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300 (review)

Support the Troops

The first person who uses any aspect of this flick to justify the American debacle in Iraq is getting a swat across the nose with a copy of My Pet Goat. Which King Leonides of Sparta does not sit reading while his country is threatened and attacked.

And if that’s not enough, I point to the villains here: politicians who are in it for the money, a tyrant who thinks he’s doing the work of a god (even if that god is himself), and priests whose advice and counsel can be bought. King Leonides of Sparta holds those priests (and their crazy-ass religion) in disdain, actually, and does not invite them to the White House– er, palace.

Oh, and Sparta is the invadee, not the invader.

The point isn’t that 300 — the breathtaking new historical action comic-book fantasy flick — can’t be used to justify whatever political stance one wants to read into it. It can and will be: the whole movie is a rallying cry, a prebattle speech to buck up the troops, all a flashback related by the Spartan soldier Dilios just before he tells his troops, “This day we rescue a world from mysticism and tyranny.” Tyranny and particularly mysticism have always been in the eye of the beholder, so there’s plenty of room for interpretation.

But it’s because of stories like this one, which fell on ancient ears the way that this one falls on modern eyes, that leaders with bad intentions can get away, sometimes, with their ill-conceived wars: because the glorification of the warrior — and the warrior-king — is at the fundamental root of human storytelling. Look: Gilgamesh, the oldest instance of written literature, is about a mighty fighting king. This is an ur-story — this is, like or not, perhaps the human story. We’re not exactly the most placid of creatures every to have walked the earth, and we know it. And all a leader has to do is invoke the magnificence of the defender, of the fighter, and the people will let him ride that sentiment wherever he wants to take it. (And what precisely constitutes “supporting the troops,” alas, appears to be in the eye of the beholder as well.)

This is one of those ur-stories that actually feels like a slice of ancient wonder and grandeur, and these are warriors — and their warrior-king (the underappreciated Gerard Butler [Beowulf & Grendel, Dear Frankie] is a fierce Leonides) — who deserve acclaim: the tiny band of Spartan soldiers that held off an army many times its size at the Battle of Thermopylae 2,500 years ago. But this is not a documentary, and anyone looking for precise historical accuracy concerning Greek warfare will be sorely disappointed. This is more Lord of the Rings than Gladiator, and still not much like either of those films, either: this exists in its own kind of mythic space much like the one that all ancient literature lived in for its listeners. Did the Persian king Xerxes really have monsters and orc-ninjas among his troops? Of course not. But that’s how it may have felt to the defenders of the Hot Gates, the long narrow pass that Leonides and his 300 soldiers held for three days against an army of one million: terrifying and unknowable. Was Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro: Love Actually, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle) himself a giant? Of course not. But that’s probably what he felt like to the men facing his wrath magnified by a million.

Even more importantly, the story of the triumph of these men would have gotten exaggerated in the retelling of it: of course they defeated monsters led by a giant! That’s what great warriors do. And 300 is, it must be remembered, not merely explicitly a comic-book retelling of the story — it’s based on the book by Frank Miller, who also gave us the recently movieized Sin City — but even within itself is explicitly a version of the story that has been heightened for effect: Dilios, whom circumstance forced from his post at the Hot Gates before the end of the battle, is relating all of this to his troops a year later as they prepare to march off to battle Persians again. Dilios is deliberately heroizing the 300 even more than reality itself had done… and the eerie cadences of the voice of David Wenham (The Proposition, Van Helsing), as Dilios, in the narration is almost more effective than the gorgeously spare and saturated CGI backgrounds that create the visual spaces of the film in reminding us that this is myth, is myth created for a specific reason.

Director Zack Snyder gave us the brilliant remake of Dawn of the Dead a few years ago, which took an old story and recast it in a way that felt urgent and relevant to all the anxieties of the immediate moment. Here, Snyder (who adapted the screenplay with Kurt Johnstad and Michael Gordon) takes a far, far older tale and reconnects us to it in a way that reminds us of the power of myth and should, if approached with a wary, knowing eye, remind us how that power has always been used to serve other, less entertaining purposes as well.

MPAA: rated R for graphic battle sequences throughout, some sexuality and nudity

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
  • http://toniokruger.blogspot.com Tonio Kruger

    Funny you should say that because some conservative bloggers have doing just that. As if the Persians had any relation to the modern-day Muslims? And as if the invasion of Iraq can be seen as a defense of the American heartland.

    What do you wanna bet that not one conservative blogger will use the example of the historical Spartans to justify allowing gays in the military even though the Spartans themselves encouraged homosexual behavior within their ranks?

  • Ben

    I want to print out 1,000 copies and bop Dana Stevens over the head for her review over at Slate.

    One of her points: WE’RE WAR WITH PERSIA RIGHT NOW! OH NO! And then backtracks to say that ‘well, okay. We’re not at war with Persia per se- but lands that USED to be occupied by Persia! Same thing!”

    I can just imagine her taking her review and pouting in the corner. Seriously- what the hell?

    Anyway, to MJ- thanks! This review restored some sense of sanity for me today, can’t thank you enough for that!

  • Nathan

    when the Persian messenger arrives in Sparta, they talk a lot about “submission” and how the Spartans will have no part of it. Islam, of course, translates as “submission.” was this Frank Miller’s intent? i dunno. but the film celebrates logic, reason, and free men fighting for a common cause, all of which seem to me to be distinctly Western values. it’s a movie about the West vs. the Horde — the same as LOTR.

    as for homosexuality, it was no doubt practiced but officially forbidden by the Laws of Lycurgus. many people confuse the Sacred Band of Thebes with the Spartans. and “homosexual” is more or less a modern invention — the ancients saw people more in terms of masculine or feminine than gay or straight.

  • Greg R

    I saw a lot of conservative and democratic ideals echoed in that movie, so it’s not hard to pull out whatever bits suit your philosophy and ignore the rest.

    Of course, to think of President Bush out there fighting for freedom would be down right laughable. But I suppose that’s true of any blue blooded pampered rich boy we elect now days.

  • Eugen

    You saw this movie and all that you could muster was some lame political stuff and to say that it’s mythical and over the top?

    I could have gotten that from the trailer … I hope you partied hard the day before this review … otherwise you have no excuse :)

  • MaryAnn

    That’s what you think my review says, Eugen? What do you think I should have “mustered”?

  • Casey

    Nice review, MJ. The issues involved are timeless and while Thermopylae helped bring democracy and freedom to the modern world, tyranny, slavery, and violent mysticism persist, as well. It would be nice if such issues weren’t relevent anymore. Alas.

  • MaryAnn

    Everything’s a process, right? :->

  • mike

    Gave up on this review, too long and waffly. If you took out all the irrevant material there would be little else left. Did you like the film or not! was the actiig any good etc..

  • MBI

    That guy’s stupid, ignore him. I’m going to call this the best possible defense of this movie — one of your best, MaryAnn.

  • MaryAnn

    Boy, some people really can’t read between the lines, can they? I guess stuff like:

    actually feels like a slice of ancient wonder and grandeur

    and:

    the underappreciated Gerard Butler is a fierce Leonides

    is just too subtle for some readers.

    Then again, I do write for the rare American who can read above the fifth-grade level our functionally illiterate society exists at.

  • Eugen

    I didn’t get the most basic thing in a review: if you liked the movie or not …

    When I read a review I want some talk about the actors, about the sense of wonder (if you felt that), if the movie suspended yout disbelief …

    I had to look at the current boyfriend photo to see that you liked it, but how much I still don’t know :)

  • http://www.freewebs.com/jurgan6 Jurgan

    Now that’s hillarious- Maryann’s last comment actually sounds like a direct response to the comment posted after it. Do these people read before they open their mouths?

  • MaryAnn

    If you need a review to say “I like this movie!” or “I didn’t like this movie!” and you need it expressed that explicitly, you’re hardly ever going to find that in my writing. But there is, in this review, talk about the actors, about the sense of wonder, and fer pete’s sake, man, the *entire review* is about how and why I was able to suspend my disbelief.

    It’s that reading-comprehension thing again. This is why I’ll never have Harry Knowles’ traffic, because I don’t write “reviews” like this:

    This movie is FRICKIN AWESOME dudes and dudettes!!!!!! It totally ROCKS!!!!! It has a SNSES OFN WONDER and GOOD ACTING and I was totally able to SUSPEND MY DISBELEIF!!!!!! THIS IS TEH SHIT right here fanboys and fangirls!!!!!!

  • Robert

    Given the overall nature of this film – which did strike me as reminiscent of LOTR and Star Wars – combined with the stars being a bunch of Steve Reeves-esque warriors – all them thweaty menz the likes of which you typically seem to drool over, I thought for sure they’d have carried you out of the theater sucking on an oxygen bottle.

    Interesting that you too zeroed in on what I thought was possibly the most important line in the movie even though it was at the very end – “fighting against tyranny and mysticism.” though we had very different reactions to it.

    In of itself, it is in fact at the heart of western values – i.e. the founding principles of America. That ideas are important, the value of logic and reason, that the government exists to protect the rights of its citizens. You can certainly point out example after example where these principles have been muddied or trampled on, and it doesn’t stand as a de facto justification for the Iraq war, but the principles nonetheless remain valid.

    I take exception to the comment that “mysticism is in the eye of the beholder”. Mysticism is belief in the supernatural, the belief that man’s mind is impotent to know reality and that men should worship the unseen and unknowable. And yes, Christianity and all forms of religion are a manner of embracing mysticism. However, mankind’s advancement has been the greatest when religion has been most subordinated in practice – i.e. when logic, reason, rational inquiry has had more sway than stultifying mysticism.

    The idiot holy rollers who would like to hijack America and turn it into a theocracy spout all kinds of nonsense about how it’s a “Christian” nation, but it’s crap. The anti-mind, anti-reason, anti-freedom fundamental tenets of religion couldn’t be any more antithetical to the fundamental principles of what America was built on, yes even with the abomination of legal slavery in our history. Again, deviation from the principle doesn’t invalidate the principle.

    Tonio Kruger said:

    As if the Persians had any relation to the modern-day Muslims?

    I’ve heard that many Iranians have their knickers in a knot over the film. Apparently *they* seem to think there’s a relationship. The fact is, they live in a theocracy – a social order based on mysticism and an intolerant – i.e. tyrannical – brand at that. Sorry they don’t like that some see it for what it is. However, I realize they don’t get why anyone has a problem with it.

    Yes, I think their way of thinking is fundamentally, demonstrably wrong. I of course take a tad bit of exception to the notion that some of them would like to slaughter all us infidels. It would be far better if the West could say it totally rejects mysticism, but it certainly does so to a greater extent than the Middle East. Of course, they’re more than happy to utilize advances born of Western thought, but they fail to grasp the underlying principles.

    Unfortunately, so do some of our leaders.

  • Eugen

    This movie is FRICKIN AWESOME dudes and dudettes!!!!!! It totally ROCKS!!!!! It has a SNSES OFN WONDER and GOOD ACTING and I was totally able to SUSPEND MY DISBELEIF!!!!!! THIS IS TEH SHIT right here fanboys and fangirls!!!!!!

    - if that’s what you think I wanted … try again.

    Those two quotes of yours are about the only things you said that were about the movie … the rest is you trying to be intelligent …

    I don’t need a review that makes me read between the lines to get an impression … that’s not a review.

  • MBI

    Dear God, Eugen. There’s nothing in between the lines, it’s all RIGHT FUCKING THERE. What in God’s name do you want her to say??

  • MBI

    In any case, I appreciate this review more and more, especially when I see so many critics I respect trying so hard to make this about Iraq. There are parallels here and there (for example, Sparta bending/breaking its own laws to meet the invaders reminded me of Bush defying the UN), but they simply are not strong enough to make this about

    In response to the Iranian uprising, none of those Iranians have ever seen the movie. All they know is that it demonizes the Persians, not their belief in mysticism or all that. To them, the reign of Xerxes is a proud chapter in their history; demonizing him is like demonizing King Arthur to the British.

    I’m not sure how much the movie can be about being against “tyranny” (rather than about being against foreign tyranny) when the heroes’ society slaughters infants by the score. It’s about freedom and autonomy from the invaders, is what I think.

  • MaryAnn

    You can certainly point out example after example where these principles have been muddied or trampled on, and it doesn’t stand as a de facto justification for the Iraq war, but the principles nonetheless remain valid.

    Of course they do — I didn’t suggest that they don’t.

    I take exception to the comment that “mysticism is in the eye of the beholder”.

    Then I guess you’ve never argued with a Christian who insists that his irrational beliefs aren’t superstition… but that non-Christian irrational thinking is. All religious thinkers rationalize their own beliefs while dismissing those irrational beliefs that don’t fit into their own system of superstition. Hence Thor is a “myth” but Jesus is “truth.” I didn’t say this way of thinking was right, but it does exist.

    As for the Iranians suggesting that *300* is part of anti-Iranian propaganda: god bless ‘em (she said ironically, not really believing in any gods at all), they clearly have NO idea how abysmally ignorant most Americans are. I doubt 1 in 100 viewers of *300* has any inkling of the fact that Iranians are Persian.

    And as for Eugen:

    Those two quotes of yours are about the only things you said that were about the movie … the rest is you trying to be intelligent …

    If you don’t like what I’m writing, there are literally hundreds of other film critics posting online. There’s no reason to keep hanging around here.

  • Robert

    MBI said:

    In response to the Iranian uprising, none of those Iranians have ever seen the movie. All they know is that it demonizes the Persians, not their belief in mysticism or all that. To them, the reign of Xerxes is a proud chapter in their history; demonizing him is like demonizing King Arthur to the British.

    I don’t know how you determined that no Iranian who has a beef with the film has seen the movie, but as I mentioned earlier, I don’t imagine they do get it given the belief system they’ve been indoctrinated into. Many people the world over even in freer cultures don’t seem too interested in knowing the real story about their “heroes” and don’t have a strong handle on philosophical principles, I wouldn’t expect a backwards culture that dictates what one can think is going to be less myopic than the rest of the world.

    Btw, I’m referring to a political stance, not a nationality. I’ve known Iranians who are the flag-wavingest Americans you’ve ever met.

    I’m not sure how much the movie can be about being against “tyranny” (rather than about being against foreign tyranny) when the heroes’ society slaughters infants by the score. It’s about freedom and autonomy from the invaders, is what I think.

    A literal recounting of the events and times isn’t what the movie is about. Obviously it’s quite stylized. They’re focusing on certain aspects, certain ideas. “Give me liberty or give me death.” Braveheart of the ancient world.

    Of course, the first thing the movie is “about” is big box office, but they managed to put a message in there too.

  • Robert

    There’s a nasty rumor going around that I said:

    I take exception to the comment that “mysticism is in the eye of the beholder”.

    To which MAJ responded:

    Then I guess you’ve never argued with a Christian who insists that his irrational beliefs aren’t superstition… but that non-Christian irrational thinking is. All religious thinkers rationalize their own beliefs while dismissing those irrational beliefs that don’t fit into their own system of superstition. Hence Thor is a “myth” but Jesus is “truth.” I didn’t say this way of thinking was right, but it does exist.

    Sure, I’ve argued with them and have abandoned the practice as an utterly fruitless expenditure of time. I regard all religion in exactly the same way, which is on the same level as the story of the Easter Bunny.

    The Southern Baptist in a suit and tie driving his family to church in his Buick is just as steeped in irrationality and mysticism as an African witch doctor or Islamic holy man. The only perceptible difference is that he may have in reality subordinated these ideas to a greater extent, in that he lives in a more modern world.

    It may be that some Christians have gotten the notion in their head that their particular sub-category of the Christian myth they feel is the “true” one is superior, but who cares? I’m not going to wait for permission from the irrational to declare them thus.

  • http://www.freewebs.com/jurgan6 Jurgan

    “If you need a review to say “I like this movie!” or “I didn’t like this movie!” and you need it expressed that explicitly, you’re hardly ever going to find that in my writing.”

    In case people are confused, though, there is the color-coded guide on the side of the page. Green=good, red=bad, yellow=okay. Is it that hard?

  • MBI

    Well, I may have gotten my facts wrong, but I believe I read that 300 wasn’t available for viewing in Iran, although I guess they can get bootleg DVDs. But according to this article I read which I can’t seem to find right now, the anger, just like all media outcries, are coming from people who only know about the movie what they read in the papers.

    I hold that this movie isn’t really about “freedom” and more “freedom from those foreign bastards trying to conquer us.” I know it’s not historical, but the film doesn’t exactly flinch — it flat out tells us the Spartans kill babies. What I’m trying to say is that if the Iranians didn’t identify with Persia, they could easily have supported this movie just as much as any American could. Everyone loves a good underdog story.

  • Robert

    Per agent MBI:

    I believe I read that 300 wasn’t available for viewing in Iran, although I guess they can get bootleg DVDs.

    In addition, I’ve heard that there are Iranians to be found outside of Irania.

    I missed the baby-killing reference. Was it in the very beginning? I got to the movie a few minutes late and took a quick pee-break or two. Those jumbo sodas go through me quick.

  • Eugen

    I expect her to comment the movie, this feels like a rushed piece or a part of another larger article.

    Stop this ridiculous flame with iranians – persians, this movie is fantasy …

  • Robert

    Eugen said:

    Stop this ridiculous flame with iranians – persians, this movie is fantasy …

    Oh, so you’re saying the queen wasn’t a smokin’ hottie who wore Max Factor?

    Did the scene of the Spartans finishing off the Persian casualties as they’re having a casual conversation strike anyone else as Python-esque?

    I can’t say I was familiar with this event previously, but here’s a Usenet thread from ’96 regarding it. Interesting in that it contains references to an older movie about the event and someone’s notes from a lecture about the battle – see post 7. You’ll definitely recognize a number of the events mentioned, it would seem 300 made some effort to follow historical literature, albeit in Hollywood fashion. There’s also a Wikipedia entry regarding it.

    http://tinyurl.com/2d6oay

  • Casey

    MJ,

    A process, yes. ‘)

    -Casey

  • Ken Longo

    Mary Ann Johanson writes.

    >>King Leonides of Sparta holds those priests (and their crazy-ass religion) in disdain, actually, and does not invite them to the White House– er, palace.

    But Leonidas and his men reference God and clearly believe in an afterlife…

    ” Spartans! Enjoy your breakfast, for tonight we dine in Hell!”

    Leonidas and his men also make reference to a “God” (clearly not our Christian God) on numerous occasions.

    This is common thread in Frank Miller’s work; True or “pure” patriotism/justice/faith must not only confront the challenge presented by the principal villian or villians of the piece but must also struggle with the power mad organized hypocrisy and corruption of the “official” Religious/State authorities.

    This thread runs through much of Miller’s work–the underrated Daredevil “Born Again” series penned for Marvel Comics in the mid-80′s, The Dark Knight Returns and 300. It is not an attack on religious faith, or patriotism which Miller clearly respects, but an attack on the corruption of faith.

    >>Hence Thor is a “myth” but Jesus is “truth.” I didn’t say this way of thinking was right, but it does exist.

    But Thor is a “myth” and Jesus was an actual human being. Whether Jesus was the “Son of God” is another debate entirely…

    Try again.

  • Ken Longo

    >>However, mankind’s advancement has been the greatest when religion has been most subordinated in practice – i.e. when logic, reason, rational inquiry has had more sway than stultifying mysticism.

  • mister b

    I found this movie to be an exceptionally convenient re-packaging of libertarian truisms. Those who represent the Establishment are invariably hideously deformed while the “free men’s” bodily perfection is always on display. Historically, Thermopylae was a sideshow; the decisive battle was fought at Salamis by the people who invented democracy, the Athenians. And the “freedom-loving” Spartans had enslaved all the local people around them, the helots, and ritually slaughtered them as part of the agoge described in the movie.
    But the visuals really were spectacular. Since many of the most intriguing (and popular) movies recently have been based on the comics, when are we going to see the “Calvin and Hobbes” movie?

  • MaryAnn

    But Leonidas and his men reference God and clearly believe in an afterlife…

    ” Spartans! Enjoy your breakfast, for tonight we dine in Hell!”

    It’s debatable whether this indicates an absolute belief in an afterlife. It could just be a saying, you know? I use “Jesus Christ!” as an exclamation, but it doesn’t mean I “believe in” him.

    >Hence Thor is a “myth” but Jesus is “truth.” I didn’t say this way of thinking was right, but it does exist.

    But Thor is a “myth” and Jesus was an actual human being. Whether Jesus was the “Son of God” is another debate entirely…

    Try again.

    You try again. You haven’t disputed my point.

  • Ken Longo

    There is no indication at all that Leonidas and his men are atheists. “God” is invoked frequently during the battle in ways that would suggest belief in some greater power.

    Miller criticizes the priests for exploiting their religious authority to fufill their lust and greed.

  • MaryAnn

    I didn’t say Leonides was an atheist. I said he hold the priests and their religion in disdain. In no way are those two positions the same thing.

  • Robert
    I stated brilliantly:

    However, mankind’s advancement has been the greatest when religion has been most subordinated in practice – i.e. when logic, reason, rational inquiry has had more sway than stultifying mysticism.

    To which Ken Longo replied somewhat missing the boat:

    The Soviet Union, The Peoples Republic of China and Camboida under the Khmer Rouge, notwithstanding, of course…

    Besides that they merely substituted their regime for “God”, your sniping doesn’t make any sense. Do you actually regard any of these nations under these regimes to have enjoyed great advancement, freedom or prosperity?

    Don’t even try to claim how great it is or has ever been in communist China. They may be experiencing a “boom” of sorts, but anything I’ve read about the nation indicates that life for the average citizen is highly repressive, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce pamphlet image they try to foster notwithstanding. Further, the technology they’ve availed themselves of was developed in the West.

    And their advancing prosperity has been to the extent that they’ve interacted with Western economies. Try to make a trip to any Big Box Mart without buying anything “made in China”.

  • Robert

    Ken Longo claimed:

    But Thor is a “myth” and Jesus was an actual human being.

    You got’um DNA evidence there Kemo Sabe?

  • http://www.freewebs.com/jurgan6 Jurgan

    So, um… this was a good movie, huh? I liked it…

  • Robert

    Ken Longo said:

    The Soviet Union, The Peoples Republic of China and Camboida under the Khmer Rouge, notwithstanding, of course…

    To revisit this point, I was gripped by some sort of dyslexic convolution. You’re saying that these are examples of “godless” societies that have *not* prospered, in response to my statement about how things are better when religion is subordinated.

    To which I still state – they merely substitute the regime or “the state” or “the will of the people” for “God”. There’s still a proscribed catechism of “authorized thought”.

  • Monty Zooma

    Great review MaryAnn! I can’t see what’s so hard to understand in your review. Personally, I think it’s very well written.

    Can I just say:

    The Spartans were a deeply religious society. Ten years before Thermopylae, the Persians had invaded Greece under their king, Darius.

    The Athenians had sent messengers to the Spartans to ask for military assistance. The Spartans refused to protect their country in its hour of need, because they considered a religious festival to be more important. The Athenians went on to defeat the Persians at Marathon, without any help from the Spartans.

    It’s also pretty ironic to consider that in the Peloponnesian Wars that followed the Persian Invasion; Sparta sacked Athens and made it into a military dictatorship ruled by 30 tyrants.
    Hundreds of democrats where killed in a reign of terror, and democracy was outlawed. Xenophon later wrote about the Spartan dominance of Athens:

    “They believed this day to be the beginning of freedom for the Greeks.”

    Some freedom, eh?

    I should also add that Spartan society became the blue print for the fascists of the twentieth century. The Spartan love of war, and their idealisation of the warrior was inspirational for the Nazis. Not only that, but their extermination policy gave the fascists their worst ideas.

    Sorry for boring history lesson there. What does everyone else think of the reviews that claim that ’300′ glorifies fascism?

  • MikeY The Wonder Doob

    Everyone chill out. This is just someones take on the movie. She isnt trying to solve the mystery’s of today, only trying to relate them to this movie. Which is exactly what see saw in it…….Give reviews, not hard times :)

  • sj

    I agree with you MJ. Part of the reason I was so eager to see it was that Gerard Butler was in the lead.
    Considering it comes from a Frank Miller graphic novel, I agree that too many will try to read some sort of political parable into a film that is simply meant to entertain and stir our emotions for noble people that sacrifice themselves for what they consider to be a greater good, and Gerard Butler was as charismatic and noble as it gets. Utterly believable as a Leonades that his men would follow to the death.
    I personally throughly enjoyed the film and also was pleased that it motivated my teenage son to take an interest in ancient history. I find the violence justified, as these were violent times, and war is violent, though perhaps it was glorified a bit, but that is to be expected, considering the source material.
    I also think that people read too much into how the heros and villians are portrayed as symbolizing present day people. Characters like Theron and Xerxes will always be exaggerated and made so very evil and disgusting, just so the audience will cheer and feel that their deaths (or disfigurment, in the case of Xerxes) is something to cheer about when it happens. No film makers wants the audience to feel badly when the Queen finally give Theron his due, so of course they have to make him venal and disgusting. That is just film making, and I think that those trying to read all kinds of present day parables into it should give it a rest and enjoy the movie. Which I think is a great flick, and I would watch again. Is that explicit enough for you Eugene?

    Great production values, interesting use of CGI, and involving story and wonderful performances. I have to wonder though, did those guys really have those terrific abs, or was that the CGI effects at work?
    Whatever, it was really nice to look at!

  • MaryAnn

    I have to wonder though, did those guys really have those terrific abs, or was that the CGI effects at work?

    I thought CGI at first, too, but apparently all the guys playing the Spartan warriors went through some intensive dieting/training not only to sculpt their bodies but to shape them into at least a semblance of a fighting force. I think it’s all real. I bet it didn’t last, though, once shooting was over! You can’t keep Scotsmen and Aussies from their beer forever!

  • sj

    With all this discussion and history lessons, I think it interesting to note that my teenage son (15) upon reading all the debate said, “Geez, it’s only a MOVIE” and even he did not take what was portrayed as completely true history, but it did prompt him research the subject and find out what really happened. That is a productive side of seeing the film that pleases me.
    I happen to meet a real life Rescue Swimmer at the premiere of “The Guardian” locally, as it was also held as a fundraising event. He is stationed in P/R and had just weeks before rescued seventeen people, just as they do in the movie. He said that the training they portrayed was very real,but of course the entire film was “Hollywoodized” (his words)
    I think that is something to keep in mind when seeing any film, that it is there to inform, yes, and to provoke thought and emotion, but to entertain, first and foremost.

  • Robert

    did those guys really have those terrific abs?

    Real, but probably enhanced with artfully applied makeup, a trick used on a lot of magazine photos.

  • Paul Crocker

    With respect, I’m going to have to loudly disagree with you (and get a swat on the nose with My Pet Goat)

    The movie is undeniably conservative. Frank Miller, who has gone completely off the reservation since becoming famous, has always had strong right-wing leanings in his work and in the statements he makes publicly. If you don’t believe me, check out his nutjob essay in NPR and his wish to have Batman fight Osama Bin Laden.

    It’s silly to say that the movie was specifically designed to be an anti-Iran movie. I have read the book and the movie’s script and visuals follow the original work very closely. But you do have to wonder why they chose this material to bring to film.

    I think more than anything else, it’s a dick-wagging movie. I work as a field investigator for a private investigation firm and most of my coworkers are either ex-cops or ex-soldiers and they love 300 because the Spartans are mans-men. They liked that Leonidas was a straight shooter, not gay, and didn’t kneel before King RuPaul. That bit about fighting mysticism and tyranny hit them in their right wing asses like it was intended to.

    Oh, at we liked the fact that the queen’s entire role seemed to be defined by who she was fucking, who people thought she was fucking, and who she was publicly accused of fucking.

  • MaryAnn

    Oh, at we liked the fact that the queen’s entire role seemed to be defined by who she was fucking, who people thought she was fucking, and who she was publicly accused of fucking.

    Typical that men would see her that way. Men create the environment in which women’s only power is through sex, and then they condemn women for using that. Of course, if she doesn’t use that, then she must be a lesbian.

    But that’s a whole other issue.

    Whatever Frank Miller’s politics, the best argument against *300* being a reaction to 9/11 is that it was published in 1998, and that the film is a faithful adaptation of the graphic novel. Unless anyone wants to argue that Miller can see the future, it’s hard to support a contention that *300* has anything to do with 9/11.

  • Paul Crocker

    Wow.

    I don’t often get called sexist.

    Maybe I am. I’m a white male raised in America. I come with the same stack of prejudices everyone else does. And I’m probably just as blind to them, too.

    I’m very aware that 300 was written prior to 9/11. But I do believe that the choice to make this particular movie was definitely influenced by the mood out in America.

    Also, when you look at Frank Miller’s work, you can see a long-standing and definite conservative streak, both in his public statements and as reoccuring themes in the stuff he puts out. It starts out as “lone guy standing for justice in a corrupt world” which turns into “strong guy standing up for justice” which turns into “might makes right”

    Plus, frankly, the guy has a horrible track record with women. From Elektra through Sin City, you’ve got these deliberately tittilating tough girls who fall to pieces all over the males in the stories. Or they need to be saved. Etc.

    I really never said or meant to imply that she was a lesbian. What I took away from the movie was that she was only a powerful figure in Spartan society as long as her husband around, she framed female strength in Spartan society in the context of the men around her (“We women birth Spartan Men” or something to that effect), and she could only address the council and bring obvious truths to their attention based sexual favors.

    Men didn’t create the society of 300. Frank Miller did. Yeah, it’s not historically accurate and blah blah blah, but this is the story he wanted to tell. This is the world he wanted to portray. It’s a male dick pulling fantasy. As a male, it kinda makes me sound like a geek to say that buuuuuuttt…..

    I don’t mind a little tough guy story. But 300 took it too far and made it something gross and uncomfortable.

    Look, I’m never going to articulate my position well enough here. I’m not suitably clever. I follow a regular female-written discussion panel on comics called When Fangirls Attack. They did a better job saying what I tried to say.

    http://meiousei.livejournal.com/92202.html

  • MaryAnn

    Well, I’m a feminist liberal woman, and I was NOT offended by the way the women in *300* were portrayed. I do not claim to speak for all women, nor for all liberals, but this is how this particular liberal feminist woman sees this film. And I make no apologies for it.

  • Paul Crocker

    I would never have the audacity to ask for an apology for your viewpoint on the movie. I’m a huge fan and I read your reviews for your point of view. I don’t particularly feel my viewpoint called for an attack on who I am or what my beliefs are based on my gender.

  • Branan

    Fake.
    I had trouble watching this movie. I just didn’t care. The actors always appeared trapped on a small sound stage walled-off by giant matte paintings. Story-wise it was merely a tennis match with dialogue from Bumper Stickers thrown in here and there to cretae pauses, “Freedom isn’t Free”. I didn’t see a group of men locked in brutal struggle for their lives – but I did see a lot of slow-motion, digital blood splatter and lots of virtual people dying virtual deaths. It worked in ‘Sin City” and even “Sky Captain”. But not here. Luckily Butlers’ eyes provided the only windows into any kind of soul. His voice had the same effect. Without him I would have only seen a giant demo reel for AfterEffects’ latest group of filters.

    Oh, and the hunchback looked like a walking circus peanut.

    too bad, so sad.

  • Robert

    I didn’t see a group of men locked in brutal struggle for their lives

    Funny you say that, I thought they captured that sense very well.

    Interesting how they made the chaos and brutality of battle seem balletic. I thought it was a hell of a job of cinematography.

    I’ve seen various assertions to the effect of how innacurate the portrayal of the story is but looking around, not even being familiar with the graphic novel, it seems the film did a pretty decent job of including a lot of what is mentioned in historical references – even the defiant shout of “come and get them” when told to put down their weapons is reported to have been an actual event. By all accounts, the Spartan warriors were a bunch of badass mofos.

    I agree that the hunchback looked a bit cheesy, however he does allegedly represent an actual person.

  • branan

    “I agree that the hunchback looked a bit cheesy, however he does allegedly represent an actual person.”

    Representation is part of the problem. “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” represents real dinosaurs. But not very well. Today they look laughable. I’m sure the Hunchback was meant to represent a real person, but the execution of same looked laughable.

    And that is how I felt about the whole movie. CGI backgraounds are the new Cardboard Scenery.

    Once again, I am not interested in the film’s politics or historical acuracy, or faithfulness to the graphic novel.

    I’m only saying the whole thing was silly-looking and it seemed to me that special effects had taken a sudden leap backwards. I understand it’s stylized but does that mean it no longer needs to look somewhat believable? The battles were featherweight, the blood was bloodless and backgrounds were CG cardboard.

  • MaryAnn

    I understand it’s stylized but does that mean it no longer needs to look somewhat believable?

    It’s not about photorealism as CGI has been up till now. It’s about emotion and visual metaphor. It’s figurative and impressionistic. I wrote about this at Film.com. It’s not merely stylized — it’s painterly. It’s taking film in a new artistic direction. If it’s cardboard then so is Picasso and Maxfield Parrish.

  • Robert

    I’m sure the Hunchback was meant to represent a real person, but the execution of same looked laughable.

    On that narrow point I agree, but I thought it was a deviation in an otherwise visually impressive film. They could have kept essentially the same character with a more subdued representation of his handicap, not so much like a flesh-colored California Raisin character.

    I also thought they could have given him a more plausible motive for becoming a turncoat than because Leonidas pointed out the painfully obvious – that he simply wasn’t physically capable enough for battle. He told him he could use him in other capacities. That’s all it took for this guy who supposedly was willing to die for his nation and so greatly respected Leonidas?

    I understand it’s stylized but does that mean it no longer needs to look somewhat believable?…The actors always appeared trapped on a small sound stage walled-off by giant matte paintings.

    It seems the feeling of “smallness” that you’re griping about is because they did a good job of portraying the situation. This wasn’t some wide-open battlefield of Medieval times or the Civil War, it was them defending literally a hole in the wall by a narrow beach.

    The battles were featherweight, the blood was bloodless and backgrounds were CG cardboard.

    Wow, I just couldn’t disagree more. I think part of the problem you’re having is contempt bred of apparent familiarity with the technology/software being used. You know how the magician does the trick so it’s going to seem lame to you. Kermit the Frog isn’t going to seem as engaging if you see Jim Henson’s arm up his butt.

    I wonder if you had no familiarity with CGI technology and just saw it unfold before you how you’d feel about it.

  • Branan

    I really must not be explaining myself well. Although I am happy you are both helping me to refine my point. What MarryAnn said it true:

    “It’s taking film in a new artistic direction. If it’s cardboard then so is Picasso and Maxfield Parrish.”

    Yes, but Picasso and Maxfield Parrish felt organic, human, raw, etc. Whereas I found 300 to be flat, empty, and computerized. Much the way a flying toaster screensaver might be pretty but it doesn’t move you to feel any particular way.

    “It’s not about photorealism as CGI has been up till now. It’s about emotion and visual metaphor.”

    Yes, I never intended that CGI must be photorealistic. Only that the imagery should have some guts to it. I don’t need it to be photorealistic but I do need something with some emotion. The imagery in 300 seemed to me so cosmeticized and pretty. If it was meant to be impressionistic then it only left the impression on me that the war is weightless and pretty – like a fashion show.

    ” Kermit the Frog isn’t going to seem as engaging if you see Jim Henson’s arm up his butt.”

    Robert, this is an excellent example of what I’m trying to express. Kermit doesn’t seem realistic but he does seem organic, human and expressive. The original Yoda was the same deal. But we all know what happened when they replaced the puppet with a CG character – it looked absurd. He lost all his physicality and his gravity.

    The whole thing appeared to me to look like child’s shadow box: 2 dimensional and trapped in a small space – like if you turned a degree to the left or right you would see the lights, grip stands, camera crew, etc. I undertand they were trapped as characters but it felt like the camera was also trapped with them – in a technical way.

    MaryAnn, I would agree that it is painterly. I would mention here the name of a well-known bad painter but history doesn’t remember their names. Maybe that’s all I’m saying: As a painting “300″ is a lesser work because it is more concerened with being pretty than evocative and too caught up in cosmetics to risk looking rough. I thought “sin city” and even “sky captain” were better works of style, graphic design and painterlyness.

  • MaryAnn

    Whether there’s emotion in *300* is a matter of opinion and taste. I see it. I can understand why the movie doesn’t work for someone who doesn’t see it.

  • Neil E

    I found this film has disturbing undertones.

    Early on we are introduced to the idea that the Spartan’s military greatness was due to their practising a crude form of eugenics..

    Spartan warriors are portrayed as Aryan supermen, their opponents and detractors, as either ‘oriental’, an/or morally or physically degenerate, in one way or another.

    Midway we have them remarking on their ability to maintain reason while killing off Persian wounded. This reminded me of Himmler’s speech about the maintenance of ‘decency’ while committing atrocious acts (His speech at Posen I think it was).

    The nearest equivalent to the Spartans of this film are the SS. The film is deeply imbued with Nazi like imagery and ideas.

    The film is little more than an ode to gotterdammerung, played out a theme based on the ideology of the milenarian “clash of cultures” so popular amongst neo-conservatives and their fellow travellers.

    Because of this, the film sits outside the rebirthed sword and sandal epic, a genre that I find very entertaining. I almost walked out on this film but made myself stay in case it managed to redeem itself in the last reel but alas it did not.

  • MaryAnn

    Good. Film should sometimes be disturbing, if it’s in a good cause, as this film is.

    Cultures *are* clashing today — this is unquestionable, and not a matter of ideology (by that I mean that you don’t have to be standing in any particular political place to see that this is the case). That this film can be interpreted (or perhaps misinterpreted) to be supporting both sides of that culture clash should give us pause, could be showing us a bit of how relative many of the ideas we cherish are. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for what we believe in — it means maybe we can understand a bit of how the other side feels, which is vital for any hope of winning and, much more important, winning the other side round to our way of thinking.

    As I say in my review, concepts like freedom and tyranny and spiritually are relative. How much should we condemn the American founding fathers because they decided that a certain idea of “freedom” should extend only to landowning white men? What’s progressive in one century is backward in the next. That’s part of the kind of thinking that this film should prompt… if only most people weren’t so averse to thinking. (I don’t mean you, Neil — clearly, you’ve got no problem with thinking.)

    There’s a LOT going on in *300.* The fact that many people can’t or don’t want to see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

  • RW

    The film seem to argue for ‘reason’ and fighting against ‘tyranny and mysticism’. And some people here are attracted to such ideas. Let’s play with such ideas..

    1. Is it ‘reason’ to construct a society where weak and undesirable babies are unhesitatingly discarded at birth? Whatever happened to ideals of compassion, kindness, love and tolerance?

    2. King Leonidas at one point said he rather trust in reason than faith. Yet he and his men goes into battle nearly naked. Frankly it takes a lot more faith than reason to go into battle with nearly nothing on. If you go out to fight with nearly no protection, aren’t you more likely to get hurt more easily? Is that reason? And as I understand it, the film’s portrayal was a gross distortion anyway. The actual historical Spartans were quite heavily armoured.

    3. The film briefly alludes to the actual historical fact that the ancient Greek city-states were full of jealousy, rivalry, contempt and hatred for each other. In fact some 50 years after Leonidas’s last stand, the Peloponnesian war was started by his beloved Sparta against their fellow Athenian Greeks because they didn’t like the fact that the Athenians became too powerful and influential. Is this what reason is supposed to lead to, a state of jealousy, envy, hatred, contempt and war?

    4. In the film, the Spartans were portrayed as brutal, efficient and merciless killers. By contrast, the only person who talks about being merciful and kind in the film is the ‘bad guy’ Xerxes. So does reason only results in brutal, efficient and merciless killers?

    5. The Spartans were talking about preserving their freedom. Well, how free really are they since their society was portrayed as a military monarchy that unhesitatingly kill any weak babies and train their males to be efficient warriors right from the start. Is reason suppose to lead to this type of society?

    If you ask me, people who celebrate reason are actually subtly mocked in this film.

  • amanohyo

    I’m with Branan and RW on this one. Even for a movie based on a comic, the whole thing had the cold, sterile, manufactured feel of a car commercial from the early nineties. Except for the scenes with women in them, those were more like perfume commericals from the early nineties.

    A lot of the issues that 300 seems to be tackling in a subtle way are actually just a result of the muddled confusion that RW outlined above. The only thing that is made clear in the movie is that if you are unattractive, effeminate, a lesbian, or nonwhite, you are an enemy of freedom (or a slave).

    I understand that many people are swept up in the majesty, gravitas, and thrust, thrust, repeat tempo of everything, but aside from the unintentional camp value of a golden underwear toting, trembling lipped Ru Paul on steroids and his incredibly unskilled elite team of mutant ninjas, it does nothing for me.

    That’s not true, the slow motion decapitation scene made me laugh out loud, but sadly, that was the emotional high point of my experience.

  • MaryAnn

    See, but this comment from RW tells me he doesn’t get the film, or at least that he’s not getting it in the same way that I am:

    King Leonidas at one point said he rather trust in reason than faith. Yet he and his men goes into battle nearly naked.

    The near nakedness is metaphoric, as if much of the rest of the film. It’s meant to represent the fact that these men have been stripped down to their bare skill and talent as warriors. They are no more “actually” nearly naked than the moon is “actually” really that huge when Leonides climbs the mountain to visit the wacky old priests.

  • sailorsaturumon

    Well, The Movie IS ALREADY instrumentalized by all. Especially given the image of BAD DEMOCRATS who want USA to loose…

  • MaryAnn

    Oh, please, sailorsaturumon, do tell what “bad Democrats” have to do with this movie…

  • MBI

    I can’t tell whether that guy likes the movie or the war.

  • MaryAnn

    People who talk like that like the war. They’re the only ones who talk about the U.S. “losing” — excuse me, “loosing” — as if there’s something to be “won.”

  • Newbia

    Are you sure it wasn’t just about OMG COOL ACTION SEQUENCES! and LET’S GO SCREAM AND KICK SOME FUCKING ASS! and YOU KNOW WHAT WOULD BE COOL? GIANT ELEPHANTS! WITH NINJAS!? ;) Of course all stories like this can be analyzed from the perspective of a Campbell myth, but I honestly thought that this movie was just an expression of extreme testosterone. It was highly entertaining, but I don’t think that any deep mythological insight was done on purpose.

    As one of my friends overheard a guy saying when he left the theater: “This movie was so awesome made me just wanna PUNCH someone!”

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t think that any deep mythological insight was done on purpose.

    As I’ve noted many times before, just because a creator did not deliberately insert something into a work of art does not mean it’s not there to be found.

  • Diego A.

    Good reviw. I think others are harsh becase of so called ‘racism’. Theres nothing raicst about it! And its not suppose to be acurate. It justa rousing tale for his men by the geneal. Sorry if was that hard to read english not my firs liguage!

  • Radek

    “Ur” is not spelled with an umlaut.

  • Radek

    Well, Leonidas was a king, and there were slaves there, so I don’t see this very Western freedom they talked so much about.

  • Radek

    The issue is not whether Western values of personal freedom and rationality are worth defending, but whether this is AT ALL what happened at the battle depicted in the film. Spartans have no place telling people off for lack of freedom and mysticism when they were clearly a religious and monarchic society. Therefore the film comes across, in the end, as almost schizophrenic in its attempt to make Spartans speak for present-day Westerners.

  • Radek

    “Of course, the first thing the movie is “about” is big box office, but they managed to put a message in there too.”

    That most be the most naïve thing I’ve ever read.

    “Many people the world over even in freer cultures don’t seem too interested in knowing the real story about their “heroes” and don’t have a strong handle on philosophical principles”

    And this comes in close second if you don’t apply the same reasoning to the Spartans themselves and to “heroic ideas” such as “values upon which American was founded”, “the Founding Fathers”, etc. etc.

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    Fixed. Thanks.