14 March 2007

300, a review

How do you know when a movie has hit a nerve? Well, for starters, when the mainstream press has a massive conniption fit over a movie, for one. For another, when the thug in charge of Iran whines and snivels about how a movie unfairly treats Persians.

More on that later. Let's get to the good stuff.

I watched 300 with JR and Dan last night. Very entertaining flick. The CGI stuff is just utterly stunning. It is incredibly hard to believe that not one scene of this movie was filmed outdoors.

The movie, as you probably know by now, is loosely based around the battle of Thermopylae, which took place in 480 B.C. A small band of Spartans, 300, hold off a massive Persian army invading Greece for 3 days, giving the rest of the Greek city-states a chance to build up their armies and fleets and devise a plan to turn the Persians away.

There are many historical inaccuracies. Some are major omissions, others are fairly minor. None of them really change the overall perception of the battle as it has been told through history. The armor wasn't right; the Spartan's helmets were not the Corinthian style; none of the Spartans wore breastplates in the movie; the swords used in the movie were way off; the Spartans wore a waist length cloak; at the time of the battle, the Greek Lambda was not uniform on the Spartans shields, that came later, etc etc etc.... These were what I would consider fairly minor omissions and like I said, take nothing away from the tale.

The major omissions to me would be:
1. Leonidas was not fighting an illegal war, as is suggested in the movie. Yes, the Spartans were forbidden from fighting due to their annual games - BUT - Leonidas was allowed to take a token force of Spartans to the Hot Gates with the approval of Sparta as a whole.
2. Leonidas did not goad Xerxes into battle. Xerxes was bent on avenging the defeat of his father's armies at the hands of the Greeks; it was that simple. The intrigue that was alluded to in 300 is fantasy.
3. There were as many as 7,000 Greeks in total fighting the Persians, and not just the 300 Spartans and a handful of others. All the Greeks fought together for the first two days of the battle, and when it became apparent they were surrounded, the bulk of the Greeks retreated, leaving only the Spartans and the Thespians to die on the 3rd day.
4. No mention is made of the fantastic sea battles raging in the straits near Thermopylae. The Greek navy was able to hold off the larger Persian force, and inflict serious damage; further slowing the Persian advance.

But, all said and done, the movie is very good. The concepts of duty, honor, and glory are stressed throughout the movie, which is a large reason why the movie gets hammered by college professors secure in their ivory towers. Yes, Sparta was a very very inhospitable place if you were not a Spartan. The Spartans were renowned for their abuses and the violent lives they led. What this jackass refuses to admit is that the Spartans, for all their 21st century image problems, were the best heavy infantry the ancient world produced. One could probably argue with some success that they were the best heavy infantry - ever.

What the good professor also refuses to point out is that without the Spartans holding the pass, the Persians would have steamrolled into Greece and that would have been that. No Greek culture would have flourished. No democracy, philosophy, logic, art, nothing would have survived. Very likely, no Roman Republic would have been born under the iron thumb of the Persians. And, dear reader, very likely, we would not be here on the internets today.

What is also glossed over by the good Doctor is the psychological victory at the Hot Gates, won by the Spartans. Can you imagine when, a year later on the plains at Plataea, Persian survivors of the Hot Gates looked across the field and saw not a handful of Spartans, but thousands? Can you say pucker factor?

Unspoken is the fact that the Spartans in this movie are truly manly men. We detailed their workout regimen earlier, but rest assured - the physiques you saw in the movie are not painted on in the editing room. These guys are studs. There is no emotional conflict; unlike the 21st century castrato that the media would like us to be, the Spartans in this movie are unashamedly men. Other than one brief episode, they don't cry, they don't emote, they don't worry over "did I do the right thing!?" There is no inner conflict in them and they are not only proud of their ability to fight, they do so with vigor. In today's culture, that qualifies as borderline psychotic - and shouldn't we have been watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy anyway?

And finally, any time that you can get the psycho in charge of Iran pissy is a good day.

I'd like to know exactly how the film "insulted the Persian civilization." Please. Sounds to me like someone is having a bit of an inferiority complex - because like it or not, fellas, Xerxes was the high point of the Persian civilization and they've been going steadily downhill since then.
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