This film, adapted from the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, presents a fantasy game version of ancient history. It entertains on the visceral level, but does not bear thoughtful scrutiny.

Directed by Zack Snyder

Written by Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad,
Michael Gordon, adapted from the graphic novel by
Frank Miller and
Lynn Varley.

Set design by Frédéric Amblard.

Cast

Gerard Butler as King Leonidas
Vincent Regan as Captain
Lena Heady as Queen Gorgo
Dominic West as Theron
David Wenham as Delios
Andrew Pleavin as Daxos
Andrew Tiernan as Ephialtes
Robert Picardo as Howard
Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes the Drag Queen King of Persia

Premise:

Leonidas I of Sparta leads 300 men and some Greek allies against the far larger Persian army. In reality, Leonidas had more support than the film suggests. Oh yeah: the role-playing-game mutants and cool armoured pachyderms are artistic embellishments.

High Points:

The CGI visuals make for spectacular eye-candy, and very impressive sandal epic battles. If you’re seeing 300 for these, you’re seeing it for the right reasons.

Low Points:

1. I know this is mythologized, stylized history, and I recognize that Hollywood rarely gets history right in any case. However, the whitewashing goes as over the top here as the action sequences. The film’s Spartans regularly mouth Bushisms about fighting for freedom and being free men, in contrast with the welt-marked slave-armies of the Persians. We get no mention of the fact that Spartans had no problem owning slaves who were treated with noteworthy brutality. Various other unpleasant aspects of their society get downplayed or ignored outright. And what would a sandal epic be without a woman made up according to contemporary Cover Girl standards?

2. I accepted most of the ancient/modern fusion music as entirely suited to the film’s videogame-epic feel. However, the jock-rock guitar riffs which suddenly appear distracted me; my wife had to stifle laughter.

The Scores:

Originality: 1/6 This faithfully adapts a graphic novel inspired by a sandal epic, which retells history as filtered through myth, videogames, and the Lord of the Rings film adaptations.

Effects: 6/6. Filmed almost entirely in a studio, 300 features gorgeous virtual sets and effects.

Story: 4/6 The basic plot holds, but it lacks significant developments. One of the twists seems to exist to justify the Spartans’ tradition of killing the deformed and the weak. Other inventions of the film make little sense. Why not build another wall to block the goat-path?1 Why was the Spartan revealed to be a traitor conveniently carrying Persian coin? Why am I asking these questions about something that was obviously meant to be pure macho spectacle?

Acting: 4/6. The actors fare reasonably well in their stylized roles, but the absence of character development or credible dialogue makes real audience involvement difficult.Production: 6/6 Again, the film features a spectacular, obviously stylized world. Several of the extras and all of the fauna would be comfortably at home in Middle Earth.

Emotional Response: 4/6. One engages this film as one does a videogame, on the visceral level.

Overall: 4/6.

300 receives a total score of 29/42

1. I know the goat-path actually is part of the recorded account, but the movie still needs to make the decisions seem reasonable.