DCGreeks.com @ The Movies Reviews
March 12, 2007
There was a certain lack of familiarity surrounding 300. After Troy and Alexander in the last three years, it would have been fair to say that Hollywood had virtually exhausted the Ancient Greek battle epic, particularly with stories that many in the audience already knew or should have known how they were going to end. So 300 should have followed this pattern but surprisingly the telling and more often the showing of the story made this worth making it to the opening weekend.
Despite the graphic novel treatment of the source material, there were enough nuances of Spartan culture, warfare, and adherence to the basic history of the battle of Thermopylae. (It was nice to see that the Arcadians who joined the Spartans were actually mentioned despite the fact that no Greek soldiers went into battle with more than a helmet, sword, spear and shield, other body armor deemed unnecessary by the makers of the film.) This movie manages to humanize, even glamorize, Spartan cruelty (both towards Persian soldiers, hapless messengers, and its own people). It’s the contrast between Spartan culture and the virtually insurmountable Persian Empire that makes the Spartans look noble by comparison. (The talk of Spartans wishing for a “beautiful death” in battle almost sounded downright Klingon -- in a good way.) The irony is that the writers of the movie, in a moment of taking liberties with history, make Spartan treatment of those less-than-perfect members of its own society the reason for the ultimate downfall of the 300.
All the talk of the violence and over-the-top blood and gore was overkill as the stylized slow-motion violence was artistic to the point of not seeming real. (Contrast this with the realism of the fighting in Troy, and Troy comes out as the more violent movie.) Thankfully there wasn’t more than just a hint of the unnecessary adult themes that overshadowed the story in Alexander and threatened Troy as well. There were some magical elements and unnecessary extras from Frank Miller’s last blockbuster Sin City, but not enough to take away from the basic story. And despite the panning of the Greek critics, 300 was not a retelling of an ancient story to fit the modern predicament of the West’s involvement in the middle East. (Oliver Stone’s Alexander was definitely about the U.S.’ policy in Iraq and the greater Middle East, while 300 dealt with more universal themes of heroism in the face of insurmountable odds.)
For the first time in the genre, there is the appearance of a strong woman character. Leonidas’ wife, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), is the first character to appear as an almost equal to the men in these movies. Definitely not lacking the substance of Helen or Hector’s wife in Troy or exuding the maniacal manipulative nature of Olympias (Angelina Jolie) in Alexander, Headey’s Queen of the Spartans exhibits savvy, loyalty and a shrewd political mind. The break in the war action is shots of Sparta back home and the attempts of Gorgo to sway the council to send reinforcements to the 300.
Missing from 300 though was any overarching feeling leaving the theater that all the Spartan heroism and sacrifice made much of a difference. The ultimate climax, the slaughter of the 300 Spartans, seemed all too inevitable, particularly after the time and effort the movie put into showing their success against the Persians for the first days of the battle. The movie needed to reflect on and not just to allude to the real importance of the battle of Thermopylae. This should have been the true legacy of 300, not only a depiction of heroism in a moment in time, but what those days meant to not only the history of Greece, but the history of the Western World.