300—Ancient Greek Historical Fantasy (blog)
Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: April 18, 2007 | Publication: mnche.org | Author: Grant Swenson
The movie 300 is based on a story from Greek history, and was rewritten into a movie that recently hit theatres. The opening scenes of the film show the great Spartan warrior Leonidis as a young boy training to become a Spartan soldier. As a young boy of 10, he was left to fend for himself in the wilderness against animals, beaten up, and fought hand to hand combat to indoctrinate him into the life that he would live as a Spartan soldier in the future. 300 follows Leonidis into manhood and depicts the heroic story of 300 elite Spartan soldiers who fought against the mighty Persian empire in the great Persian wars of ancient history. This film clearly uses the latest computer generated technology to tell a timeless tale from world history, and is based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller by the same name. In this review, I will take a look at the historic accuracy of the film, and analyze the facts presented in this action packed movie.
First off, I would like to say that the film 300 is known as “historical fantasy”, because it is a movie that is loosely based on actual events, but fictionalized to appeal to a wider audience. And of course, the wild monsters and 8 foot humans shown in the film are not an accurate depiction of world history of course. Nonetheless, this film does have a basis in some historical fact, and thus does have several valuable historical lessons to teach us.
Once the great Spartan Leonidis reaches adulthood, he quickly becomes a top leader in the Spartan army. His wife and son live with him in the Greek city-state of Sparta, an ancient civilization which almost totally dedicated itself to militaristic might, and this is properly shown in the film to reflect what this part of Greece was like. The movie makes it clear that the Spartans of ancient Greece were ruled by no-one, and always did things their own way. After consulting several Oracle figures(who were of course bribed by the Persians), Leonidis leads his elite group of soldiers into battle against the largest army in the world, the Persians. When he chooses the 300 men that will go with him, he only picks men who have had male children to carry on their family name. The 300 Spartan soldiers are the best fighting unit in the world, however, they don’t stand much of a chance against a Persian army that numbers in the hundreds of thousands, yet the Spartans volunteer to go into battle first against the Persians and valiantly hold them off for 3 days as the rest of Greece rallies to raise enough troops to defend Greece against the mighty Persians. The Battle of Thermopylae occurs in 480 BC in the northern mountains of Greece, and that is where the Spartan 300 fights the mighty forces of Xerxes and the Persians, who are invading Greece and threatening the foundation of western civilization.
I’ll make a note that the film does roughly follow the historical facts however, since the film is based on a novel written by a comic-book writer, there are a lot of supernatural elements that are added to the story to make it more of a fantasy movie than a historical drama. Nonetheless, for a real history guru, and for a person that read the novel, this movie does tell a great story that is based on fact. Leonidis refuses to give up an inch and his soldier’s kill so many Persians that they begin stacking the bodies into huge piles near the sea. The Persians send emissaries to bargain with the Spartans and even Xerxes talks with Leonidis to ask him to surrender, and of course he does not even entertain thoughts of surrendering. After 3 days of brutal fighting, a Greek hunchback turns traitor and give the Persians a side route through the mountains to flank the Spartans and defeat them. Eventually, the Spartan 300 die heroes, and gave the rest of the Greeks just enough time to rally their collective forces and ultimately defeat the Persians at the battle of Plataea in 479B.C; leading to the Persians abandoning the Persian wars, and Greece as the dominant culture in western civilization. Basically, the movie follows the historic facts, but adds elements from the “comic book” world that spices up the historical story.
On that note, let’s point out some historical inaccuracies in the film(of which there are many, but this is expected because the genre is of course historical fantasy). Xerxes, the King of the Persian empire was not 8 feet tall, as depicted in the movie(if you have seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about). Also, in real life, the Persians did indeed get information from a Greek traitor who helped the Persians flank the Spartans, however, I’m sure the infamous Greek traitor that gave away the Spartans was not a disfigured hunchback as shown in the movie. Other inaccuracies in the film include the depiction of the Persian 10,000 Immortals, who were Persian elite fighters. The film turns them into supernatural monsters, when in real life they were the Persian version of the Spartans; that is, the best soldiers on their side, versus the best soldiers in the world, the Spartans.
Back to the story told by the film. Leonidis’ wife tells her husband to go off to war, and “come back with your shield, or on it”. This is what Spartans told their warriors as they went off to battle, and pretty much sums up the Spartan mindset on war and life. It was an honor to die in battle for your city-state according to the Spartans, and as mentioned all boys and men had to serve in the army from 20 to 60 years of age. The Spartans put so much energy and value in creating a total militaristic society that it certainly had some drawbacks for their civilization’s growth, or lack of growth(culturally at least). The film did reference that unhealthy Spartan babies were left to die if they looked unfit at birth, and shows how that Spartans were not interested in a baby that would not in turn make a fierce soldier in the future. In the end, the Spartan 300 all die but it is their heroism that lives on. Overall, the film 300 is a very violent movie, and it is certainly not recommended for anyone under the age of 17. Actually, it is best suited for an adult audience to be completely honest.
As I sat and watched the amazing special effects, and computer generated visuals, I began to wonder if films like 300 are good or bad for history in our wider culture. Obviously, stories like the 300 will be told and retold forever, but this movie made me think about what happens when the masses go to a film like this without the historical background in events. Now I know that most people just go to a film like this and want entertainment, and action, but I believe there is still a history lesson hidden in this movie, though, it is probably not appreciated by wider audiences.
I am a believer, naturally, that if you first have a historical background in a topic, you can go to a film like 300, and appreciate the nuances of how history stories are told and retold. A person that has no historical background in Greek and Spartan history, can still appreciate and certainly enjoy a film like 300, but I feel they would take away more lessons and concepts from a film like this if they first learned the story, so they could appreciate the importance of what was going on in Greek history at the time. Even though 300 is not a historically accurate film, I found it to still be a great movie and would give it 3.5 out of 4 stars. If you are looking for pure historic fact, this film is not for you. However, if you want an action packed film and great entertainment, and don’t mind that this film is not pure historical fact, then I think you will love this film and I recommend that you go to it.