300: a shallow gore-fest

Last night I watched 300 and disliked nearly everything about it: the glorification of child abuse (it’s character building!) and violence, the association of the Persians with disease and perversion, the excessive narration over the action, and the fact that the Spartans shouted most of the time.

The Battle of Thermopylae is a dramatic event that needs little embellishment, and I fail to understand why an unreal and supernatural element was attributed to the Persians. Was it not enough that they were an overwhelming invading military force? Sparta was an interesting society for a number of reasons, but we saw little of that, and instead the focus was upon the gruelling training of boys into soldiers. There was a lot of talk of freedom and liberty in the film, and yet slave-ownership was a fact of Spartan life.

It’s aggrieving when a little research on my part uncoveres a mother lode of dramatic information about the Battle that was never exploited in the film. A favourite nugget: when the Spartans were asked for a tribute of Earth and Water by the Persians to demonstrate their submission the emissaries were kicked into a well and told to dig it out for themselves. So much better than the bellowed words used in the film. Or, that when Leonidas departed from his wife, Gorgo, certain he was going to his death, he advised her to “marry a good man that will treat you well, bear him children, and live a good life.” The presentation of the shield with the utterance, “With this, or upon this”, could have been said to any of the other men, as every man would have had a wife/mother/sister say it to him (also not shown).

The sequence depicted at the Oracle of Delphi will be intensely irritating to anyone with a smattering of understanding of the place and its customs. Again, the reality of the situation was more interesting than what was conjured up by the film.

It goes back to the issue that what makes an interesting graphic novel that is squarely aimed at teenaged boys does not often translate well to the big screen. Especially when the writers (Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, and Michael Gordon) attempt to slavishly recreate the original and don’t temper it for the big screen.

People can bang on about the effects and how the film was shot, but ultimately there is a thin story at the heart of this film, with cardboard characters, and questionable moral attitudes being promulgated. That’s because the director and writers don’t demonstrate any genuine interest in Spartan society and the complexities of the cultures that collided during the Battle of Thermopylae.

The film exhibits a childish boyish glee in blood spurts, mutilation, and chest thumping propaganda. We never truly understand what’s at stake. In a simplistic fashion we’re expected to accept that men will gladly die for their country, but we’re never allowed to comprehend what makes Sparta worth their sacrifice. A couple of shots of grain fields (à la Gladiator), and elegiac images of sunny streets with women and children running around doesn’t represent anything unusual.

Ultimately, I think the film diminishes the Battle by turning the participants into ape-like morons or twisted abominations and focusing on the carnage. Instead of watching 300 dig out your history books or do a bit of research online to get a flavour of the titanic battle, and the resolve and conviction of the real people who were involved in it.