One of NBC’s Greco-Roman, Irish, and biblical mythos inspired mini-series, “The Odyssey” was a ratings success which brought to the small screen Homer’s odysseyfollowing the Trojan War with great storytelling and wondrous special effects. Yet another story from Greek legend, the new theatrical release “300” doesn’t measure up to the others. While true to most ancient historians’ version of events, right down to the Spartan’s amusing retorts, 300 is less an impactful story depicting an incredible ancient battle, and more a roaring blood spatter fest set to an impressive score.
In 480 B.C., King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) of Sparta along with 300 of his best soldiers, all of whom had sons to carry on their legacy, left their families behind to defend Sparta against the invading Persian King Xerxes. Spartan tradition forbade the deployment of a full army during the season which was considered sacred, so Leonidas and his 300 along with 700 Thespian volunteers (of the Greek city Thespiae, not actors) were left alone to face the hundreds of thousands of men which comprised the Persian army. An almost exact adaptation of graphic novelist Frank Miller’s (Sin City) comic book of the same name, 300 seems to pride itself on rewarding every punch, slash, and thrust with an ample amount of blood gush. With Tyler Bates’ arresting score and cries of agony from gutted soldiers inter-spliced, the red symphony stops just short of sprinkling the lens with the off-spray of severed heads and limbs. But the maiming isn’t campy and repetitive, it’s actually refreshing. Carnage, or at least this brand where only the villain’s henchmen are massacred, speaks directly to the testosterone pumping through men’s veins–leaving the most reserved gentleman giggling with glee and prone to adrenaline induced outbursts. It’s all served in heaps with 300.
Leonidas badmouths the Athenians, referring to them as “boy lovers”. While in most of Greece and other civilizations of the time upperclass men choose one or more boys to mentor and ‘”love”, it is accepted that Spartans only supported the platonic roles of men in their lives. When the Spartans are ordered to surrender their weapons, Leonidas barks “Come and get them!” When he first meets with Xerxes on the battlefield, Leonidas remarks “We’ve been sharing our culture with you all morning,” referring to his 300’s triumph over the Persians. If not just a quipping machine, Gerard Butler as King Leonidas isn’t much more than a snarling, roaring, cliché of a tough guy, with almost every line exploding through sharp teeth and a tightly clenched jaw. Leonidas’ devotion to the cause is abundantly clear, but scenes giving the audience a glimpse at who he is outside of the conflict are few and far between.
In short supply here also is the attention to beauty and nude Olympics for which the Spartans are legendary. With the exception of the hypnotic dance of the “Oracle” and a few half naked soldiers slaughtering the enemy, the only erotic scene is a less than tender moment between King Leonidas and his wife Gorgo (Lena Headey). Apparently, even between the sheets the Spartans were dry and militant. Shots of Butler’s short stubby fingers caressing the queen are more off-putting than arousing.
Slightly salvaging, one of the film’s special effect high points is a scene wherein Leonidas and his men have defeated the first wave of Persians only to be bombarded by arrows which take to the dusty sky like a massive swarm of insects. The Spartans laugh defiantly from beneath their seemingly fragile shields as the arrows rain down with a paralyzing fury. The brass-like color treatment, authentic costume design, gargantuan creatures, and Greek freaks all establish a very appealing texture for the movie. In contrast, the dark shadowy wolf creature Leonidas faces in his youth may as well have been a black smudge with yellow eyes drawn on with crayons.
This is no epic film inspiring a young audience to learn more about ancient Greek culture and mythology. Here, the revered Spartans come off more like a bunch of organized hooligans driven by hormonal overload. Playing like a film meant to rile men up and have boys asking mom for a Spartan costume this Halloween (were the film appropriate for that age group), the film serves its purpose well. Baseball hats, t-shirts, cell phone wallpaper, full grain leather bags debossed with the movie title, and even a Play Station video game go on sale with the movie’s release–so the expectations for the movie are clear. 300 has the effect of reminding of the strength and virility that comes with being a man, and the comfort that lies in comradery with other buffoons having the same traits. Throughout, the Spartans are portrayed as scrappy underdogs who usually win, which is likely why hundreds of schools across the nation have adopted the Spartan as their mascot.
MY RATING: C
Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama, Adaptation and War
Runtime: 1hr. 56min.
Release: March 9, 2007
MPAA Rating: R for graphic battle sequences, some sexuality and nudity
Warner Brothers Pictures Distribution