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I am a neolibertarian minded individual who feels that freedom and individual rights take precedence over the wants of government. I believe government exists to serve the people and not to protect us from ourselves. I am an advocate for private firearms ownership, smaller government, reduced taxes and freedom to live your life however you choose, providing you do not directly hurt others.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

300: A Fantasy Movie About Thermopylae

The movie 300 is a based on the graphic novel of the same name, and is an adaptation of the Battle of Thermoplyae in 480BC, one of the most crucial moments in the fate of Western culture. This battle is also why many firearms enthusiasts rally behind the cry Μολών Λαβέ! (often represented as Molon Labe! or ΜOΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ). These are the words that King Leonidas of Sparta responded with when the Persian King Xerxes demanded that 300 Spartans lay down their arms and submit to his rule or face annihilation at the hands of his 600,000 man army. The words mean "Come and get them!", and are the ancient Greek equivalent to "pry it from my cold dead hands". Viewers should know that this battle is still studied by modern military strategists, and is used as an example of how well-trained and well-armed men can resist vastly greater numbers using the right type of terrain.

On to the movie review:
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, both for its artistry and story. Anyone with a high tolerance for on-screen violence who likes rooting for the underdog and who enjoys highly stylized and artistic cinema will like this film. For those not familiar with Frank Miller, he is a renowned comic book author and artist famous for dark and edgy works often involving a an underdog opposing some form of oppression, wrong doing and/or corruption. The recent movie Sin City was based on his work.

300 was a surprisingly good blend of stylized choreography and edgy music that felt like a cross between fine art, a music video and an incredibly well done video game. Many of the fight scenes were shot using "speed ramping", a technique in which the footage speeds up to let you pan past a battle and get an idea of the magnitude of what is taking place without having to stare at hours of hack and slash combat. At other times it slows down for a few moments to allow you to fully appreciate the artistry and choreography of a specific sequence, often for an exchange between two or three closely embattled opponents, before speeding up and continuing with the story. I found this technique to be much less disorienting and easier to follow than the jittery filming of Gladiator, or the choppy editing of The Bourne Supremacy.

Another interesting aspect of the movie was the way it came off as an over-the-top tall tale. Some characters, such as Xerxes, appeared larger than ordinary humans and had voices that were far more imposing and booming than normal. I had no problem with this stretch of fantasy, as it reminded me of how the legends of Cuchulain and Beowulf were eventually stretched into fantastic myths rather than told as the deeds of ordinary men. Watching this movie gave me a glimpse of how the story of this battle might have verbally been passed down to future generations of ancient Greeks.

After seeing the previews and flipping through a copy of the comic book, I knew that this movie was really going to have a lot of visual impact. Because of this, I opted to see it on a huge IMAX screen. I'm glad I did as it produced amazing visual detail. Nearly every frame of this film could have been turned into a painting, tapestry or computer wallpaper. Although the movie was utterly filled with violence, it was the most artfully rendered violence that I have ever seen on screen. One scene in particular involved a sequence in which two Spartans became separated from their colleagues and were forced to battle as a lone pair. The moody CGI background, speed ramping and choreography transformed this life and death struggle into something as graceful as a pair of Olympic figure skaters.

Movie vs. History:

A number of liberties were deliberately taken with this film. Historical purists who only enjoy perfectly accurate costumes and sets might want to shy away from it. Here are just a few of the more obvious historical discrepancies:

  • In the movie the Spartans wore nothing more than sandals, cloaks and some sort of leather briefs. In reality, Spartans wore formidable body armor that protected their torsos. According to USAToday, the naked muscular chests helped the movie test “100% positive for women of all ages”.

  • The movie was filmed in a studio and sound stage and not on site in Greece. The scenery is all CGI, and is not a realistic reproduction Thermopylae.

  • Many of the Persians were rendered more like video game monster bosses than human beings

These things did not bother me, as I already knew the story of Thermopylae and was looking to be entertained rather than educated. If you are interested, this article covers historical discrepancies in more detail.

Cautionary note:

While I recommend this movie to any adults who like a mix of fantasy, glory and historic battles, I do not think it is appropriate for children. Leave your kids with a sitter unless you really want them to see graphic depictions of people being riddled with arrows, stabbed with spears and having various limbs removed. While the stylized violence is less traumatizing than an ultra-realistic rendering, it still delivers a small taste of the horror of massive-scale melee combat.

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