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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. 


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