By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB
This is part of a series of articles about classics-related books and movies. Today I will review the movie “300”, based on the historical Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, when three hundred Spartans held back a huge Persian army for three days. I really loved the 1962 movie adaptation of these events, Rudolph Maté’s “The 300 Spartans”version, but was very disappointed in this new version, so disappointed that I have given it only one star. Here’s why…
Good Points (There aren’t many!)
The best thing about the movie is that it has made the general public more aware of this important historical event. Curious moviegoers might even make a quick internet search and find that Herodotus was the main source for the story. If it weren’t for movies like this, few people would ever hear about great ancient Greek figures like Leonidas. It’s a good way of promoting the Classics, despite the innumerable factual mistakes.
Overall, the acting was sub-par, the one notable exception being the Scottish actor Gerard Butler. His portrayal of the Spartan king Leonidas was solid, though he did overact a bit in the pivotal “This is Sparta!” scene.
Bad Points (Here the tragedy begins…)
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fine when movies take a few liberties and aren’t a hundred percent faithful to the source. Still, to say that “300” took some liberties would be a gross understatement. It’s riddled with historical inaccuracies, like the strange portrayal of the Greek traitor as a hunchback (reminiscent of Quasimodo) and the rape of Queen Gorgo. None of these plot points are backed up by historical fact or add anything of value to the story.
Another failure was the excessive use of special effects, which made the movie seem more like a video game than a portrayal of an historical event. The Spartans themselves looked more like a gym full of professional bodybuilders than ancient Greek soldiers!
This gave the movie an overwhelmingly artificial feel. Special effects can be great when used correctly, but as we say in Latin: Uti, non abuti! (Use, don’t abuse!)
But worst of all, the screenwriters indulged in the trite stereotype of portraying Spartans as a military society of morons and hooligans who cared only about war. Various sources have made it clear that the Spartans cared just as much about rhetoric and poetry as they did about battle.
If you feel like watching a Classics-themes movie on a Saturday night, please get something else! At least, that’s my humble opinion. If you have seen “300” and disagree with me, please post a comment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.
Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.