Saturday, February 16, 2013


Shortly before Zack Snyder's adaptation of 300 came out in cinemas, I was having a conversation with someone about the film and, more broadly, the battle of Thermopylae. During the course of the discussion, I mentioned that the battle ends with most of the Spartans dying, which the other party got rather annoyed about. He seemed to think that I'd ruined the ending; I'm still of the opinion that - 2,500 years after the event - the statute of limitations had long since expired on that particular spoiler.

I mean, the whole point of the story - and the reason the battle is still talked about - is the nobility of sacrifice, doing what's right at the cost of your own life. I couldn't understand why someone would be interested in a film based (however loosely) on the real event but not have even a passing familiarity with it. They obviously hadn't read the comic either.

TCM are showing 300 at the moment, but I've had enough of it. The film bugs me in a dozen different ways, although most of those boil down the way Spartan society is presented - mostly the injection (by Miller, I assume) of some pretty aggressive misogyny - and the explanation by Leonidas of the phalanx, which his soldiers effectively abandon two minutes after the battle starts. I mean, if you're going to discount someone from fighting because they can't use a technique that you're not particularly bothered about anyway, I can see why Ephialtes takes the hump1.

I suppose at the end of the day I can't hold too much of that against the film, though - if his Watchmen adaptation is anything to go by, I'm assuming 300 is an almost note-for-note retelling of the comic, which I haven't read and frankly don't have much compulsion to. I assume the only historical research done by Miller before writing the original was into the battle itself; I know that there are liberties taken with Spartan culture and can only wonder where the hell half the Persian stuff came from.

There are some tremendous lines in it though - even if the best ("then we shall fight in the shade") is apparently a genuine quote from one of the Spartans at the battle2. But for every badass taunt and cool shot, there's just so much facepalming that I can't get past.

I remember reading up about Thermopylae a lot when the movie was first announced; maybe if I hadn't, the film wouldn't annoy me quite so much. I don't think it's even disappointment - I didn't know what to expect from the film - but it somehow feels disrespectful to the real thing to turn it into such a freak show. I'm sure the battle wasn't as honorable and glorious as the Greek historians of the time would have us believe, but it would have been pretty awesome without taking such massive liberties with the source material.

1 I am so, so sorry. I couldn't resist, and then couldn't bring myself to edit it out.

2 Probably my favourite line from the real thing didn't make it into the film; when Leonidas was leaving Sparta to fight, his wife - the unfortunately-named Queen Gordo - asked him what she should do if he didn't return. He replied, "marry a good man and bear good children". While it does seem to imply that her only purpose should be to produce more Spartans, I like the sense that he didn't feel like he had any ownership of her. I don't think he was giving her an order; he was telling her not to give up her own life just because he might lose his.

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