300 is a 2007 film adaptation of the graphic novel 300 by Frank Miller about the Battle of Thermopylae. The film is directed by Zack Snyder with Frank Miller attached as an executive producer and consultant, and was shot mostly with bluescreen to duplicate the imagery of the original comic book work.
Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and 300 Spartans fight to the last man against Persian King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his massive army of more than one million soldiers. Facing insurmountable odds, the Spartans' sacrifice inspires all of Greece to unite against the Persian invaders. The story is based on the Battle of Thermopylae which took place in 480 BC, although a narration by Dilios (David Wenham) gives a historical fantasy feel. At Sparta, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to rally support for her husband.
It was released in both conventional and IMAX theaters in America on March 9, 2007. The film became a box office record-breaker, although critics were divided over the film's look and style. Some acclaimed it as the next level of filmmaking while others accused of it of favoring visuals over characterization.
Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.
At a campfire, Dilios, a Spartan soldier, retells the events of King Leonidas' life - from his birth, his trials during the agoge, and finally his coronation. The scene then forwards to a Persian messenger and his escorts arriving at Sparta, demanding tribute and submission to King Xerxes. Leonidas leads the messenger toward a well, stating that the messenger has offended him, his Queen, and his people. Outraged, the king kicks the messenger down into the abyss, and the messenger's men soon follow.
That night, Leonidas visits the Oracle at the top of a mountain, where several grotesque priests await him. Leonidas introduces his battle plan and offers gold to the priests, as per custom. The priests then consult the Oracle, who declares that Sparta should not march against Persia because it would interrupt a sacred festival that must be observed. Leonidas departs in anger. Later that night, an emissary of Xerxes and Theron, a corrupt Spartan statesman, arrive and heavily bribe the priests for their blessing.
Nevertheless, Leonidas gathers 300 of his best soldiers in a field outside of the city, ostensibly going for a walk with his "bodyguards." The Spartan warriors march to stop the Persian advance. They build a wall to block any route past a set of narrow cliffs called Thermopylae, or the "Hot Gates," where they plan to hold out. On the way a few hundred Thespians join them.
The 300 are successful in defending their position for a number of days, suffering few losses. Impressed by the Spartans, Xerxes approaches Leonidas directly and proposes that if Leonidas only bends his knee in surrender, Xerxes will grant him wealth and power. The Spartan king wryly suggests that, as he has been killing Persians all day, has developed a cramp in his leg and thus cannot kneel. Enraged, Xerxes promises that Leonidas will soon meet his demise.
Shortly after, a hunchbacked, deformed Spartan named Ephialtes approaches Leonidas. His father and mother had left Sparta after preventing his death as a deformed infant, and he asks Leonidas that he be able to redeem his father's name in battle. Leonidas does not accept the man, explaining that his inability to hold a shield properly would create a weak spot in the Spartan phalanx formation. Thoroughly devastated, Ephialtes instead goes over to Xerxes's camp, where he is offered a life of luxury in exchange for Ephialtes's defection. In return, Ephialtes is to lead the Persians to a little-known path where they can flank the Spartan position.
Meanwhile, back at home, Queen Gorgo attempts to convince the Spartan council to send troops to help Leonidas. One councilman tells Gorgo that she must convince Theron to help her. Gorgo invites Theron to her home, where she asks for his help in swaying the council. He agrees, stating that Gorgo already knows what he wants in return. Thinking of her husband and the other soldiers, she reluctantly agrees, and he has his way with her, telling her that he will not be gentle or slow, for he is not her king.
Upon realizing that Ephialtes has betrayed them, Leonidas tells Dilios that Sparta would be better served if Dilios uses his gift of tongue to relay a simple request to the Spartan people that they remember the 300. Following orders, Dilios retreats along with the Thespians, and is the only one to look back.
Queen Gorgo appears in front of the council stating that she comes not on behalf of Leonidas, but on behalf of the 300 families that bleed fighting for Sparta, giving a rousing speech. Theron starts to clap mockingly before taking the floor himself. He starts by rejecting Gorgo's plea, and then states that she is an adulteress. The councilman who told Gorgo to talk to Theron then stands up, telling Theron what he is saying is blasphemous. Theron then questions the councilman, suggesting that it had been he whom the queen invited to the palace and had relations with. The Queen, enraged at Theron's lie, attempts to charge Theron, but is held back by others. When they loosen their grasp on her, she draws one of their swords and kills Theron. As he falls dead, Gorgo tells him that his death will not be slow or gentle, and that she is not his queen. Coins with Xerxes' face fall from his purse. The councilman whom Theron accused picks up the gold coin and starts yelling "traitor"; soon the other councilman all join him.
Early the next morning, the 300 are surrounded by the Persians on all sides. Xerxes sends out a messenger to again ask for Leonidas' surrender, while he sits comfortably on his massive throne some yards behind. The messenger offers Leonidas power, wealth, as well as the Spartan lands, saying that he may keep his title as King of Sparta and become warlord of all Greece, bowing only to King Xerxes. Leonidas, in what appears to be surrender, drops his weapons, and then falls to his hands and knees. Suddenly Leonidas shouts, "STELIOS!," and Stelios leaps off Leonidas' back and spears the messenger. Leonidas then rises and throws his spear at Xerxes, trying for a killing blow, but only cuts his cheek - proving that the "God King" can indeed bleed. Xerxes is shaken by the reminder of his own mortality and quickly signals for archers to fire upon the Spartans. Leonidas is the last Spartan still alive, marked by several arrow wounds. He is finally killed in a last hail of arrows.
Dilios returns to Sparta, and proceeds to speak in front of the council, telling them of the brave 300. Finishing the story on the battlefield, his audience rapt with attention, he states that the Persian army must be shaking with fear, for they remember how difficult it was to fight only 300 Spartans, and that they now face 10,000 Spartans as well as 30,000 Greeks from the other city-states. The Greek army then charges the Persian host, beginning the Battle of Plataea.
Spoilers end here.
Gerard Butler as King Leonidas: King of the Spartans
In August 2005, Gerard Butler was cast to portray King Leonidas. On September 26, 2005, a casting call was issued for the role of Pleistarchos, younger portrayals of Leonidas, as well as a Persian messenger. Three days later, a second casting call went out for the role of the Oracle Girl, a slave to the Ephors.
In October 2005 Lena Headey was announced to join the cast as Gorgo, Leonidas' wife. Actors David Wenham, Dominic West, Rodrigo Santoro, and Vincent Reagan were also announced to join the cast. Santoro was familiar with the graphic novel before ever auditioning.
Producer Gianni Nunnari had a passion for the Battle of Thermopylae since he was a child yet the story was already in development under director Michael Mann as Gates of Fire. He discovered Frank Miller's graphic novel 300 and felt that the film should be made the same way and negotiated with Miller. By May 2003, the project was being produced by Nunnari and Mark Canton, whilst Michael B. Gordon had completed a second draft of 300 that was 121 pages long. In June 2004, director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) was hired to direct the film. Snyder had tried to make the film before Dawn of the Dead, and worked with screenwriter Kurt Johnstad to rewrite Gordon's script for production. Frank Miller, the author of 300, was also attached to the project as executive producer and consultant.
The film is a shot-for-shot adaptation of the comic book, similar to the film adaptation of Sin City. Snyder said that he had photocopied panels from Frank Miller's comic book and worked to plan out the shots that would lead up to the moment and the shots to get out of it after. "It was a fun process for me to kind of have to go, to have a goal, to have a frame as a goal to get to," said Snyder. The director also worked to craft the film style to be similar to the comic book. Numerous images and pieces of dialogue are taken frame for frame from Miller. One exception to the direct adaptation was using the character Dilios to narrate the story. Dilios was used by Snyder to show the audience that the surreal "Frank Miller world" of 300 was through the perspective of Dilios taking artistic license in his storytelling about the Battle of Thermopylae. Snyder also added the sub plot of Queen Gorgo trying to rally support for her husband.
The film spent two months of pre-production in creating 125 shields, 250 spears and 75 swords, although some were recycled from Troy and Alexander. An animatronic wolf and 13 animatronic horses were also created. The actors trained alongside the stuntmen, and even Snyder joined in. 600-700 costumes were created for the film, as well as extensive prosthetics for various characters and the corpses of Persian soldiers.
300 entered active production on October 17, 2005 in Montreal, and was shot over 60 days in chronological order. Warner Bros. provided a budget of $60 million to back the 300 project. The director employed the digital backlot technique for the film, which was shot at the now-defunct Icestorm Studios in Montreal using bluescreens. Gerard Butler said that he didn't feel constrained as an actor by Snyder's direction of the film, however saying, "If you are performing in a way that's trying to be so truthful to the comic, then, of course, there are certain freedoms that are limited to the way that you perform." David Wenham said there were times where Snyder wanted to capture iconic moments from the comic book specifically and times where the director gave actors "absolute freedom and liberty to explore within the world and the confines that had been set". Lena Headey said of her experience with the bluescreens, "You can't sort of relate to any world, so it's very odd, and emotionally, there's nothing to connect to apart from another actor." The only scene shot outdoors is a shot of horses travelling across the countryside. The film was an intensely physical production, and Butler pulled an arm tendon and gained a drop foot.
In post-production Snyder enlisted the assistance of Montreal's Meteor Studios to work on 250 visual effects shots to fill in the film footage of bluescreens and near-empty film sets. Chris Watts and Jim Bissell created a process dubbed "The Crush". It allowed the team of 70 Meteor artists to manipulate the colors in 300 by increasing the contrast of light and dark, and certain film sequences were desaturated and tinted to establish different moods for the scenes. Ghislain St-Pierre, Meteor's GM, described the look, "Everything looks realistic, but it has a kind of a gritty illustrative feel." The filtering meant props were painted differently on set due to the eventual process. The team worked on creating visual effects shots for scenes including a battle between Spartans and Immortals (elite Persian soldiers) and an expansion of the city of Sparta. The programs Maya, RenderMan and RealFlow were used to create the blood, and Piedmont contributed to 45 minutes of the film, including the wolf and the Persian army. Overall, the year long post-production was handled by a total of ten special effects companies.
In August 2006, Warner Bros. announced that 300 would be released on March 16, 2007. In October 2006, Warner Bros. moved the release date to March 9, 2007, a week earlier. The MPAA issued an R rating for 300 for graphic battle sequences throughout, some sexuality and nudity.
In July 2005, composer Tyler Bates had begun work on the film, describing the score as having "beautiful themes on the top and large choir", but "tempered with some extreme heaviness". The composer had scored for a test shot that the director wanted to show to Warner Bros. to illustrate the path of the project. Bates said that the score had "a lot of weight and intensity in the low end of the percussion" that Snyder found agreeable to the film. The score was recorded at Abbey Road Studios and features the vocals of Azam Ali. A standard edition and a special edition of the soundtrack containing 25 tracks was released on March 6, 2007, with the special edition containing a 16-page booklet and three two-sided trading cards.
In December 2005, the official site for 300 was launched by Warner Bros. Conceptual art and Zack Snyder's production blog were the initial major attractions of the launch. The website added video journals that covered a range of production details from comic-to-screen shots to creatures of 300.
At Comic-Con International 2006 in July, the 300 panel showed a preview of the film. Afterward, a Q&A session was held with panelists Zack Snyder, Frank Miller, Gerard Butler, and David Wenham. Due to the audience's positive reception of the 300 preview, the footage was shown twice more before the conclusion of the panel.
On September 20, 2006, the promo trailer for 300, shown at Comic-Con International 2006, was leaked onto the Internet. On October 4, 2006, Warner Bros. released the official trailer for 300. The music used in the trailers was "Just Like You Imagined" by Nine Inch Nails. A second 300 trailer was attached to Apocalypto, which was released on December 8, 2006. The trailer was released online the day before. On January 22, 2007, an exclusive trailer for the film was broadcast during prime time television.
In April 2006, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment announced its intention to make 300: March to Glory, a PlayStation Portable game based on the film 300. Collision Studios is working with Warner Bros. to capture the style of the film in the video game. 300: March to Glory will be released simultaneously with the film in March 2007.
The National Entertainment Collectibles Association is producing a series of action figures based on the film, including the characters King Leonidas, an Immortal warrior, Queen Gorgo, and Ephialtes, to be released in the winter of '06-'07. In addition to the figures, NECA is producing prop replicas based on the film, including an Immortal mask, dual Immortal swords, a Spartan sword, and a Spartan helm.
Warner Bros. Pictures plans to promote 300 in a unique sponsorship of Ultimate Fighting Championship's light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell beginning with a match on December 30, 2006. Liddell will also make personal appearances as well as participate in other promotions of the film up to its release.
In January 2007, the studio launched a MySpace page for the film. As promotion for the movie, MySpace users were given the opportunity to upload 300 pictures to their profile.
At WonderCon on March 2, 2007, a special screening of 300 was available to be seen by convention attendees.
On March 4, 2007, it was announced that the National Hockey League and Warner Bros. would be partnering to make a 30-second TV spot to promote the film as well as the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs. The commercial uses a combination of teaser footage from the film, and recordings of several notable NHL players, and will be broadcast on NBC, Versus, TSN, as well as at games.
The Art Institutes launched a micro-site to promote the film and a Q&A session with Frank Miller and Zack Snyder. The micro-site was marketed to over 200,000 Art Institute students and prospective students.
Released in both conventional theaters and IMAX theaters, 300 made $27,800,000 on its opening day. The film grossed $70,025,000 in its opening weekend, beating Ice Age: The Meltdown as the biggest opening March film in movie history. It is also the third biggest opening for a R-rated film ever, behind The Matrix Reloaded ($91.8 million) and The Passion of the Christ ($83.8 million).
The movie opened powerfully in five other markets as well, grossing $6.2 million in the first stage of its overseas roll out.
300 set a record in Greece at $2.9 million, supplanting last year's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," and opened No. 1 in Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia.
300 , Leonidas
300 has received generally mixed reviews. On Rottentomatoes.com, it has a 62% approval rating from listed critics, a 53% from its "Cream of the Crop" column, and a 90% approval rating from users. On MetaCritic.com, 300 recieved a 53/100 based on 32 reviews, resulting in "Mixed or Average Reviews" status. Over 8500 Internet Movie Database users had rated the movie by Sunday, March 11, with the weighted average being 8.4/10. However, a breakdown of the ratings show that almost 90% of those who rated the movie were males and about 70% were males aged 18-29. 
Mark Cronan of Comic Book Resources gave a positive review for the film. Cronan described most of the film as being "a bit of a cross between Gladiator and several scenes from the Lord of the Rings movies". He found the film compelling, leaving him "with a feeling of power, from having been witness to something grand". However, he admitted, "This is a chest thumping, dirty, writhing mass of violence at times... It is all quite stylized and probably less gory overall than Miller's other big screen success, Sin City. Still, it's there, and if you don't want to see men fighting and dying, do not see this movie."
IGN's Todd Gilchrist disagreed. Giving the film a score of five stars out of five, he said "Leonidas' relationship with his wife Gorgo offers a rare display of tenderness and devotion that is seldom seen in 'guy movies' like this one". He acclaimed Zack Snyder as a cinematic visionary as well as the visual sensibility of the film. George Rousch acclaimed the film, citing its visual appeal and Gerard Butler's performance.
300 had its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival on February 14, 2007, in front of 1,700 audience members. According to Warner Bros. and director Zack Snyder, it received a standing ovation. However, it was reportedly panned at a press screening hours earlier, with many leaving during the showing and those that remained booing at the end.
Alex Billington said "be ready to be blown away on March 9th," calling it a film ahead of its time. Kirk Honeycutt praised it, saying "those turned off by the sex-and-violence cartoonery of Sin City can embrace 300".
Emanuel Levy also praised the film, complimenting Snyder in that he "retells Miller's saga not as an ancient tale (sort of "once upon a time..."), but as a classic and eternal one." Todd McCarthy of Variety gave it a positive review, and praised Lena Headey, though he criticised Butler as he "bellows most of his bellicose lines, which become tiresomely repetitive", as well as the lack of focus on geography. Erik Davis heavily criticised the film, calling it "one of the most overly hyped films in history... a boring, fast-food version of better films, with better scripts, better acting and better battles. 300 men fought to defend their freedom but, in the end, 300 people (including me) wanted their two hours back."
Daily newspaper Ta Nea gave 300 zero out of 10." The New York Times film critic A. O. Scott, described 300 as "about as violent as Apocalypto and twice as stupid." He also criticised the color scheme of the film as well as well as racist undertones promoted by the film.
Film critic Wesley Morris wrote: "the film never feels like more than an exercise, for the filmmakers and the actors."
Greek film critics Dimitris Danikas and Robby Eksiel have blasted the Hollywood film. Robby Eksiel said moviegoers would be dazzled by the "digital action" but irritated by the "pompous interpretations and one-dimensional characters."
Film critic Curt Holman called the film a "ultraviolent, hyperstylized treatment of the Battle of Thermopylae". Holman also expressed concerns about the content of the film as "In the wrong hands, 300 could be a lethal weapon."
Critic John Zwick warns that 300 is a few too many degrees separated from the real thing to be an accurate look at history.
Victor Davis Hanson, a military historian, farmer, and classicist, but certainly not a disinterested party, who was asked to write a forward to the novel that was released with the movie has the following to say about why critics may not like the film:
"Ultimately the film takes a moral stance, Herodotean in nature: there is a difference, an unapologetic difference between free citizens who fight for eleutheria and imperial subjects who give obeisance. We are not left with the usual postmodern quandary ‘who are the good guys’ in a battle in which the lust for violence plagues both sides. In the end, the defending Spartans are better, not perfect, just better than the invading Persians, and that proves good enough in the end. And to suggest that unambiguously these days has perhaps become a revolutionary thing in itself."
Washington Post's critic Stephen Hunter considers the film "too cartoonish to be taken seriously". He criticized the action as being "all showy and stylized, never quite realistic". Hunter added: "It's kind of a ghastly hoot, and while I suppose it does no harm, it also contributes nothing. It's a guilty unpleasantness."
The filmmakers assert that any parallels to the current Iraq War that some in the media have implied were not intended. Indeed, Zack Snyder sees that comparison by some as a possible hindrance in the long run. The studio and filmmakers had discussed the sensitive issue about the film's "contemporary resonance" of the East versus West conflict.
Snyder reports that after advance screenings, he was taken aside by reporters at a screening for the international press, and asked about political implications by one reporter who insisted that Xerxes had to be symbolizing George W. Bush, only to have a second reporter suggest that Leonidas represented Bush. At a later showing at the Berlinale, Snyder says, he was asked, "Don’t you think it’s interesting that your movie was funded at this point?" Snyder clarifies, "The implication was that funding came from the U.S. government."
The film has attracted controversy over the portrayal of the Persians. Greek critic Dimitris Danikas claimed the film showed Persians as "bloodthirsty, underdeveloped zombies," and went on to say, "They are stroking (sic) racist instincts in Europe and America." The president of Iran's Art Affairs Advisory also expressed strong condemnation over the movie which he said insulted the Persian civilization. Javad Shamqadri, who is also a filmmaker, said the film specifically had racist intentions but called the film's effort fruitless however, saying, "values in Iranian culture are too strongly seated to be damaged by such plans."
As in the graphic novel, the Persians are depicted as a barbaric and demonic horde, while the Persian emissary and King Xerxes are depicted as androgynous. This meant to stand in stark contrast to the masculinity of the Spartan army.
Furthermore, the "bad guys" the Persians are depicted as black people, brown people, handicapped or deformed people, gays and lesbians.
300 at the Internet Movie Database
Laurence Naismith ... First Delegate
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