Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: March 21, 2007 | Publication: soundthesirens.com | Author: Phillip E. Hardy
This ain’t no history lesson, this is Sparta!
Ever since I was a tyke, I have loved movies about underdogs fighting against overwhelming odds. As an abject coward, nothing invigorates my macho yearning more than deeds that ooze testosterone by men that would rather die than run from a fight. Some of my fondest cinematic recollections include Davy Crocket and Jim Bowie standing on the crumbling walls of the Alamo, Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead fighting rampaging Zulus at Rorke’s Drift, General Custer surrounded by thousands of angry Native Americans and the granddaddy of all futile last stands—The Battle of Thermopylae. Back in the glory days of the ancient Greece, Persian Kings Darius the Great and his son Xerses got their asses handed to them at battles at Marathon, Salamis and Plataea. Yet it is the heroic defeat of King Leonidas and his fearless 300 Spartans at an obscure mountain pass that has remained enduringly famous.
Submit to Persian domination? Phewy!
An ancient Athenian philosopher once said he knew why the Spartans were eager to die in battle. “That way, they could escape the black sop their cooks made from pig's blood.” By definition, Spartan means “strict discipline, self denial and avoidance of luxury and comfort.” The opening of 300 depicts young King Leonidas being subjected to the strictest military and survival training as soon as he wiggles out of his pampers. In a bit of foreshadowing, the tenacious boy hunts a giant wolf in freezing snow armed with only a spear and loincloth. The clever Leonidas lures the seemingly invincible beast into an impassible mountain crevice where he easily spears his snarling prey. Fast forward 30 years and Power mad Xerses (Rodrigo Santoro), who has proclaimed himself divine, dispatches his emissary to Sparta to demand their submission. In a historically accurate sequence, the Persian diplomat demands a token of “earth and water from Greek soil” before King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his court. After listening to threats made against his people and disrespect to his wife Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), the ferocious Spartan kicks the incredulous messenger into a giant, bottomless well; thus hurling his small nation into an inevitable conflict against the never-ending Persian horde.
Though brave King Leonidas excels in battle, his math skills are appalling because after consulting oracles, he decides to march his token force of 300 seasoned veterans to meet the divine Xerses and his army of a million men. Seeing no discernable difference between wolves and Persians, the wily Spartan figures on luring the huge enemy force into a tight mountain pass called Thermopylae (the hot gates) to yield the same result as he did during boyhood days. There he can employ the tactics and fighting skills of his puny force to render enemy superiority irrelevant.
Spartans are tan, buff and build walls with dead enemy soldiers … kewl!
After the requisite speeches about freedom, a Spartan lieutenant taunting and dismembering another emissary and his compatriots building a rampart with dead Persian scouts, nasty Xerses begins to throw his conquering force against the 300. Forming an impenetrable phalanx, Leonidas and his feisty bunch dice and slice the enemy faster than Rachel Ray can chop scallions. In a series of visually stunning scenes, the bad guys hit our heroes with infantry, cavalry, rhinos, elephants, mutant warriors, slings and arrows and outrageous fortune. Even the elite Persian immortals are mowed down by the nearly invincible Spartan warriors.
Meanwhile back on the home front, Queen Gorgo attempts to convince her countrymen to rally the troops to support her husband’s valiant struggle. This includes being sexually fouled by the evil Theron (Dominic West), a political rival of her husband. This subplot keeps your interest with notable acting by the radiant Headey, who conveys honor and strength while inspiring those around her and exacting revenge on the man who seeks to destroy her king.
Sorry Dude, the Spartans die at the end
Just when you think King Leonidas and his band of merry Spartans are going make it, they are betrayed by a hunchback named Ephialtes who sells them out to Xerses and leads the Persian army to a secret mountain pass. Once the masked immortals get behind the beseiged 300, they begin to hear the weight challenged lady sing. Rather than kneel to the son of Darius, Leonidas and his men take enough arrows in their torsos to qualify as human pin cushions. The point is made that freedom comes with a high price … blah … blah … blah …oh, and that not every crevice has a happy ending.
The film employs an effect called blue screen, which for my money makes it look like Greece never enjoyed a day of sunshine; but this is to achieve the look of the original Frank Miller comic book. Apart from that novelty, the movie looks great, the acting is above average and Butler turns in a star making performance. This film is a great popcorn movie just like the ones I used to love when I was a kid. 300 proliferates the illusion that there is such a thing as a glorious death in battle. At least that is what the Spartans believed when they laid down their young lives in defense of their land. Some historians say their sacrifice possibly saved Greek civilization, the foundation on which stands our own culture. I appreciate watching such bravado on the screen but if were me, I would have been seen running for the hills.