300 is a 2006 American period action film based on the 1998 comic series of the same name by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. Both are fictionalised retellings of the Battle of Thermopylae within the Persian Wars.
A sequel, titled Rise of an Empire, based on Miller’s previously-unpublished graphic novel prequel Xerxes, was released on 07 March 2014.
In 479 BC, one year after the Battle of Thermopylae, Dilios, a hoplite in the Spartan Army, begins his story by depicting the life of Leonidas I from childhood to kingship via Spartan doctrine. Dilios’s story continues and a Persian herald arrives at the gates of Sparta demanding “earth and water” as a token of submission to King Xerxes—the Spartans reply by throwing the envoy and his escort into a deep well. Leonidas then visits the Ephors, proposing a strategy to drive back the numerically superior Persians through the Hot Gates. His plan involves building a wall in order to funnel the Persians into a narrow pass between the rocks and the sea: negating the Persian advantage in numbers, and giving Greeks heavy infantry the advantage over the vast waves of Persian light infantry. The Ephors consult the Oracle, who decrees that Sparta will not go to war during the Carneia. As Leonidas angrily departs, an agent from Xerxes appears, rewarding the Ephors for their covert support.
Although the Ephors have denied him permission to mobilize Sparta’s army, Leonidas gathers three hundred of his best soldiers in the guise of his personal bodyguard. They are joined along the way by Arcadians. At Thermopylae, they construct the wall made up of stones and slain Persian scouts as mortar, angering a Persian emissary. Stelios, an elite Spartan soldier, orders the former to go back to the Persian lines and warn Xerxes, after cutting off his whipping arm.
Meanwhile, Leonidas encounters Ephialtes, a deformed Spartan whose parents fled Sparta to spare him certain infanticide. Ephialtes asks to redeem his father’s name by joining Leonidas’ army, warning him of a secret path the Persians could use to outflank and surround the Spartans. Though sympathetic, Leonidas rejects him since his deformity physically prevents him from holding his shield high enough, potentially compromising the phalanx formation, and Ephialtes is enraged.
The battle begins soon after the Spartans’ refusal to lay down their weapons. Using the Hot Gates to their advantage, as well as their superior fighting skills, the Spartans repel wave after wave of the advancing Persian army. During a lull in the battle, Xerxes personally approaches Leonidas to persuade him to surrender, offering him wealth and power in exchange for his allegiance. Leonidas declines and mocks Xerxes for the inferior quality of his fanatical warriors. In response, Xerxes sends in his elite guard, the Immortals, later that night. The Spartans nonetheless manage to defeat the Immortals with few losses, with slight help from the Arcadians.
On the second day, Xerxes sends in new waves of armies from Asia and other Persian subject states, including war elephants, to crush the Spartans once and for all, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Ephialtes defects to Xerxes to whom he reveals the secret path in exchange for wealth, luxury, women, and a Persian uniform. The Arcadians retreat upon learning of Ephialtes’ betrayal, but the Spartans stay. Leonidas orders an injured but reluctant Dilios to return to Sparta and tell them of what has happened: a “tale of victory”.
In Sparta, Queen Gorgo tries to persuade the Spartan Council to send reinforcements to aid the 300. Theron, a corrupt politician, claims that he “owns” the Council and threatens the Queen, who reluctantly submits to his sexual demands in return for his help. When Theron disgraces her in front of the Council, Gorgo kills him out of rage, revealing within his robe a bag of Xerxes’ gold. Marking his betrayal, the Council unanimously agrees to send reinforcements. On the third day, the Persians, led by Ephialtes, traverse the secret path, encircling the Spartans. Xerxes’ general again demands their surrender. Leonidas seemingly kneels in submission, allowing Stelios to leap over him and kill the general. A furious Xerxes orders his troops to attack. Leonidas rises and throws his spear at Xerxes; barely missing him, the spear cuts across and wounds his face, proving the God-King’s mortality. Leonidas and the remaining Spartans fight to the last man until they finally succumb to an arrow barrage.
Dilios, now back in Sparta, concludes his tale before the Council. Inspired by Leonidas’ sacrifice, the Greeks mobilize. One year later, the Persians face an army of 30,000 free Greeks led by a vanguard of 10,000 Spartans. After one final speech commemorating the 300, Dilios, now head of the Spartan Army, leads them to war, against the Persians across the fields of Plataea.
Trivia & Goofs
- The script demanded that most of the male cast spend the majority of their screen time bare-chested, as per Frank Miller’s original graphic novel. To adequately present themselves as the most well-trained and marshalled fighting force of the time, the entire principal cast underwent a rigorous 8-week training regime organised by Marc Twight, a world-record-holding professional mountain climber. Actors never repeated the same exercise twice, preventing the body from adapting to any one type of exertion. Gerard Butler has said that the training was the most difficult thing he has ever had to do in his life. When it was over, Twight admitted that he pushed the actors as hard as he’s ever pushed anyone before, including himself.
- Gerard Butler spent on average 4 hours a day training in a gym, for over 4 months, to get in shape for the role of the king.
- In the movie, some Spartan men have trimmed beards, or no facial hair at all. In ancient Greece, it was completely unacceptable for a man to shave his beard, lest he be marked as effeminate. A mustache could be shaved as long as the beard was left alone. A shaved beard was the mark of a coward or a sign of mourning.
- The film’s unique look was created in post-production, using an effect nicknamed “the crush.” As producer Jeffrey Silver explains on the film’s official website, “You crush the black content of the image and enhance the colour saturation to change the contrast ratio of the film.”
- The flowing effect of the Oracle dancing scene was accomplished by filming the actress under water.
- Director Zack Snyder’s son plays young Leonidas in the child fight training scene.
- Only 2 gallons of fake blood was used. The rest was added in post production.
Production & Filming Details
- Director: Zack Snyder.
- Producers: Gianni Nunnari, Mark Canton, Bernie Goldmann, and Jeffrey Silver.
- Writers: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, and Micheal B. Gordon.
- Music: Tyler Bates.
- Cinematography: Larry Fong.
- Editor: William Hoy.
- Production: Legendary Pictures, Virtual Studios, Atmosphere Pictures, Hollywood Gang, Productions.
- Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.
- Release Date: 09 March 2007 (US).
- Running time: 116 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.