The Battle of Thermopylae is the historical basis for this extravagant, quite over-the-top movie. Set somewhere in the 5th century BC, 300 is a reproduction of a graphic novel by Frank Miller. It tells the story of a brave defence of Greek territory by the Spartan king Leonidas and his band of 300 against the mighty Persian army of Xerxes. The battle was lost but at great price to Xerxes. And it led to the defeat of the Persians by a combined army of the Greeks at the battle of Salamis.
300, with its much vaunted special effects and CG feels more like a video game than a movie. It is a bit worrying to think that this could be the future of film-making. The men are real enough, but the backgrounds are not, the huge armies are not and strange creatures in Xerxes’ army are not. And there is not much attempt to make them look real either. Rather, it is a glorification of the graphics form as art. Which is why, 300 to me was more form than substance. There is little attempt at building characters or telling a tale. What entertains is not the story but the overwhelming visual saturation of the art. There is nothing subtle, nothing understated. At no point does it emotionally engage you.
The tale itself features purely as a platform to showcase the graphic art form. War is glorified beyond redemption. The white European army of Sparta is pitted against Xerxes’ ‘Asian mysticism and tyranny’. Sparta, the least free of all the Greek states, is portrayed as the defender of the free world (shades of George Bush?). A state that glorified the killing of crippled children, that taught its children to fight and kill, that looked at Athens as nothing more than a nation of ‘boy-lovers’ is the hero. The pure black vs. white form of comic book action takes away from the characterization, the story-telling.
Greeks vs. Persians will make an engrossing video game, if its not one already. It sure does not make great cinema. The pity is, there is a story here. The defence of Thermopylae is truly the stuff of legend. If only someone could get down to writing a real script and making a real movie of it. Ridley Scott, are you listening?