In anticipation of the second part of the story about the 300 Spartans, I could not forget to mention the first movie dedicated to this topic, filmed by Zack Snyder in 2006. I have not yet watched the second part, and I can hardly imagine what the continuation of the story could be, considering all the main characters died; however, I assume it is at least as epic as “300.”
Snyder’s “300” has been criticized a lot. Mostly, it has been claimed the movie can hardly be called historically credible, and it was focused solely on entertainment and visual effects. My suggestion to such critics would be to learn how to perceive movies as they are. When Hollywood trailers promise you the most epic battles, do you expect convex detailed characters or historical authenticity, especially considering the movie intro credits honestly warns the audience it has been based on a graphic novel? I started watching “300” with prejudice; when it ended, I felt amazed. Since that time, I try to evaluate movies separately from the historical background or social context. Of course, this does not neutralize the fact that sometimes a movie can be truly trashy, despite how objective you are trying to be.
“300” tells a story of the Greco-Persian War—in particular, the famous Battle of Thermopylae, when, according to the legend, 300 brave Spartan warriors fought thousands of Persian invaders. In reality, there were many more Greek soldiers on the battlefield (up to 2000), but Snyder fairly considered the more contrasting are the numbers, the better it would be for the movie. And his guess was correct. The keywords you need to know to build up your opinion on “300” are 300 Spartans, millions of Persians, visual effects, stunts, slo-mo, weirdness, style, good and bad guys, and tons of heroic pathos.
What I liked about the movie the most was its visual part. About 90% of the “300” was filmed in front of a green screen, but it does not make the picture worse: minimalistic but with a saturated color spectrum, amazing landscapes, and a unique visual style. And if Spartans looked rather traditional, meaning that in the movie they wore standard hoplite armor (though the majority of male characters flaunted shirtless), the Persians demonstrated a myriad supply of weirdness.
Perhaps in order to make the Persians look evil, Snyder focused on physical ugliness and sexuality. Androgynous god-King Xerxes (perfectly played by Rodrigo Santoro), weird freaks from his retinue and army, scenes displaying odd customs, rituals, or sexual activities—Snyder has made Persians look like aliens from space. On the contrary, Spartans, lead by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler’s cry, “This is Sparta!” has become a cult phrase), look confident, brutal, and firm. Such a contrast helps to create a distinction, and appeals directly to the audience’s instincts: everything that is alien is evil. Snyder literally makes his audience feel disgust or hatred towards the Spartans’ enemies only through the visual means used.
Everything else in the movie—perhaps, except numerous battles—is rather mediocre. Characters are more good-looking than credible, and when they die one by one in beautiful slo-mo, you feel almost nothing. The death of King Leonidas made a difference, of course. Talking about the protagonists, Xerxes and him are, perhaps, the only characters in the movie who make you feel something; Leonidas’ bravery and wit, and Xerxes’ externality and devilish cunning make them the only bright figures.
“300” has reminded me of a beautiful grim faery tale. You know it is not true, but since it is written well, you read through it until the end. The movie is the same; you feel like you are being fooled all the time, but the picture is captivating, so you watch until the final credits. My verdict would be: a good movie for one-time watching. And I doubt the new movie will make a difference.
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