody battle against a Persian army that vastly outnumbers them, all in order to protect their home. On the other hand, each of those soldiers had rock-solid eight packs and spends most of the movie half-naked wearing tight leather pants. I don’t care if you spend three hours at the gym every day, no straight man is that cut. But on the other hand, you cannot deny these guys looked ready to go kick ass. Between the Spartan soldiers, the gratuitous sex, the constant spilling of blood and the speeches the get the troops pumped, this movie oozes machismo.

Released in early 2007, “300” was considered an early summer movie because of its success which caught people by surprise. The visuals from the trailer were stunning, so I asked for the graphic novel on which it is based for Christmas. When you compare what is onscreen to what is on the pages, it is as though the filmmakers lifted some images directly, much like for Frank Miller’s other graphic novel adaptation “Sin City.” Ideally I should have gone to see the film adaptation with a couple of friends from university, but it came out during my week off and my mom really wanted to spend as much time with me as possible, even if I wanted to go see a film filled with blood, gore and explosions. On the plus side for her, she got to see Gerard Butler’s eight-pack.

Butler plays legendary King Leonidas ruler of the ancient Greek City State of Sparta. The Spartans as depicted by Frank Miller are the fiercest warrior in all of Greece, if not the entire world. Not only are their children sent into the wilderness to fend for themselves as part of their initiation into manhood, but also if their babies are born with any defect, they are thrown off a cliff. Talk about putting pressure on your kids.

Their resolve is tested when a messenger from the massive Persian army of the god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) rides into Sparta. The messenger warns Xerxes’ army numbers in the hundreds of thousands and requests Sparta surrenders to the Persian Empire now to avoid bloodshed. Negotiations stop abruptly when Leonidas decides to kick the messenger down a well, yelling the much-parodied scream “THIS…IS…SPARTA!” This also means war.

Actually it would mean war if the Ephors, ugly Spartan priests, had not been bribed by the Persians into denying Leonidas’ request for war. Since surrender is not part of his vocabulary, Leonidas sets out to meet the Persian army himself along with his personal guard of 300 warriors. That is of course a small number against an army that numbers in the thousands, but Leonidas believes his men may gain an advantage by fighting at the Hot Gates, a narrow pass between the rocks and the sea.

This story of 300 warriors against a massive army is factually based on the battle of Thermopylae. I am no historian, but it becomes clear very fast that both Frank Miller and director Zach Snyder took a few historical liberties. That the Persian army would have enough archers to blot out the sun I will grant as a possibility. That they had an elite guard known as the Immortals, that’s cool. But that they would have elephants, rhinos, powder bombs and some sort of Uber immortal? Now Miller and Snyder are just going hog wild.

But then again given the look and bombastic dialogue of “300,” that is pretty much the idea. This is first and foremost a visual experience. The film was shot entirely on green screen in order to bring to life the extraordinary images and battles imagined by Miller. When the Spartans go into full battle mode, it sometimes feels like a video game as they hack their way through Persian soldiers, spreading blood across the screen in slow motion.

The movie was criticized for focusing more on action than character development, but the film actually expands the storyline of Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), wife of Leonidas. In the book she stoically tells her husband to come back victorious or dead, but in the movie she must also contend with Theron (Dominic West) a traitorous politician.

This leads to a scene that portrays the Spartan women to be just as deadly as the men. Again, I don’t know if that is historically accurate, but it was just as fun as watching the guys on the battlefield. 


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…