Many will argue that you cannot draw real-life inspiration from a film like 300. As a piece of cinema, they will say, it is rooted in fantasy and glorious visuals that – while awe inspiring – are too stylized and glossy to have any parallels to a person’s life or real world situation. They will argue that in order for a piece of cinema to be truly life affirming it must have a connection to the world as we know it (see Oprah’s book club). I, however, feel that 300 is one of the most personally inspiring pieces of cinema I have seen.
When the Persian King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) threatens to invade the province of Sparta, its King – Leonidas (a very buff Gerard Butler) – sets out to assemble an army to defend his territory. Unfortunately, due to certain treasonous members in the council his attempts are unsuccessful and he is prevented from marching into war. Defiantly assembling a much smaller group Leonidas then sets out with three hundred of his best soldiers to meet the Persian army, which numbers into the millions.
300 speaks about taking a stand for what you believe in and rejecting the dominant way of thinking when your beliefs are threatened. At its core is a spirit to do the right thing when everyone else has complacently given up. As a film it may not represent these attributes/qualities in a traditional manner (instead hacking and slashing an enemy to bits) but when King Leonidas and his fellow 299 Spartans stand up to the first wave of the Persian King’s army – and survive – it becomes a life affirming piece of cinema and experience.
Much like Sin City before it (another Frank Miller adaptation) 300 was shot solely on sound stages with blue backdrops (using the technique known as ‘digital backlot’) which would later be filled in with computer generated imagery. Only one sequence was shot on location. The film sells itself on its look, one that has been crafted by director Zack Snyder (the Dawn of the Dead remake) with a faithful allegiance to the graphic novel and specifically when it comes to replicating select panels from the book.
Visually, 300 is beautiful and, where Sin City was a neat – I would say almost too crisp and clean – adaptation, this film gets dipped in everything from mud to blood. The abrasiveness of the world the Spartans inhabit is splattered onto the celluloid in a thick gritty, almost monotone manner that made me think of Saving Private Ryan. The work that went into the film’s look is impressive and the visual effects guys have done a commendable job in creating a believable and living world from literally nothing. When the fighting begins and the blood starts spraying 300 induces goose bumps.
300 makes history cool again. Much like the recent Marie Antoinette, this is not meant to be a history lesson, although it draws its inspiration from a real world battle (the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC). It is an interpretation of those events and if its depictions are not one hundred percent accurate but the film gets me to read up about the actual event then no one should be complaining (although of course they are).
The purists, again, have had concerns around the depiction of the Greek and Persian cultures, also arguing that the story simply becomes a good-versus-bad Hollywood scenario when in fact the historical event could not be defined so easily. I always find concerns of this nature humorous because for anyone to interpret 300 as a ‘true-to-life’ depiction is ridiculous – it is entertainment.
300 is a magnificent piece of cinema that will enthrall those who see it. It is a, literally, bloody good watch that inspired me as a filmmaker/critic and as an individual. It has a strange but familiar resemblance to the action movies of the 80s (brawn over brain), with its well built – many would say downright homoerotic – men in Speedos that made me think fondly of Schwarzenegger’s Conan.