An elderly man was trying to find a place to sit and observe the Olympic Games, as he went to each section. All the other Greeks laughed as he tried to make his way through. Some ignored him. Upon entering the Spartan section, all the Spartans stood and offered the elderly man their seats. Suddenly the entire stadium applauded. All the Greeks knew what the right thing to do was, but the Spartans were the only ones who did it. — Xenophon of Ephesus
It is roughly 2500 years ago and you are just a child sitting around an open campfire, listening to your elders tell war stories to entertain and educate you and those around you. Finally, one man begins to tell the story of how King Leonidas and only 300 of his personal bodyguard stood off half a million Persian warriors.
Imagine the awe you would feel; think about how impressed you would be as you saw in your mind these great warriors battle an army over a hundred times greater then they were and how they refused to surrender, or give quarter.
Today, that campfire is a modern theater with comfortable seats, a drink holder and central air and heat. You are with some friends and that 'elder' is a 40-foot screen in living and vivid color. Moreover, you can watch these 300 brought to life and brought from mythology in an epic that will be this generation's Ben Hur.
The movie is an adaptation of the Frank Miller and Lynn Varley graphic novel of the same name. The film is focused on what brought the war to Sparta and the political machinations that were going on in the local government. No the film is not history and anyone who uses a movie as history deserves the failing grade they are bound to receive. It is exaggerated in many places and there is a bit of political commentary that could be used today as well as then, but it is not exactly accurate in most places.
In fact, even the production comments say that the story is life a, "… half remembered dream one has when they awaken, able to remember only the emotion but not what exactly happened." I can deal with that. Because the true story, the reason behind the actions is still held strongly in the film.
There were excellent performances by all the leads in the film and some were downright amazing. Gerard Butler as King Leonidas and Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo are wonderful to watch. They work off and with each other like the seasoned and experienced actors they are, and the chemistry between them is great to watch. Therefore, they got along on set well or they are even better actors then I thought.
This should be a turning point for moving Butler into the upper ranks of Hollywood high rollers, but I hope it does not go to his head the way it has so many other talented actors and become his downfall.
Butler's Leonidas controls everything around him, and shows a very much 'alive' king whose love for his country, his son, his Queen, his soldiers, and most of all his freedom is the motivating force in all he does.
Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo is one of the finest parts for an actress I've seen in years. She is a full and equal partner to her king, as were the women in Sparta. At one point, the emissary from the Persian King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) demands to know why she "speaks in the presence of men."
"Because," she replies, "only Spartan women give birth to real men." That made me cheer aloud for her. In addition, the way she fought for Sparta and what she was willing to endure for her King and nation show the qualities of both a warrior and a woman of character.
David Wenham offers voiceover narration, telling the story and setting the mood, and is one of the king's best friends and fellow warriors. The other Spartans, from Wenham's Dilios the storyteller to Vincent Regan's Captain, all have strong roles and add extra dimensions in demonstrating what made these men an elite force.
To say the movie was unlike anything I have seen before is somewhat misleading. I have seen gladiator films before, but 300 goes beyond them. I have seen CGI, but 300 uses computer graphics in a way that has not been seen before or at least not this way. Therefore, yes, I have seen films like 300 but at the same time 300 is a brand new experience. It is like watching an epic poem by Homer or a story by Socrates played out in front of you. It is a masterpiece.
Stunning, amazing, wonderful — these all fit as a description. It is satisfying to the eye to watch and Zack Snyder did an amazing job and any and all awards he gets are well-deserved and well-earned. The movie is artistic with a style all its own without looking goofy.
There are a lot of fight scenes, and I mean a lot. But they don't drag on and on. They are compact, efficient battles, showing the savagery and horror of war with swords and pikes, and with axes and even animals. There are moments of humor and even brotherly love demonstrated between the characters even as the audience stares in shock at the severed limbs scattered around the actors on the screen.
The filming is wonderful, using what I was calling almost 'stop motion', with a smooth but visually jerky effect that seemed to place the characters in more then one place at one time. I would have thought this would be disconcerting, but Snyder and his crew not only made it work, they made it beautiful as well.
Now, listen closely, as this is important. Fans of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings will like this movie. It has scenes that will appeal to both men and women. There is nudity, but it is combined with a tenderness that made it erotic and not dirty, except when it took place with the Oracle or in King Xerxes' camp. Hmm… maybe some of it was dirty and not just erotic. Guess I will have to watch it a few more times to decide.
However, there is a lot of violence so leave the kids at home. Honestly, this is not a movie for children — well, unless you have no problem with having your kids see hacked off arms, severed legs, decapitations, and a rape scene along with some truly hot and kinky stuff. Okay, fine — some of it was dirty. I am so ashamed. Anyway, leave the kids at home.
There are going to be a lot of people who will argue that the film has historical inaccuracies. Well, it does. And neither Zack Snyder nor Frank Miller have ever said they wanted this to be a documentary on Greek or Spartan history. It is a fantasy story based on an event that really happened, and is meant to entertain, not educate.
The only hope I have is that it will inspire people to study the truth behind the fantasy and maybe to discover the actual meaning of the words "hero", "honor" and what it really means to love one's nation.
And finally, what that nation can cost.
Director: Zack Snyder
Written by: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, Michael Gordon
From an original story by: Frank Miller, Lynn Varley
With: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, Vincent Regan, Andrew Pleavin, Andrew Tiernan, and Rodrigo Santoro