300 (2006)


Introduction

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 retelling’s of the Battle of Thermopylae within the Persian Wars.

The film was directed by Zack Snyder, while Miller served as executive producer and consultant. It was filmed mostly with a superimposition chroma key technique, to help replicate the imagery of the original comic book.

The plot revolves around King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), who leads 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian “God-King” Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers. As the battle rages, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to rally support in Sparta for her husband. The story is framed by a voice-over narrative by the Spartan soldier Dilios (David Wenham). Through this narrative technique, various fantastical creatures are introduced, placing 300 within the genre of historical fantasy.

300 was released in Austin Butt-Numb-A-Thon on 09 December 2006, released in both conventional and IMAX theatres in the United States on 09 March 2007, and on DVD, Blu-ray Disc, and HD DVD on 31 July 2007. The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics, which included praise for its original visuals and style but criticism for its depiction of the Persians, which some characterised as bigoted or Iranophobic. Even so, the film was a box office success, grossing over $450 million, and the film’s opening was the 24th-largest in box office history at the time. A sequel, titled 300: Rise of an Empire, based on Miller’s previously unpublished graphic novel prequel Xerxes, was released on 07 March 2014.

Outline

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 Ephor – , 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 mobilise. 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.

Film Inspiration

300 is a historically inspired 1998 comic book limited series written and illustrated by Frank Miller with painted colors by Lynn Varley.

The comic is a fictional retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae and the events leading up to it from the perspective of Leonidas of Sparta. 300 was particularly inspired by the 1962 film The 300 Spartans, a film Miller watched as a young boy. The work was adapted in 2006 to a film of the same name.

In 2018, Dark Horse published Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander, also written and drawn by Miller, acting as a prequel and sequel to the events of 300, depicting Xerxes I’s rise to the throne, and the subsequent destruction of the Persian Empire under his descendant Darius III, by Alexander the Great.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director: Zack Snyder.
  • Producers: Gianni Nunnari, Mark Canton, Bernie Goldmann, and Jeffrey Silver.
  • Screenplay: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, and Michael B. Gordon.
  • Music: Tyler Bates.
  • Cinematography: Larry Fong.
  • Editor: William Hoy.
  • Production: Legendary Pictures, Virtual Studios, Atmosphere Pictures, and Hollywood Gang Productions.
  • Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures.
  • Release Date: 09 December 2006 (Austin Butt-Thumb-A-Thon), 14 February 2007 (Berlin International Film Festival), and 09 March 2007 (US).
  • Running Time: 116 minutes.
  • Country: US and Canada.
  • Language: English.

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