The film “300” Directed by Zack Snyder and released in 2006 was based upon the 1998 comic series written by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. They are fictionalized retellings of the Persian Wars, specifically the Battle of Thermopylae. The plot circles King of the Spartans, Leonides who leads 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian army and Xerxes the “God King”. While the battle rages Queen Gorgo attempts to rally support for her husband from Sparta.
This film to me personally, as a Classics Student, screamed overbudget Hollywood blockbuster with a hyper-masculinity complex.
It was highly exaggerated and widely inaccurate and felt like Sin City, if Sin City was trying to be Oscar worthy. Firstly, far more than 300 Spartans showed up to the Battle of Thermopylae unlike what the film and its title would have us believe were in the finale battle they actually had a fighting force of 1400.
Another inaccuracy that grated me while watching this film was the depiction of the character Ephialtes as a weird hunch back monster figure when in all reality he was actually a normal guy.
The film tried to create more relatable ulterior motives for him betraying the Spartans, such as being promised a normal life, but in history, he just thought the Persians would win and wanted money from them to help him do so. I understand that they had to find some way to make his character relatable to an audience, but they could have just made him remorseful. Was making him look like a sickly version of the hunchback of Notre Dame necessary to make him a relatable character? I don’t think so.
Rather than causing me to relate to the character, I felt it actually disconnected the character from me because of it. I felt the filmmakers seemed to depict not just him in a glorified way so far from the truth, but characters such as Xerxes as well. In contrast to the distinguished and fully clothed figure found in Persian artwork, Xerxes in this film looked to me like a prepubescent hairless stick figure in nothing but gold chains, excessive volumes of piercings and a pair of penciled on eyebrows that make Columbia’s in Rocky Horror Picture show look good. His overall aesthetic screamed to me it was like something straight out of a fetish club in Las Vegas.
The Spartans and particularly Leonides are a bunch of overly masculine soldiers who fight in nothing but speedo like bottoms with their perfectly oiled up six packs tensing so hard they appear to be about to explode, during the epic fight scenes that by no means resemble the actual fighting techniques of the armies in that time. The character of the Queen was oversexualized and I feel it was only used to satisfy the target audience of the Film which was teenage boys and young men, playing on their love of violence and action, their masculine desire to be strong and muscular lived vicariously through the handsome Spartans, and their sexual desire quenched through a hot queen who shows her boobs, and their underlying homophobia in the way the Persians are portrayed as sexual derelicts with no distinct preference. Though I’m sure many teenage boys were highly impressed by this film, I was a little less so and felt like it was a cheap misinterpretation of so many different cultures in order to make lots of money in opening weekend before others found out as I did, how truly horrible the film is.
I disagree with the way the film showed Sparta as an honorable nation that valued democracy and freedom. There was a nation that valued freedom, but it wasn’t Sparta. It was Athens. In the film, the Spartan King defended democracy, when in reality after they defeated the Persians, Sparta turned on Athens in the Peloponnesian wars and allied themselves with Persia. And everything I have ever read showed Sparta had a constant war mentality and they were far from a democracy that the film presented them as, they were a Monarchy.
The line from the film, “Only Spartan Women give birth to real men” said by the Queen, was a lovely moving line that felt empowering for me to hear. Unfortunately, finding out these words were said but taken completely out of context, and didn’t have quite the same impact or resonance. I felt this use of the line was tacky and a desperate attempt to add modern values to an ancient event. There was no feminism back then, not in Sparta and not anywhere and I felt it was useless trying to add something to the film that didn’t create any value to the story.
Now, finally, the main reason I felt that this film disappointed me so greatly and I felt it was 3 hours of my life I will never get back… The battle scene. The enormous Elephants, the Grotesque Creatures, the Persian Magicians and the Battle Rhinos that charged on the Spartans throughout the battle scene. Though elephants did hold some truth of being used in battles, they were not ever, in this slightest, used in this battle. As for the Creatures, the Magicians, and Battle Rhinos, well, I had no words for how much this irritated me and caused me to be broken from the spell of Ancient Greece and thrown into the world of Lord of the Rings. They felt misplaced and tacky to me like the director was trying to make the battle more interesting than it actually was. I just felt that of all of the things you could pick, battle rhinos must have been the end of the list. Battle Rhinos? When have Rhinos been used in a battle, ever? During the concept pitch was there just some random writer in the back of the room who spent the whole thing on his phone not listening and when he was asked what they should use to spice up the battle scene he just blurted out “Battle Rhinos!” And everyone in the room just kind of went along with it? More terrifying to me though would be if that was actually a real honest concept they thought would work and add something to the film. It didn’t. I was so disappointed.
To me, this film felt tacky, dishonest and so desperate to meet the criteria of its target audience it was happy to compromise its authenticity and production value. It turned a famous historical event into Gerald Butler’s sweaty abs, and to be honest, I wasn’t too impressed. The democracy talk seemed inaccurate, forced and unreliable in the way the spartan characters made fun of the Athenians for democracy but then also seemed to value those same ideals. The feminism in the film was misplaced and handled poorly, as it showed women as powerful forces to be reckoned with, while also showing them as sexual objects for men. I think the director just really needed to decide what kind of film he wanted to make and stick to it. But as for my opinion, I severely didn’t enjoy it.