On the eve of the release of 300, Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s epic tale of the Battle of Thermopylae, I thought I’d collect links to what journalists, critics, experts and others are saying about the film:
As we reported on Monday, The New York Times looked at attempts to find a very contemporary political analogy in the work: In a modern context, is President Bush the Persian emperor Xerxes, or the Spartan king Leonidas?
In response to The Times article, comics creator Colleen Doran muses, “Knowing that Frank’s work is one long love poem to the defense of Western civilization, methinks that’s an easy question to answer.”
Entertainment Weekly speaks to the man himself — Miller, not Bush — but doesn’t ask the Xerxes or Leonidas question. Instead, the magazine wonders about how his bloodthirsty but idealistic Spartans compare to their historical counterparts:
The Spartans were a paradoxical people. They were the biggest slave owners in Greece. But at the same time, Spartan women had an unusual level of rights. It’s a paradox that they were a bunch of people who in many ways were fascist, but they were the bulwark against the fall of democracy. The closest comparison you can draw in terms of our own military today is to think of the red-caped Spartans as being like our special-ops forces. They’re these almost superhuman characters with a tremendous warrior ethic, who were unquesionably the best fighters in Greece. I didn’t want to render Sparta in overly accurate terms, because ultimately I do want you to root for the Spartans. I couldn’t show them being quite as cruel as they were. I made them as cruel as I thought a modern audience could stand.
EW also wonders why Miller’s Spartans fight “practically naked.” The answer’s a simple one: “I took those chest plates and leather skirts off of them for a reason. I wanted these guys to move and I wanted ‘em to look good. I knocked their helmets off a fair amount, partly so you can recognize who the characters are.”
USA Today takes the question of historical accuracy to Paul Cartledge, author of Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World, who says the movie mostly gets things right.
“What the movie gets dead right is the Spartans’ heroic code,” Cartledge says, “not least the gallows-humor one-liners (‘Then we shall fight in the shade’ was a Spartan reply to a Persian threat to shoot enough arrows at them to blot out the sun), and the key role played by women in backing up, indeed reinforcing, the male martial code of heroic honor.”
History, blah, blah. Accurate, blah, blah. Now back to those “practically naked” Spartans. They make FirstShowing.net’s list of reasons “Why Women Should Go See 300.” In fact, they appear on the list twice — at No. 2 (“Gerard Butler Naked”) and again at No. 5 (“300 Nearly Naked Men with 8-Pack Abs”).
“For women, the entire movie is eye candy,” Alex Billington writes. “For 2 hours you get to stare at the hottest guys with unbelievable 8-pack abs fighting tirelessly for their homeland wearing hardly any clothes. It’s almost like Guy’s Gone Wild (but, thank goodness, for the sake of men, it’s not that bad). Even if you’re not a big fan of Gerard Butler, you’ve got 299 others to choose from.”
But writing for AfterElton.com, François Peneaud and Joe Palmer ask what gay viewers should expect from the film:
Judging from clips and stills released from 300, filmgoers can expect an extremely faithful reworking of Miller’s novel. Unfortunately, hot, shirtless, muscle-bound actors aside, that isn’t likely to be a good thing. As in many other historic films — especially those about the ancient world or heroic warriors — gay history has been erased from 300 and replaced with negative stereotypes. From Troy to Spartacus to Ben Hur, queer history is usually downplayed and has often gone missing entirely.
They briefly consider the depictions of gays and lesbians in Miller’s other works before returning to 300, in which the pierced Persian emperor Xerxes is hairless and effeminate, while the Spartan king Leonidas is hirsute and “hypermasculine.”
The Village Voice labels the obvious contrast as “Spartan hotties versus Persian trannies.”
However, Peneaud and Palmer point out that the few known images of the real Xerxes show a man with with a beard and mustache that would put Gerard Butler’s Leonidas to shame. “This Xerxes looks quite capable of defending himself and isn’t the least bit effeminate,” they write.
It’s all part of what reviewer Nathan Lee of The Voice calls 300‘s “outrageous sexual confusion”:
Here stands the Spartan king Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his 299 buddies in nothing but leather man-panties and oiled torsos, clutching a variety of phalluses they seek to thrust in the bodies of their foes by trapping them in a small, rectum-like mountain passage called the “gates of hell(o!)” Yonder rises the Persian menace, led by the slinky, mascara’d Xerxes. When he’s not flaring his nostrils at Leonidas and demanding he kneel down before his, uh, majesty, this flamboyantly pierced crypto-transsexual lounges on chinchilla throw pillows amidst a rump-shaking orgy of disfigured lesbians.
On first glance, the terms couldn’t be clearer: macho white guys vs. effeminate Orientals. Yet aside from the fact that Spartans come across as pinched, pinheaded gym bunnies, it’s their flesh the movie worships. Not since Beau Travail has a phalanx of meatheads received such insistent ogling. As for the threat to peace, freedom and democracy, that filthy Persian orgy looks way more fun than sitting around watching Spartans mope while their angry children slap each other around. At once homophobic and homoerotic, 300 is finally, and hilariously, just hysterical.
The headlines for several of the reviews play off that obvious homoerotic undertone (overtone?): “Man on Man Action,” says the Voice and its sister papers. “Queer Eye For the Warrior Guy,” says the Boston Herald.
And what about the reviews themselves? Rotten Tomatoes, which at this point has tracked 36 reviews for the film, places it at 64 percent on the (ahem) “Critics Tomatometer.” It averages 6.5 out of 10. Those numbers likely will change with tomorrow’s opening.
Already, the New York Press declares that 300, which was shot entirely in front of green and blue screens, “solidifies the potential of the virtual movie.” A half-step behind, ABC News asks whether the approach is “the future of movies.”
But what about the future of this movie? Well, there’s already talk of a sequel.
In the EW interview, Miller reveals, “There is another story that would make a perfect bookend to this. I know what it would be. It’s at the earliest stages. But I ain’t gonna go into it now.”
When pressed, Miller says that a sequel wouldn’t depict the larger battle that took place after the Spartan defeat at Thermopylae. “It takes place 10 years later,” he says. “That’s all I’m saying. I can’t speak out of school. [Producer] Mark Canton will beat me up.”