It’s had really quite mixed reviews but I knew immediately on watching the trailer that I wanted to see 300. I’m always a sucker for good historical fantasy, or just fantasy in general, having a special place in my heart for classics like Conan the Barbarian and Lord of the Rings on the one hand, and even unintentionally comedic nonsense like Hawk the Slayer on the other. It’s all good.
Let’s face it, Spartans were just darn cool. Even when you learned about them in school history books, from relatively dry descriptions of their battles with their Greek neighbours like the Athenians, even with a distinct lack of flying limbs and slo-mo leaping attacks they perked the lessons up a bit, certainly when compared to learning about the agricultural revolution or who invented the Spinning Jenny. Yes you can argue that 300 exaggerates, well, everything about Sparta and the world around it, but that’s kind of the point. 300 is extremely stylised and partly fantastical despite being based strongly on historical events, partly because it’s based on a comic, but also because the story is portrayed as told by a Spartan narrator whose job it was to inspire those who weren’t there - so a few creative embellishments are really par for the course. Plus, it’s a film which means e-n-t-e-r-t-a-i-n-m-e-n-t. If you want a historically accurate account I’m sure there’s a library nearby.
Yes, the entire film is basically one long battle scene (with a few short but welcome respites where you can rest your eyeballs before the next assault). But it’s an incredibly well visualised battle scene, genuinely a little different from anything seen before and thus makes a significant contribution I think. Yes, the characters are stereotyped and pretty one-dimensional (although there are some good bits of humour in there) - but this is a classical epic, after all. No-one gave a damn about the many-layered motivations of Hercules or whether Jason had to wrestle any hidden inner conflicts while leading the Argonauts - it’s irrelevant. Classical epics are about great deeds, bravery, adventure, broad character typing and unabashed wear-it-on-your-sleeve bravado - and being a little bit smug about the whole thing afterwards. It’s not trying to be Jane Austen, and nor should it - you’re supposed to be left in awe of these larger-than-life heroes and their deeds; and a review by Pete Vonder Haar totally summed it up for me: “I feel comfortable enough in my (relative lack of) masculinity to say that if I had to stand in the presence of these men for more than ten seconds, I’d spontaneously grow a pair of ovaries”.
As for the people who postulate that it’s inappropriate because it’s a commentary on the current war in Iraq, or it has racial connotations, or promotes an east versus west split, or portrays non-Spartan Greece as weak (well the story is told by a Spartan, so DUH) - oh for Gods sake get outside for once and stop staring at your own navel.
Recommended if you like this sort of thing. Although I have no idea how it got away with being rated ‘15’ - perhaps slo-mo flying chunks of severed human bits aren’t as shocking as they once were.