300 has oodles of champions out there in the de-civilized World, owing much of its popularity to the spread of graphic novels, and— if I can be a dick here— the likewise spread of copius non-knowledge about history, culture, other places on the planet and– shiver my shield– even movies. Too harsh? I’m sure a Spartan would just casually relieve me of my typing fingers.
Before I alienate the Spartan-worshiping zealots out there, busy slaying creatures at their consoles, let me vouchsafe that I enjoy a good old blood-splashed, heroic total-massacre situation* as much as the next non-warrior, and applaud the super-cool visual razzmatazz conjured here for this 2007 shout-out (make that bellow-top-of-lungs) to manly martial gloriositude.
More than 1,500 blue-screen visual effects shots used up $60,000,000 to give the cast a gadzooks passel of bad guys and magical critti to chop, lop, spear, slice, hamstring and otherwise thrust at with extreme prejudice. Goggling to look at—if you can put something over your ears to blot out the dialogue: maybe a vise grip?
When I beheld, with a combo of trepidation (from the garishly histrionic previews), expectation (big battle scenes), and obligation (lifelong disciple of 1962s The 300 Spartans, and things Thermopylae in general), one thing that struck me, aside from the vivid hacking and the awful vocal-chord sundering, was what came off as an underlayer of racism/nationalism in the portrayals of the respective sides.
The Persians (think: Iranians), led by a pierced, studded, rouged, butch S&M giant, were all swarthy, swarming like insects, Arabic or vaguely Eastern-European/Slavic/Oriental, complete with accents, or Black African (think Idi Amin). Granted, the Persian host did not descend on plucky Greece from Sweden, or they would have been in real trouble, the plundering Svenska leaving only some rather boring furniture in their wake, and the on-its-face absurdity of a Volvo sportscar. But here, the only physical stereotype missing was bucked teeth.
The Spartans, on the other hand, were all molded from Scottish or Nordic-Germanic stock, gym-buffed, often blond, handsome and just pretty much looking to kill—in a good cause. Historical realities as opposed to hysterical rabble rouse— that the real 480 B.C. Spartans would have been swarthy, hairy, nasty brutes, who preceded their slaughters with ritualistic combing of their long, flowing tresses and some good old-fashioned state-sanctified pederasty—well, that got penciled out of the screenplay.
Verily, I didn’t let PC anguish get in the way of the 117 minutes of muscle-flexing, corpuscle-spewing mayhem, but had to draw the line when the rhino-monster came charging in. What the flock?
Attacking the role of ‘Leonidas’ like he’d never get hired again, Gerard Butler must’ve dislocated some abs, roaring his lines loud enough they could be heard in Athens. Also hamming without wry are Lena Headey, Dominic West, David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Michael Fassbender and Rodrigo Santoro.
Directed (call it orchestrated) by Zack Snyder, the movie slew a mighty $457,000,000 around the orb, producing sequel, ripoffs, spoofs galore, apoplexy from drama coaches and historians, and angry denunciations from Iran, including official complaints to UNESCO.
One positive kindle was a renewed appreciation for the undervalued warhorse The 300 Spartans, while a downside was that it scotched a planned version from director Michael Mann, which had the interest of George Clooney and Bruce Willis, childhood adherents to the older epic. Seek out the classic book on the subject, “The Gates of Fire”, by Steven Pressman–it’s a helluva read.
Ready for a rematch with Persia, cheerleaders? Our ‘statesmen’ tirelessly, desperately seek to bring one about. How many hundreds of times over the last four decades have you been told to drop your Big Gulp because the Iranians were coming? Aren’t lunatic asylums a gas to live in? This movie-scarred veteran bellows at the ever-hemming hills, lined with Fox infantry and Kardashian cavalry — “Drop out and see some of the world before the fall-out makes The Road Less Traveled more like The Road, movie.”