Saturday, March 10, 2007

Go Tell The Spartans

That 300 is two hours of pure, unadulterated, awesome (in ever sense), violence, poetry, ballet, style, and comic book superheroism...

This movie was absolutely incredible, at least for me. I understood the historical context, as well as where the history was pushed aside for the drama, and why, and that just made it all the better. There were a half dozen moments that literally sent shivers up my back.

This movie is Sin City, Combined with Ben Hur, and Braveheart; but done Frank Miller style.

In the main, the use of efects, dramatic framing, lighting etc... simply added to the storytelling. There were a few moments when it felt a bit overstylized; but mostly those were referential to the graphic novel, so they were understandable. Other than that, I have no reservations in saying this is one of the best combat moveis I've ever seen.

If you expect anything more than a story of herosim, perseverence, honor, toughness, glory, and mortal combat... what the hell are you doing reading this review, never mind considering watching this movie. If that's your sort of thing however, this is one of the best movies of it's type, ever.

Also in the realm of best evers; I have never seen a better depiction of melee combat on film. Yes, it is HIGHLY stylized, but they actually got things like phalanxes, shield walls, shield and spear tactics etrc... correct; and they never shrank back from the viciousness of it (though the sound and stylization were deliberately used to blunt the impact of what would otherwise be very horrific violenece).

Oh, and ther performances here, were jsut amazing. This is for all intents and purposes an ensemble cast of not very big stars, but they are near perfect (though I found David Wenhams accent a bit grating.

The man they chose for Leonidas, Gerard Butlar, had an amazing intensity, passion, and personal power that radiated from the screen. I absolutely believed this man as a warrior king. He also had a moderately thick Scottish accent, which to be honest I thought added greatly to the characterization, and injected some moments of humor as well. This movie has just made Gerard Butler a major star.

For the historical purists, there are a lot of points of contention and even irritation; but remember, this isn't a documentary, or even a history; this is a graphic novel brought to film. Take that as it is... and it's nearly a perfect example of it... and you'll love the film. Look at is as a purity for mythological storytelling that can't be shown without the drama and style, don't consider it for its historical flaws.

Flat out, I love this movie; and I can't wait for the special edition DVD. I hope they add another hour to the movie, and it still wouldn't be enough (admitedly, I'd appreciate it if that hour had more story, dialogue, exposition etc...). Seriously, I expect this movie will be the second or third highest grossing film this year (Pirates of the Caribbean 3, and Spiderman 3 are it's major competition).

Now, the one point I will hold against the film, if you don't know the story, or the graphic novel, there are a lot of questions you might have. The movie does address some of the culture of Sparta, but then it plunges full throat into the action leaving little of the story of the rest of the world for context.

Also a couple of parental notes: this movie contains graphic nudity, short scenes of explicit sex and rape, and some of the most brutal violence ever shown on screen, including realistic depictions of decapitation. No-one under the age of about 13 should be watching this movie, even with a parent; and I'm very surprised they were able to get that much on screen without an NC-17 rating to be honest. It's a VERY hard R. If you had trouble with Sin City, Kill Bill, or Saving Private Ryan, don't go see this movie, because other than Ryan, I think this is the most violent movie I've ever seen, and that violence is unrelenting (as is appropriate to a movie about Sparta).

Now, let's just talk for a minute about the history that shouldn't be neglected, if you are going to understand this movie properly:

The Sparta presented here in the movie is an idealized society. Yes, they glance at the harshness that was Sparta, but they depict them as free and equal men fighting for liberty against the evil hordes of the east coming to enslave them.

In reality, it was a matter of two tyrannies fighting each other; the one a tyranny of military stoic absolutism (the handicapped were killed because they were a burden on society. Women were expected to commit suicide after they could no longer bear children), the other a tyranny of slavery, debauchery, corruption, and terror.

That said, it was the Spartans that kept Greece from becoming slaves to the Persian empire, and for some short time at least, kept the ideals of a free society of laws, and liberties alive.

The Spartans viewed themselves as the perfect soldiers, not suitable for the weaknesses of such things, but they protected those who celebrated such liberties. Yes, they did it for a price, and at times they were the bullies in the picture, but sometimes rough men are necessary.

Whatever the political issues of Sparta, they did something truly legendary.

300 Spartans, along with a few thousand Thespians, Arcadians, Thebans (who later deserted to the Persians), Phocians, Mantineans, Corinthians, and Tegeans (somewhere between 4200 and 7000 total), held the pass at Thermopylae against somewhere between 200,000 and 4 million men (Herodutus said a total of 2.6 million), for four days.

Before the main assault began, Xerxes sent out an emmissary, to treat with the Spartans. He said to them, that if they laid down their arms and submitted to Xerxes, they would not only be spared, but would be allowed to remain a city state. In response to the request to lay down their arms, Leonidas shouted, "Molon Labe", which means "Come and get them!".

After unsucessfully assaulting the pass for four days, the Persians enticed a local into betraying the Spartans, and found a way to circle around and assault the pass from both side. The majority of the assembled Greeks chose, before being surrounded, to flee. Leonidas and his 300, along with 700 thespians, chose to stay and fight; to allow the remainder of the armies to retreat and regroup.

Why so few? The rest of the greek armies were either bribed by Xerxes into staying at home; or had decided to celebrate the olympic games and the feast of Carnea; and were forbidden from battle.

The 300 Spartans, and their king held the hot gates for two more days against the Persians, and died to the last man but two (who were both ordered away from the battle by Leonidas to pass messages. Both later commited suicide by charging into masses of enemies).

They died, so that Greece might remain free.

This sacrifice allowed the Greek armies to consolidate, and they tied the Persians up for over a year, eventually gathering an army 120,000 strong at Plataea, to face the Persians remainder of only 400,000 (after Xerxes was personally defeated at Salamis, and retreated to what is now Turkey with the majority of his forces).

At Plataea, facing three to one odds, the Greeks lost less than 10,000 men (some reports put it at less than 2,000); of the Persians, only 40,000 survived.

The Greeks at Plataea were led by 5000 Spartan soldiers (along with 40,000 Spartan Periocii and Helots, kinda like peasants and serfs, who acted as basic light infantry), of whom only 159 died. That was the largest fighting force of Spartans ever assembled, and it is believed that those 5,000 men accounted for at least 40,000 and perhaps as many as 120,000 Persians killed.

So, whatever the Spartans may have been, whatever faults they had; never doubt their honor, their courage, their valor, and their absolute dedication to duty.

Go tell the Spartans, passers by; that here obedient to their laws, we lie.