Of the movies being released this year, 300 may well have been the one I was most looking forward. In my youth one of my favourite films was 300 Spartans. And years ago I read the graphic novel 300 by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. Loving both the 1962 movie and the graphic novel based on the same historical event, 300 was definitely a film I wanted to see. That I got to do so on my birthday was an even bigger treat.
Like the graphic novel upon which it is based, 300 is based on the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BCE), in which a force of 300 men led by King Leonidas of Sparta faced down an army of literally thousands belonging to the Persian Empire (then ruled by Xerxes I). 300 departs a bit from the historical event, but it does capture the spirit of the battle in a way that a more historically accurate movie may not have.
Indeed, 300 is literally an overwhelming movie. Its strongest point is definitely its visuals, taken almost directly from the original graphic novel. The movie was filmed against a blue screen, using CGI to generate the backgrounds and many of the effects. As a result, 300 looks like no other movie before it. The imagery is surrealistic and wonderfully bigger than life, befitting an event which literally changed the course of history. The battle scenes are more violent than any movie I've ever seen, grandiose in the way that a historical epic should be. There is blood to spare in this film, and possibly more beheadings than in any film in recent history. Quite simply, if you are the least squeamish about violence in movies, then I can guarantee you won't like this film.
Grandiose visuals is not the only thing 300 has going for it, however, as it moves at the pace that is almost literally non-stop. Especially once the battle begins, there is almost never a quiet moment. Fortunately, its pace does not sacrifice a good story. This is a compelling tale with strong characters. Indeed, Gerard Butler (who seems to be making a career of playing legendary kings--he played Beowulf in Beowulf and Grendel) plays King Leonidas with honesty and conviction. This is a king who means it when he says that he would die for any one of his men. An equally strong performance is given by Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo, who is convincing as a woman who is as strong in spirit as the mightiest Spartan warriors. Rather than crying over her husband going to what is a certain death, this is a woman who willingly accepts his date with destiny.
In the end 300 is literally an overwhelming film. Forget that it departs a good deal from the historical record. Forget that at times it can be very unrealistic. This is the perfect visual representation of one of the greatest battles in history, overpowering at times but capturing the spirit of the Battle of Thermopylae.