300 is a comicbook, written and drawn by Frank Miller, with colors by Lynn Varley. Published by Dark Horse Comics in 1998 in 5 loose issues, and in 1999 in a hardcover collected edition.

What's it about?
The armies of Persia, a vast horde greater than any the world has ever known, are poised to crush Greece, an island of reason and freedom in a sea of madness and tyranny. Standing between Greece and this tidal wave of destruction are a tiny detachment of but three hundred warriors.
Although it is a fictional story, the events are told in a very realistic manner. (Editor's Note: Actually, the plot of 300 is based on historical events: the battle at Thermopylae, to be exact. Xerxes and Leonidas were real, although of course Miller's interpretation of them is fictional. -fuzzy and blue, 25 March 2004)

Issue 1: A force of men is assembled, so massive it shakes the earth with its march: an army, vast beyond imagining, poised to devour tiny Greece, to snuff out the world's one hope for reason and justice. Only three hundred brave souls block its dash. But they are more than men . . . they are Spartans.
Issue 2: The word is out: Sparta is on the march. From farms and hamlets rally brave Greeks, to face hellish war in the narrow mountain pass called The Hot Gates. The odds are long, and the stakes are high: all hope for human freedom hangs in the balance!
Issue 3: Dread Xerxes marshals all the armies of Asia against a tiny, plucky force of 300 Spartans, and makes one last offer for peace. But peace means surrender. With stabbing spear and slashing sword, the Spartans respond. Their message is a simple one: These free men will not be slaves. There is no middle ground, no compromise to be had, between good and evil.
Issue 4: Combat. Grueling, hateful, joyous slaughter. The Spartans do what they were born and bred to do: they fight, brother beside brother, shoulder to shoulder, shield against shield, their bristling spears driving back the slaves of the tyrant Xerxes till the dead are piled high as a mountain and the sacred, rocky soil of Greece is drenched deep in Persian blood.
Issue 5: Betrayed, surrounded, outnumbered a hundred thousand to one, the Spartans make their last stand against the hordes of Xerxes. All hope is surely lost: only bloody death awaits them. Why, then, that wild, joyous light in the eyes of King Leonidas? What secret has he that makes him smile and speak so confidently of victory?

This film, adapted from the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, presents a fantasy version of ancient history. Miller took as his inspiration the Battle of Thermopylae. He has acknowledged his more direct inspiration was the 1962 film about that battle, The 300 Spartans. The 300 filmmakers, likewise, had in mind other, non-historical sources: role-playing games and the Peter Jackson adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Leonidas I of Sparta leads 300 men and some Greek allies against Xerxes’s larger Persian army, holding them at bay long enough to allow other Greek forces to gather. The Spartans’ sacrifice was significant and memorable, though in reality Leonidas had more support than this film suggests. The Persian forces were not quite as overwhelming; the giant mutant trolls and cool armoured pachyderms also constitute artistic embellishments.

If you’re seeing 300 for artistic spectacle, you’re seeing it for the right reasons. Shooting took place almost entirely in a Montreal studio; computer artists painstakingly created the stylized ancient world we see. The CGI visuals make for spectacular eye candy, and impressive sandal epic battles. We experience moody skies and arrow showers as in no prior film. Many of the movie's extras and all of the fauna could be comfortably placed in Middle Earth. Xerxes surrounds himself with impossible spectacle and gold adornment. Those drawn to muscular men can ogle two hours of Spartans without their battle armour. The rest of us get Exotic Eastern Pleasure Girls, brief lesbic kisses, and a writhing, scantily-clad oracle. And what would a sandal epic be without a female lead made up according to contemporary Cover Girl standards?

I know we're watching unabashed myth-making, and I recognize that Hollywood rarely gets history right in any case. However, the whitewashing of the past in 300 goes as over the top as the action sequences. The film’s Spartans regularly mouth Bushisms about fighting for freedom and being free men, in contrast with the welt-marked slave-armies of the Persians. We get no mention of the fact that Spartans themselves had no problem owning slaves. Various other unpleasant aspects of their society get downplayed or ignored outright.

The basic plot holds, but it lacks significant developments. The backstory given to Ephialtes apparently exists to justify the Spartans’ tradition of killing the deformed and the weak. Other events make little sense. These Spartans know much about the goat-path allegedly exploited by Xerxes’ forces. Why, then, do they not block it as they do another route? Why was the politician revealed to be a traitor conveniently carrying Persian coin? Why am I asking these questions about something that was obviously meant to be pure macho spectacle?

The actors fare reasonably well in their stylized roles, but the film lacks character development or credible dialogue. People do not so much converse in this film as they shout noble-sounding platitudes. The film gives us blood and spectacle, but I found I could not really get involved with its world. Three-hundred entertains on the visceral level, but does not bear thoughtful scrutiny.

Directed by Zack Snyder

Written by Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, Michael Gordon, adapted from the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley.

Set design by Frédéric Amblard.

Gerard Butler as King Leonidas
Vincent Regan as Captain
Lena Heady as Queen Gorgo
Dominic West as Theron
David Wenham as Delios
Andrew Pleavin as Daxos
Andrew Tiernan as Ephialtes
Robert Picardo as Howard
Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes the Drag Queen King of Persia1

1.I kept wondering why Xerxes was wandering around naked without his big bushy beard. He seemed to be possesed by Ra from Stargate.--Evil Catullus

300 is an awesome movie. As Timeshredder notes, what you primarily get when you go and see it is a visual feast, not overly stylized but definitely blending into the realm of the fantasy epic. It's not a documentary. And yet, like the historical event it's based upon and is largely faithful to, it is very moving.

The story, briefly, is this. (Spoilers follow.) The Persian Empire, led by Xerses I, seeks to invade Greece and make her city-states its vassals. Xerses is motivated by a belief that he is 'King of kings', a desire to secure the unprotected western flank of his Empire, and a further desire to succeed where his father, Darius, failed. As the Persian horde approaches, Greece is divided against itself and unsure of whether to fight. The Spartan King, however, has only one mind where they have two, and he leads an eponymous force of three hundred to face the Persians. After a bloody fight in which they exact a high price from the Persian armies, all are killed; but this sacrifice inspires all of Greece to unite against the invasion, which is eventually repelled.

It somewhat misses the point to say that this movie omits to mention parts of Spartan society which we today find deplorable, such as slave-owning, or to say the dialogue contains "Bushisms". The viewer can make their own mind up if the harsh, militaristic Spartan society which is portrayed, especially in the first quarter of the film, is to their taste - they will likely conclude it is not. This doesn't undermine the central message which the film unintentionally portrays, which is that our conception of the good life - whatever that may be - sometimes requires sacrifice to defend it.

Nowadays, such sentiment is often regarded as parochial and backwards. Maybe I'm not helping my case by supporting it with an example from over two thousand years ago. This, I am sure, is undoubtedly why the film has been described in some quarters as fascist - an over-used label. Three hundred men choosing voluntarily to sacrifice their lives in defence of their homeland and the ideas encapsulated therein is, of course, not remotely fascist; it is a measure of how low our discourse has got that it could be considered as such. Nor do comparisons between fascist societies and Sparta as depicted in this movie hold any water. The Spartans may be militaristic, but they are acting to defend themselves, not claiming the right to rule over other peoples, which is the essential element of any group worth calling 'fascist'.

It is only the lack of an organized threat to the existence of our societies that makes us become blind, perhaps even hostile to, the plain fact of reality that sometimes sacrifice and the encouragement of virtues not usually associated with these societies may be needed in their defence. Patriotism and the sometimes simple-headed defence of what is ours - defending it from attack, not inflicting it on others - are underappreciated virtues.

Twentieth-century blood and soil nationalism and fascism made us weary of people who come wrapped in the flag, and rightly so. But it's quite easy to see how it's possible to take this all too far, to declare that all is relative and hence nothing is worth defending. 300 is rousing precisely because it portrays, clear as day, a situation in which we can see that the exact opposite is true. It's beautiful in its moral simplicity in the same way that the story of anti-Nazi partisans is, or the Star Wars series was.

The virtue of this film lies in its portrayal of this morally simple situation. I honestly say this without reference to any actual event happening in the world now, and certainly not in reference to a crude analysis of this film as some sort of depiction of the "clash of civilizations". That's not what this is about. What it's about is the fact this film stands out as a wonderful story about sacrifice and hardship endured in pursuit of an ideal, which is not a story that we come across often now that we've entered the End of History. The comfortable existence we now experience has liberated us from the constant struggle for survival which has characterized all of human history until so very recently. In such a state, we would do well as a people not to forget the lessons and example that this historical event sets for us. We may need these virtues again one day.

300 -- a film (and a comic book, of course, but this is based solely on the film) about the battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans famously held off an entire Persian army for days, armed only with their machismo. And big pointy sticks, of course.

Now, this is a film about a culture where a wife had to dress like a soldier on her wedding night, where sodomy was an institution of the state, and where naked men slathered in oil wrestled around. To build muscle, they said. Does this film live up to that (rather impressive, sez I) legacy?

Oh my yes. The entire film is based around 300 half-naked men, a narrow passage (and any speculation about precisely how narrow it was after 300 Spartans had been there is too low, even for me), and the penetration of lots of Persians with the big pointy sticks I mentioned before. The Persians themselves are ruled over by a 10-foot-tall S&M Dom with multiple piercings and a completely waxed body. Enough said.

Perhaps aware of just how homoerotic the film was, there's also some more gratuitous displays of breasts and a sex scene, and the Athenians are insulted at one point as being 'boylovers', despite the fact that the historical Spartans did far more of it. In short, it's a desperate attempt to make the film slightly less camp so teenage boys with an inadequate grasp of irony won't run screaming at the thought of something that wasn't entirely heterosexual. Does it succeed? Well, no, but it adds gratuituous female nudity as well as half-naked men, so I have absolutely no complaints. Well. Maybe one complaint. They had a 10-foot pierced god-king, a whole lot of half-naked Spartans, and several pairs of boobies, and the best they could do was King Leonidas and his wife in the missionary position in the dark. Somehow, I feel they missed a golden opportunity here, perhaps to call it '300 Spartans and an orgy' and put Hugh Grant in it somewhere (preferably with his clothes on).

Since a lot of the film's based around the battle scenes -- are they good? Oh yes. They're one of the few to actually get things like a clash of two shield walls right (having been in a couple, thanks to Dark Ages re-enactment, it can basically be described as a big rugby scrum with shields locked together, with people frantically bashing at each other from over the top), and there's enough blood and corpses to keep most gorehounds happy. In short, I'd recommend the film should you wish to switch off your higher brain functions for a few hours, watch the fighting, and admire examples of whichever gender (or both) takes your fancy.

Want something with more depth? Despite having studied Latin, Greek, and Classical Civilisation, I prefer to avoid delving into the historical veracity of the film, as it's quite plainly non-existent. The film should be taken as what it is -- a Hollywoodised and completely fictional depiction of a battle that had already accumulated centuries of myth around it. It merely happens to use a couple of historical names, places, and events. If it helps, think of it as saving a little money in the scriptwriting department.

After all, the real story - that the Persian Empire was in fact a fairly enlightened federalist system, preserving in large part the freedom of religion and autonomy of its satellite states, while Sparta and the Greek Cities were quite ferociously dogmatic, Sparta itself being unwilling to even allow non-Spartans into their city - wouldn't make such a gloriously uncomplicated film. Athens, frequently held up as a bastion of early democracy, had an unfortunate tendency to ostracise (send away for a period of 10 years) many of its most generals and statesmen whose only crime was telling the people what they didn't want to hear, and frequently elected demagogues and rabble-rousers whose only talent was to appease the mob, such as the Cleon so hated by Aristophanes and Dracon, a legislator so harsh that his name became the root of the word draconian. For those familiar with 2000AD, his comic book analogue would undoubtedly be Judge Death. The Martyrdom of Socrates as chronicled by Plato also demonstrates the Athenian capacity for brutality.

In short, the historical account contains moral complexity, as historical accounts tend to do. 300, on the other hand, has none at all. This doesn't, however, make it a bad film. As entertainment, it does a very solid job indeed. It just isn't a film that requires more than three neurons to fire at any one given moment.

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