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The Stax Report: Script Review of 300 (Spoilers Included)

Category: 300 News
Article Date: February 17, 2004 | Publication: IGN FilmForce | Author: Stax
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An exclusive first look at the big-screen adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel!

Stax here with my reaction to the screenplay for 300. This 121-page second draft dated May 22, 2003 was penned by Michael Gordon (the forthcoming G.I. Joe movie). It is an adaptation of the Frank Miller/Lynn Varley graphic novel miniseries of the same name published by Dark Horse Comics. 300 will be produced by Gianni Nunnari and Mark Canton. Frank Miller is expected to be involved in some capacity. 300 is a separate project than the similar Gates of Fire and The 300 Spartans remake.

300 is a fictionalized account of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. where Leonidas, King of Sparta, and his 300 warriors confronted the overwhelming forces of Persian ruler Xerxes. Unlike Gates of Fire, Leonidas is the main protagonist of this retelling. He has long wanted to unite the Greeks under one banner and Xerxes' hostility has given his dream newfound urgency. Sparta will fall to the mighty Persian army unless they stand against Xerxes.

Leonidas determines that the cities themselves cannot be held so the only way to halt Xerxes' seemingly inevitable march towards victory is to make their stand at the Hot Gates (a.k.a. Gates of Fire), an imposing, narrow mountain pass that will give the Spartans a distinct advantage over Xerxes' sheer numbers. The Persians fall for Leonidas' ploy, underestimating the effectiveness of The Hot Gates and the Spartans' will to survive.

The outcome of the Battle of Thermopylae is known to history but why should I spoil it for you if you don't already know? Suffice to say that it's still remembered today along with similar "small force vs. huge army" battles like The Alamo and Rorke's Drift.

What made Gordon's draft of 300 a better account of the Battle of Thermopylae than David Self's adaptation of Gates of Fire was that it succeeded in developing its characters. Leonidas is not overlooked here as he was in Gates; he is Spartacus, William Wallace, and Maximus all rolled into one. A wise and noble leader of men who can also throw down with the best of him.

His beautiful and gutsy wife Gorgo risks her life not only for Sparta (and all of Greece) but also to help save her husband. Leonidas may fight on the battlefield but Gorgo must navigate the treacherous world of Hellenic politics. While she's only a supporting character, Gorgo is a brave and strong-willed heroine in a story otherwise devoid of women.

Leonidas' constant companion and captain of the guard is his younger brother Artemis. Their hatred for the Persians goes back to a tragic encounter in their youth (it's the opening sequence of this draft). The captain, as the script mostly refers to Artemis, is also the father of Stelios but he shows his son no preferential treatment over the other troops.

The character that borders on being the most outrageous and least developed is Xerxes. He is a true supervillain: a garish megalomaniac hellbent on ruling the world. His enormous golden throne is carried by dozens of slaves, he is tended to by a bevy of concubines, and he himself is literally larger-than-life. My only nitpicks with this draft usually involved him. For example, Xerxes has the script's worst line when he utters that old chestnut "resistance is futile." Other than little moments like that, Gordon's script was a smooth and fun ride.

Unlike Leonidas, Xerxes relies on his generals to fight his battles and if they fail ... well, let's just say there apparently wasn't much job security in the ancient Persian army. On the positive side, though, they were apparently a more diverse outfit including Africans, Asians, and Indians than the Greeks.


The most interesting and memorable character was the deformed hunchback Ephialtes. A Spartan by birth, Ephialtes lives in the mountains because his parents feared raising him in the city. He knows this terrain better than anyone and wants to serve his king but the regular Spartan troops show him no respect. Ephialtes is this story's Gollum, a sympathetic wretch capable of both decency and deceit. Simply put, he steals the show.

The actual battle of Thermopylae spans most of the story, taking place in segments. My favorite one wasn't necessarily the final stand, which was powerful and poignant, but rather a sequence three-quarters of the way through where the Persians' seemingly invincible elite corps, The Immortals, make the unfortune mistake of raiding the Spartan camp. Things don't go quite as they had expected. 'Nuff said.

The scale of 300's battle scenes was beyond epic. They are akin to those depicted in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and possibly Troy, judging by its latest trailer). The spectacle of thousands upon thousands of Persians storming this craggy mountain pass would have seemed unfilmable just a few years ago but in this post-Helm's Deep era anything is possible thanks to CGI.

Hopefully, these epic battles won't be scaled down too much due to budgetary concerns but there's no denying that this film will be hugely expensive. Fortunately, it will be worth every cent.

300 was a grand tale of heroism and valor during wartime. Its timely (and clearly allegorical) overtones gave it an additional resonance but even if one didn't pick up on them, 300 still packed an emotional punch. This glorious war epic deserves to be realized onscreen but the question remains whether it can now escape the gates of fire, er, development hell. STAX

 


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