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