The word Spartan has a firm place in the English language as a synonym for “austerity”, “ruggedness” and “discipline”. However, if we’re to pierce the mists of time in order to actual see what the Spartan psyche was really like, a more appropriate term might be “belligerent, ultra-violent nutter”. At least that is what the message is from Zach Snyder’s 2007 Frank Miller adaptation 300. Miller’s comic book brings to life one of the most iconic battles of the ancient world, and the battle that has shaped Spartan identity ever since; the Battle of Thermopylae, in 480 bc.
Touted, at the time, by it’s creators as “Sin City meets Gladiator” 300 tells the tale of King Leonidas’ stand against the overwhelming might of the Persian army, lead by their enigmatic leader Xerxes. However, like most tales of ancient battles that have been adapted into comic book or movie form, the film is as removed from reality than Jedward on an LSD trip. Though there is some truthful elements to the story, Miller decided to agree with the maxims of Tony Wilson and print the legend (queue Elephants the size of buildings, Ogre-eqsue evil henchmen and a bard with a goat’s head). The historical accuracy is more off target than your average Stormtrooper at the shooting rage, but as this IS a stupidly over the top slice of machismo, that can be forgiven.
Visually the film is stunning. Snyder has remained remarkably faithful to the source material. Shots are framed as if moving from one page of sumptuous illustration to the next, with Spartans framed against the backdrop in iconic silhouettes, such as when forcing Persians of a cliff into the raging sea below, replicating the frames of the book. The film sticks to a limited palette of Crimson and Bronze, colours which suitably represent a) the comic and b) Spartan personality. However, Snyder’s love of shooting the action as moooooooovingreaaaaaallyslooooooowly to breakneckfast becomes tiresome at times, but the visual treat of seeing Persians being despatched in such stylised ways quickly overcomes this. More importantly, the cinematography of the battle scenes creates the belief that the Spartans are hard actually arsed bastards, capable of dispatching the hordes of men arrayed before them
Subtly is not something to expect from 300. The narrative is painted in such broad strokes as to neglect any real character development, period detail or motivation. Characterisation is as exactly 2d as you’d expect from an action flick. Leonidas himself is stubborn and noble, but deadly when crossed; very much a metaphor for Sparta itself. Gerard Butler is impressive and believable as Leonidas; a perfect leader of men who is able to mix up the wisecracks and the inspiration convincingly, due to Butler’s own charisma. The Spartans themselves, with more six packs on display than an Australian off license, give off the air of stubborn, brick shit houses satisfyingly. Curious though, was the cast of Michael Fassbender in such a small role, wasting his talent and charisma that was put to such good use in Inglorious Basterds.
Ultimately, 300 is more of a visual treat than anything substantial, and in a way this makes 300 a sterling comic book adap. It also has a key ingredient missing from adaptations of late; It’s Fun. Yes it’s loud, bloody and obnoxious, intercut with sex and nudity, but 300 is campy and over the top enough to forgive it’s flaws, and be taken for what it is.
If you’re struggling for entertainment on a Saturday after, then 300 is the perfect film for you.