300

As an introduction to 300, I could give you a couple of paragraphs on the Battle of Thermopylae, the Persian Wars, and even ancient Greece itself. But there really wouldn’t be much point. Historical accuracy wasn’t the watchword in this production. All you need to know is that in 480 BC the massive Persian army decided to invade the city states of Greece. Only King Leonidas of Sparta decided to resist and he could only muster 300 hoplites. Since Spartans are the closest things to Klingons that this planet has ever produced, it was almost enough.

OK, that’s already more history than you need, and even that’s not really accurate.  This is one of those films like Sin City or Sky Captain where the actors were shot in front of green screens and the sets were added later by computer. This simplifies the images like in a graphic novel. Which is probably why Frank Miller, who wrote the graphic novel that 300 is based on, prefers this technique. Technically, this film is seamless. They’ve really gotten good at blending live action and fantastic backgrounds. It looks like they’ve actually trained a rhino to stop just inches in front of the Greek phalanx and play dead. This is a beautiful film.

As for the theme, well, Frank Miller is a writer who deals in extremes. Sin City is a den of iniquity where there are no honest cops, so the only reaction is to be strong enough to follow your own code, even if it’s not strictly in the confines of the law. His Gotham City is the same. In 300 King Leonidas has multitudes of Persians landing on the Adriatic shore bent on conquest. It’s not the time to observe the niceties of the law or to soothe bureaucratic egos. The situation is as black and white as the desaturated cinematography. There are no lessons for real life here, either for now or even back in 480 BC. This is just a morality tale, similar to the super hero stories where Miller made his chops.

The acting is good for the most part. Gerard Butler chews the digital scenery in the best thespian tradition. His Leonidas is by turns inspiring, canny, and funny. The only poor performance is by David Wenham, who plays Dilios, the lone Spartan survivor of the battle, who narrates the tale. Wenham is a good actor and I know he can do better than this, but his voice over sounds like it was done by a bad community theater actor. It’s some inflection or accent he’s trying. Everyone else is good.

My advice is to just enjoy this movie. Don’t worry about history or politics. Ignore the homophobia, the eugenics, and simplistic Civics 101 messages (“Freedom is not free”) and just geek out to the pretty pictures and cool fights.

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