Reviewer: Charity Bishop
One of the most visually impressive films I have ever seen, 300 is based on a comic book's interpretation of the battle between the Spartans and the Persians in 480 B.C.
The life of a Spartan is that of a soldier. From infancy, the sons are raised to know and train with the blade, then sent into the wilds to prove themselves worthy of joining the army. That is the story of King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), who has ruled over Sparta with tremendous strength and courage. But forces are stirring beyond their borders and a messenger comes to inform him that the King of Persia, Xerxes, intends to claim these lands as part of his ever-increasing kingdom. Bolstered in courage by his outspoken wife Gorgo (Lena Headey), the response from Leonidas is to seek the wisdom of the oracle in whether or not to go to war. Corrupt and well-paid by those who would secretly support Xerxes, the oracle's servants warn him against such an action. According to the laws of Sparta, the king cannot take his armies to war without their consent, so he forms a legion of 300 willing men to accompany him as an "escort" to the mountain pass where the Persians will attempt to enter their shores.
There, they engage in fierce combat and one that might put an end to Xerxes' ambitions to conquer Sparta once and for all, little realizing that there is a potential traitor lurking on the outskirts. While this is certainly a testosterone-driven movie and may as such appeal to primarily men, I found much to enjoy about it. The cinematography and backdrops were all computer-animated and while this is apparent, the audience doesn't care because it is so rich and unique to anything we have seen before that it opens our imagination to an entirely new world. I am not often impressed and in this case, I was very impressed -- not only with the visual graphics, but the seamlessness in which the actors are incorporated into it. The costuming is limited but the designers have found way to emphasize the culture through what garments there are. The armor and absence of more than a single garment on most of the men is not historically accurate, but done to underline the principles of their society, which is an emphasis on masculinity. Those intrigued by ancient history will also find it interesting to note that this is the same Xerxes mentioned in scripture (although this one is nine feet tall!).
The acting is quite good and so is the hair styling and the make-up, particularly on the servants of the oracle and the hunchback. The music is slightly familiar but wonderfully dramatic and it's easy to like the warriors. The religious symbolism is striking in the parallels between Xerxes and Satan. Both tempt the hero with fame and riches if they will but "bow to me." I was fortunately spared most of the graphic violence and all the sexual content, so I could view the film independently -- and in that regard, I liked it. It's not a happy story by any means but it is inspirational in the sense that it is all about courage. 300 men manage to hold off the entire Persian army with minimal casualties throughout much of the story, proving to the audience that it only takes a few standing for right to make a difference. However, I suspect that if I had sat through the bloodbath and skin of the original, I would not have found it as engaging.
A fair amount of nudity, including a graphic scene of lovemaking between Leonidas and his wife that involves movement. We see bare-breasted women in a harem; two of them sensuously kiss one another; the oracle's sheer toga falls open to reveal her breasts and naked backside; nude, dead bodies are displayed nailed to a tree with their gentiles visible; it's implied that in order to gain assistance for her husband in battle, Gorgo allows a man to have his way with her (she drops her dress and we see her bare shoulders, before he shoves her against a wall). Her garments are often revealing; the men wear only loincloths throughout the film.
There's no bad language in the film, but an abundance of graphic violence. Thousands of corpses litter the battlefield, are used to build a wall, are found in trees, etc. The Spartans hack their way through enemy ranks, severing heads, limbs, and other body parts, in a shower of blood. Spears, swords, and arrows are used to dispatch adversaries; they are also pushed off cliffs and buried in avalanches. Animal lovers should be forewarned that massive elephants are run off cliffs and shot with arrows; horses are sometimes speared to take down their riders (or struck across the legs with knives), and an early scene has Leonidas spearing a giant wolf in the chest and then through the mouth (we see the shadow of it, not the direct contact).
The religious aspect relies on astrology (through the oracle) although there is one reference to Zeus.