300 is a digitally enhanced sword and sandals semi-epic that lives up to almost all of the buzz generated for it on behave of Warner Brothers’ extremely aggressive advertisement campaign. If this film had been made in the “traditional” fashion i.e. real sets and shot on location, it may have cost 200 million dollars. The highly entertaining and authentic HBO television show Rome was made in such a fashion with its first 24-episode season costing $100 million. This high price tag, the most in HBO history, was the cause of its early demise before its second season began to air. A similar fate might have befallen 300 but with innovation and the use of blue (and green) screens, its production cost, which does not include how much it cost to advertise the film, was kept at a mere $65 million.
Having read two of Frank Miller’s graphic novels: Return of the Dark Knight, Batman: Year One and parts of The Long Kiss Goodbye, That Yellow Bastard and A Dame to Kill For, I knew what I was getting into when I read 300 and later saw its film incarnation in the movie theater. Like Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, director Zack Snyder uses the exact frames or pictures found in Frank Miller’s graphic novel as story broads for the film version of 300, replicating them and bringing them to life. If 300 had been made in the costly traditional fashion, the scenes in it may not have been as striking or as beautifully rendered, though blue screen limitations do become apparent here and there because of the outdoor nature of this film.
300 revolves around the zealous leadership of King Leonidas of Sparta, played by Gerard Butler, and a litany of testosterone infused dialogue spouted by him and most of the other cast members. Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), who had three or four lines in the entirety of Frank Miller’s graphic book, finds her role greatly expanded in the film as the pugnacious and aggressive spouse to Leonidas. All of the other main characters from Miller’s book are present in the film including Stelios (Michael Fassbender), the seven-foot-tall Persian God-King Xerxes the First (Rodrigo Santoro) and deformed Ephialtes (Andre Tiernan). Xerxes still feels the sting of his father’s defeat at Marathon when Darius attempted to quell the Ionian revolt before his reign began and asks the military state of Sparta to pay tribute to him. King Leonidas refuses this offer, in his own special way. This refusal plunges Greece into war but since it is a special Spartan holiday, the Carneia, the Spartan army is forbidden by law against such an endeavor. With this in mind, the clever King decides to take a “walk” with 300 soldiers to the desolate and narrow pass of Thermopylae, a name that translates in English to Hot Gateway (Hot Gates in the book and film), the very place where the Persian army will land from the sea. On their march to the Gates, more Greek recruits are acquired by the Spartans, the desolation that awaits Greece under the heel of Persia is seen first hand and someone wishing to redeem his family’s name and honor is met.
Once the Spartan army reaches Hot Gates, what most people came to 300 to see, whether they read the graphic novel or not, occurs: beautifully choreographed battle scenes that do not skimp on the blood or the gore. Comparisons to Sin City and Gladiator are to be expected since Frank Miller wrote Sin City and because Gladiator, like 300, revolves around the charismatic leadership of one individual set in a vanished society ruled by blood and the whims of an elected senate. This is where the comparisons should logically end between Gladiator and 300. Gladiator is a film that deals with a society threatened from the inside, 300 deals with a society threatened from both the inside and the outside. If Sin City and 300 are to be compared, realize that these films exist in different film genres. One is a black and white film-noir film set in a fictional city and the other is a colorful action/drama set in the very real Thermopylae, Greece in 480 B.C. There linkage and common lineage is that Frank Miller wrote both graphic novels turned memorable films, that’s it.
300 is a film that will surprise viewers that are familiar with its source material and satisfy those that are not. Satisfied though I was, I was not expecting the sentimentality spliced into the final confrontation between the Persians and the Spartans. Would a king with his loyal and brave soldiers dying all around him, arrows in his body, instead of fighting, really stop and think about something other than strategy, pain and Hades? What about picking up your shield and sword and fighting to the death? Since parts of Frank Miller’s graphic novel were already modified for this film, why not modify this part and make it more realistic? Believe me, you have seen what Snyder has Leonidas think of a thousand times before in other films, the aforementioned Gladiator being among them. Another die-hard soldier, after doing exactly what he does in the graphic novel, is seen in his final moments dying on the battlefield, saying what an honor it has been serving with Leonidas. I thought it was obvious and would have been more fitting for the character, given his personality, to charge the lines of the Persians and acquire the Beautiful Death he had spoken of so fanatically earlier in the film. This area was addressed most pointedly in the graphic novel but I can see why it was not included in the film. Could the aim of a pampered, non-soldier like the God-King really be that accurate? I do not believe so and by Snyder’s modification of this, neither did he. All criticism for the final twenty minutes of the film aside, what preceded it was everything promised by Snyder, Miller, and the advertisements for this film.