From the far reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy, It's Retro Nerd Girl with a film review for you.
Today I'll be reviewing the movie 300 released in 2006 and sometimes listed as released in 2007.
Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, and Dominic West
Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Rating:
Current IMDb Rating When Reviewed:
The Synopsis is:
“King Leonidas of Sparta and a force of 300 men fight the Persians at Thermopylae in 480 B.C”.
The film is based on The Battle of Thermopylae (thər-MOP-i-lee) fought between Ancient Greek city-states, led by King Leonidas I of Sparta, and the Achaemenid Empire of Xerxes I in 480 BC.
The extraordinary thing about this battle that really stands out in the record books is that King Leonidas’ men were only 300 strong, leading the battle with 7000 Greeks in total fighting. They faced off with King Xerxes’ ranks of possibly 100,000 to 2 million fighters. Either way, the fight should have lasted a few hours and it was pretty much well known that they were on a suicide mission. However, King Leonidas and his men lasted 3 full days. That is pretty incredible.
The battle was documented by Greek historian Herodotus who was born 4 years after this battle in the Greek city of Halicarnassus, part of the Persian Empire (now Bodrum, Turkey). He wrote a detailed account of the Greco-Persian Wars and is referred to as "The Father of History" for his work.
The story remained in the history books until it was turned into a film, The 300 Spartans was made in 1962 with the cooperation of the Greek government.
When American comic book writer, penciller and inker, novelist, screenwriter, film director, and producer, Frank Miller saw The 300 Spartans (1962) at 5 years old, he was fascinated by the “perception of heroes”
that “didn't always win” and sometimes became heroes through self sacrifice.
It inspired him to write and illustrate the comic book series 300 in 1998 with painted colors by Lynn Varley, retelling the Battle of Thermopylae.
A hardcover collection was released in 1999.
American film director, producer, screenwriter, and cinematographer, Zack Snyder read the graphic novel and was inspired to make a film out of it.
Zack Snyder got a team together and scanned Frank Miller's graphic novel into an animated version of the comic strip, and hired Scott Glenn for a voice-over narration. Warner Bros., told him that they needed more convincing so he shot a live-action 90-second 360-degree continuous shot featuring a single Spartan killing several Persians.
Unfortunately, it was not picked up by the studio right away, but he was hired to direct his first feature film, Dawn of the Dead, released in 2004.
Producer Gianni Nunnari was planning a film about the Battle of Thermopylae and director Michael Mann was also planning a film of the battle based on the book Gates of Fire. When Gianni found out about Frank Miller's graphic novel he acquired the film rights rather quickly.
Gianni paired up with Mark Canton to produce the film and got Michael B. Gordon to write the initial script. As luck would have it Zack Snyder was hired in June of 2004 and got screenwriter Kurt Johnstad to rewrite the script for production. Frank Miller who bonded with Zack over samurai and low-budget gory movies was a consultant on the film and executive producer.
The core army of 300 Spartans and King Leoniadas fighting Xerxes was a frame of the story, but you won't find any historical accuracy in this film. In that respect The 300 Spartans (1962) was more true to the actual historic events as it was told by Herodotus and even he had embellished the story from the start.
Frank Miller was abundantly clear about making the comic book mini-series a flat out fantasy and not a docu-drama, exaggerating much of the story in favor of the Spartans even more. This is key and foremost to understanding this film. Not only is it a fantasy it was specifically written from the sensationalized perspective of Leonidas of Sparta.
Film stayed pretty close to the comic in theme and much of the dialogue.
At 1 hour and 57 minutes, you would think that I would say that’s too long, but no. I enjoyed every second of the film.
The challenge in this movie are the Persians led by Xerxes. Ultimately the 300 Spartans held off the Persian army for three days, but all died. The purpose was not to win the war, but hold off the war and buy the Greeks more time.
Before the last fatal battle, King Leonidas sends one of the surviving soldiers by the name of Dilios home and the story we are watching on screen is being told from his point of view to strum up more warriors to join in battle. It’s pretty obvious because he tells the story of Leonidas’ last moments with great detail, but he wasn’t there to see it in the flesh. His story is part truth, and mostly imagination.
I mention this because he takes a lot of liberties to make the enemy surreal and pure fantasy. The detail of his imagination is skewed to make the 300 appear stoic and the Persians appear to be twisted and evil.
I’m sure if we had a tale written by Xerxes the Greeks would be depicted as the evil ones. And in truth, they were much like the other.
Looking at depictions of Xerxes in various art works, he looks a lot like the greeks. In fact it looks like King Leonidas stole his cool beard for the movie!
The sequel to this movie, 300: Rise of an Empire released in 2014 goes a little deeper into the fictional origin of Xerxes’ life and how he transitioned from a normal looking prince into an adorned gold skinned giant God King when his father died through magic.
This version of Xerxes has conquered so many countries that he and his entourage are inspired by a lot of different cultures. I actually thought they looked really cool.
The immortals were a real part of his main 10,000 man infantry that were called immortals because when one fell another soldier would appear in his place. They were pretty much super soldiers. They are the fiercest warriors out there and there are groups of special ops. I enjoyed the detail of all of the different kinds of soldiers in the ranks.
Xerxes himself is the representation of temptation. Within the Greeks, Xerxes has already bought loyalists that are willing to commit treason against their own people. He offers King Leonidas a bloodless way to surrender and he offers the spartan traitor Ephialtes the hunchback his every pleasure.
Another point to note about Xerxes is his pride, vanity, arrogance and lack of humanity. Most of all things, he hates to fail. He comes from two world conquerors, his father Darius the Great and his grandfather Cyrus the Great the founder of the first Persian empire, theAchaemenid Empire. There is a lot of pressure for him to be as great of a military conqueror as his predecessors.
Another piece of the story that is not in the film is that this is Xerxes second battle. The first battle was ten years earlier with Darius taking the lead then. The Persians didn’t win as they thought they would and so Xerxes worked for ten years building up his massive army hoping that would ensure a victory.
He mentions how he would sacrifice hundreds of his own men to achieve his goal. This is a great example of why he’s a different leader to King Leonidas, because Leo would rather give his own life than to sacrifice his men. He is the perfect opposition.
Xerxes gets the upper hand over Leonidas through a character I mentioned before, Ephialtes. Ephialtes dreamed of nothing but being a Spartan soldier and dying in battle. It is the greatest glory of a Spartan.
He showed real passion following the 300 in hopes that he can join them. His deformity didn't pose a problem to Leonidas until sadly, he discovered that Ephialtes couldn’t raise his shield arm to fight in the battle in the Greeks’ impenetrable fighting formation.
The rejection breaks his heart to the point he tries to commit suicide, poor thing. It didn’t work, so he goes to Xerxes as an act of revenge against King Leonidas, broken and vulnerable. He tells Xerxes about a small goat pass that the Persians can attack the Greeks from behind in exchange for becoming a general in his army.
He’s so sad. I just want to give him a hug. His motivation was completely understandable and even when gets what he wants, Leonidas tells him "may you live forever," which is about the worst thing to say to any Spartan because they are taught that “death on the battlefield in service to Sparta was the greatest glory a Spartan could achieve in his life.” It was the worst insult. I definitely felt sorry for him by the end.
I will start off with the character of Dilios who is telling the story to muster up the next wave of soldiers to fight Xerxes. He was modeled after the actual, historical figure of Aristodemus who was the sole Spartan survivor of the battle of Thermopylae.
He was dismissed by Leonidas because he had an eye infection, but would be surprising is that he was considered a coward by Spartans until he redeemed himself fighting and dying in the battle of Plataea a year later, partially blind! Poor guy.
Dilios tells the story of the way of the Spartans, who he calls “the greatest soldiers the world has ever known”.
All Spartan babies are inspected and any children born with visible defects are thrown into a pit of discarded decomposing infants that didn’t meet their standards. As soon as young boys learn how to stand they are “baptized in the fire of combat.” At the age of 7 they are taken from home and “trained” but it is more like they go through an abusive initiation until they show no feelings of pain and use PTSD trauma to survive no matter what.
They force them to fight each other, starve them, teach them to steal without getting caught, kill each other if necessary, beaten with rods and whips, and are constantly tested.
In reality, this training really did exist, but royal children didn’t have to go through this training. Because Leonidas was third in line to the throne, he was one of the very few Spartan kings to train as a Spartan soldier. His brothers both fled Sparta for separate reasons and he became king.
Leonidas is presented to us in the film as a man of high standards and a man willing to die for his people. Honor is his motivation for everything. It’s easy to just constantly show him as a confident character, but he is actually more contemplative about everything he does and he doesn’t always get it right. To his fault, he fails in his handling of Ephialtes.
Whatever he decides, he must stand by it with a bold fierceness. An example of that is that when the enemy demands that the Spartans surrender their weapons, he replies "Come and get them."
By the way, Leonidas actually said that.
He could be mischaracterized as being a warmonger, ready to fight for the sake of fighting, but he is not. I love the way he is in serious thought about his responsibility for his men who have chosen to join him in this suicide mission, which weighs heavily on him. This is no joy ride.
The most important person to him is his wife Queen Gorgo. The real Queen Gorgo was the daughter of Leonidas' older half-brother, Cleomenes, which made her his niece. Yuk. It puts a different spin on their relationship, but in this age, it was normal. But their marriage was probably necessary to ensure the throne's legitimacy.
Spartan women were different from other women at the time in the way that they had more rights and were equal to men, got the same education and went through the same physical fitness regimen growing up. However, they were spared the intense Spartan soldier training. They had to run things while their men were away at war.
Motherhood was their pride to the point that Spartan and the line where Queen Gorgo defends her right to speak among men, she says, "Because only Spartan women give birth to real men." This was something the real Queen Gorgo said.
Another rumor about Spartan women is that they wear the pants in their households and although King Leonidas doesn’t play a lesser role, he trusts her opinion in all things. Before finally making his decision to start the war, he glances at Gorgo who then gives him the nod to proceed. I loved the closeness and silent communication between the two of them. It’s one of my favorite parts of the film.
She is a really tough lady. When he leaves for war she says, "Come back with your shield, or on it," which was a common phrase by Spartan women to their sons and husbands. Dead soldiers were carried home on their shields, cowards on the field would return without their shields. So what she is actually saying is that she’d rather him come home dead than to come home a coward. That’s a lot to live up to and Leonidas straightens up a little before he walks off. Wow! I can’t even explain how powerful that is. In many ways, this war was so ingrained into their culture that King Leonidas had no choice to be who he is.
Many people did express that they didn’t enjoy the subplot with Queen Gorgo lobbying for more soldiers to fight in the war. I am the opposite. Of course I was uncomfortable seeing her deal with the treacherous senator Theron, but the pay off for her revenge was excellent. I loved that she was not just idle, but actually doing her part to assist her husband. They were true partners in this war.
Of the 300 Spartans there are a few that stand out. Captain Artemis was one of my favorites. He was King Leonidas’ right hand man and bestie at least in the context of the film. He just brought so much energy to the scenes he’s in… everybody did. His dedication to Sparta is incredible, willing to sacrifice his son, Astinos. Coldly he says, he has other sons, but he is so lovingly looking after his son during this exposition.
Astinos is younger than most of the Spartans but he is excited to fight and impress his father. It breaks your heart when he dies because everyone knew it was a suicide mission.
Artemis loses his mind when Astinos dies, so even though he was so dismissive of his son possibly dying in the war at the beginning of the film, he loves him so deeply.
Astinos becomes buddies with Stelios, who is overzealous and loyal to the cause. The two of them have a dynamic fighting scene that is shot in glorious slow motion. Stelios has several memorable scenes and delivers a few famous lines in the film. One is after hearing that the enemy’s arrows will blot out the sky, he says, "Then we will fight in the shade." This is an actual line from a real Spartan warrior Dienekes.
The technical aspects of the film is the real stand out, so much so that many people are in awe of it, and forget there’s an actual story being told.
The main fascination about the film is how it bears the same aesthetic of the source comic book series. It was filmed on a sound-stage painted with a background of blue 90% of the time and green 10% in Montreal and the background was chroma keyed into the shot to create the look. Blue was used most often because the red in the Spartan capes looked better in the finished product. To look like the soundstage was shooting different locations utilizing various angles were employed. In total it took 60 days to film everything.
Some of the scenes in the film were incredibly amazing. Not only do they look like the comic and each shot looks like beautiful paintings, they look like something from a dream. This stylistic look is so awe inspiring and groundbreaking it transcends time. It’s easily one of the main reasons this film is so unforgettably arresting. It’s regarded as one of the most influential stylistic films of the early 2000’s.
The film is notorious for the use of slow motion. Part of the reason the film feels so epic, so grand, giving every moment that is slowed down a powerful impact. Every slow motion moment is a defining moment for the characters, then the film speeds up to join normal speed. It’s an extraordinary style that adds another layer to the story telling. When Leonidas screams at the end of the film in slow motion, he is screaming in defiance of his doomed fate and although dying in battle is the ultimate wish of a Spartan soldier, he wants to live or he will die fighting with his last breath. It sucks you into his emotions.
Another aspect of the film that captures the imagination is the costumes and character design used in the film. It took a crew of over 60 people who worked on about 600 costumes.
Gerard Butler, the actor who played King Leonidas had 17 plumed helmets made for him, each representing a stage of degradation throughout the battle. And although all Spartan soldiers wore helmets with plumes, it was decided to not give the plumes to the other Spartans in the film to visually set King Leonidas apart from the rest.
The film saved some money on the weapons for the film by recycling some of the weapons used in Alexander (2004) and Troy (2004). As well, most of the swords in this movie were plastic. They looked realistic which is not totally easy to do without skills to age them and handle them realistically. Fake horses were built to simulate real ones that were cut down, speared and knocked over in the film.
The film is mostly bloodless which I actually thought was a plus as not to focus on gore. Only 2 gallons of fake blood was used as well as some computer animated spatters filled out the effects. The rest was added in post production.
It’s important to note that the film only cost 65 million dollars so the visual result was astounding.
Tyler Bates created the epic score he recorded at Abbey Road Studios featuring the vocals of Azam Ali. However, the score was acknowledged by Warner Brothers that some of the score was too similar to James Horner and Gabriel Yared's work for the film Troy and Elliot Goldenthal's 1999 score for Titus. They said, “… a number of the music cues for the score of 300 were, without our knowledge or participation, derived from music composed by Academy Award-winning composer Elliot Goldenthal for the motion picture Titus. Warner Bros. Pictures has great respect for Elliot, our longtime collaborator, and is pleased to have amicably resolved this matter.”
This was generally considered accidental on the part of Tyler because he composed scores for movies like Slither 2006, Dawn of the Dead 2004, and Get Carter 2000 prior to this. As well, he went on to compose, Halloween 2007, The Day the Earth Stood Still 2008, Watchmen 2009, Halloween II 2009, Sucker Punch 2011, Guardians of the Galaxy 2014, John Wick 2014, John Wick: Chapter 2 2017, Atomic Blonde 2017, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 2017, Halloween II: The Return Of Michael Myers 2017, Deadpool 2, 2018, Hobbs & Shaw 2019, John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum 2019,
But specifically with this score, it fits the visuals like a glove but also enhances every moment into an unforgettable event. If you weren’t sure that the film was epic, the music verifies it with an official stamp of epicness!
The Spartans and some of the other characters were all bare-chested and had to undergo a rigorous 8-week training by Marc Twight, a professional mountain climber in which actors never repeated the same exercise twice to stress the muscle. In order to bond with his actors, Zack Snyder also underwent the same training.
Gerard Butler who played King Leonidas was perfect casting and he had so much dedication to the project. He spent 4 hours a day for over 4 months, to get in shape for the role and suffered many injuries that developed a painkiller addiction for a while. I think it’s easy to say that he’s hamming it up, but there is so much nuance to his performance, acting with his heart and soul as a man who knows he’s going to die. He puts his heart and soul into each speech and he was the heart of the film’s success.
Lena Headey was fantastic as Queen Gorgo, giving us a strong female protagonist. Her entire subplot was created for the film and not part of the comic. I thought it was a wonderful addition that I fully enjoyed and I am so glad that they did not waste Lena’s talent in this film.
Rodrigo Santoro came to the project for the role of Astinos, Zack Snyder saw something in his audition that he felt would be perfect for the part of Xerxes. Although there really wasn’t much screen time and story depth for the character, Rodrigo played him with depth, showing off attributes like arrogance, narcissism, pride and cruelty. It impressed me how much he did to portray the character with his physicality. He said that he used Yul Brynner’s performance in The King and I (1956) as his inspiration and you can see it on screen.
This film was Michael Fassbender's feature film debut and it is so it’s a little strange seeing him in a film where he’s not a main character or main supporting character. Every Time he’s on screen he kills it, just giving his performance so much energy and at times inserting some levity to the film.
Everyone did a fantastic job bringing the world of 300 to epic life.
A small portion of the film was shown at the July 2006 Comic-Con Convention in San Diego in order to generate buzz for the film and it worked brilliantly. The attendees requested to view it three times and then the trailer was leaked on the Internet.
When looking up this movie, there is a discrepancy whether or not the movie was released in 2006 or 2007. That was because an unfinished cut of 300 was shown at Butt-Numb-A-Thon film festival on December 9, 2006. It was not the official release, but it is often considered the release date.
The actual official release date was March 9, 2007.
At the time it was released, it was the highest-grossing R-rated comic book film ever made, until the release of Deadpool (2016) and it had the 24th biggest box office opening in history.
It was a huge success at the time with everyone repeatedly shouting King Leonidas’ quote, “This is Sparta!” It was great. There were so many parody YouTube videos and movies that were hilariously poking a little fun at the flick and it became a phenomenon. It is said that even directors like James Cameron were big fans of the film and its groundbreaking use of visuals and storytelling.
In 2014 300: Rise of an Empire was released with many of the returning surviving characters directed by Noam Murro.
In 2018, Frank Miller released Dark Horse, published Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander.
This film is not my type of film. I am not exactly a fan of war time movies. When this film was released, I avoided it like the plague. I wasn’t having any of it. I think it was about 2012 when I first saw it and I was blown away that it was nothing I expected, but instead, by the way the film was shot, I felt as if I was part of the Spartan army and Leoniadas was speaking directly to me, getting me ready for battle.
It also had so much fun with the story aspect. It wasn’t just about the visual action and the bombastic speeches or the repeatable quotes. The story of sacrifice and love is so powerful that I was completely teary eyed by the end. Stilios says, “I am honored to die by your side” and Leonidas says, “I am honored to have lived by yours.” That’s when the tears flow!
At that moment Leonidas appreciated life. It reminds me of the last moments of Roy Batty in Blade Runner 1982 and it’s beautiful. I just think this film is brilliant, from a storytelling standpoint… It made me feel.
That sums up my review. I hope you liked it.
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