Original theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Zack Snyder|
|Produced by||Frank Miller
|Narrated by||David Wenham|
|Music by||Tyler Bates|
|Editing by||William Hoy|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
March 7, 2007
March 9, 2007
|Running time||117 minutes|
300 is a 2007 American action film adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name by Frank Miller, a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae. The film was directed by Zack Snyder, while Miller served as executive producer and consultant. It was filmed mostly with a super-imposition chroma key technique, to help replicate the imagery of the original comic book.
King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) leads 300 Spartans into battle against Persian "God-King" Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his army of more than one million soldiers. As the battle rages, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to rally support in Sparta for her husband. The story is framed by a voice-over narrative by the Spartan soldier Dilios (David Wenham). Through this narrative technique, various fantastical creatures are introduced, placing 300 within the genre of historical fantasy.
300 was released in both conventional and IMAX theaters in the United States on March 9, 2007, and on DVD, Blu-ray, and HD DVD on July 31, 2007. The film's opening was the 24th largest in box office history, although critics were divided over its look and style. Some acclaimed it as an original achievement, while others criticized it for favoring visuals over characterization and its controversial depiction of the ancient Persians.
Dilios, a Spartan soldier, narrates the story of Leonidas, from boyhood to the throne of Sparta. Years later, a Persian messenger arrives at the gates of Sparta demanding it submit to King Xerxes. Leonidas and his guards kick the messenger down a well. Knowing this will prompt a Persian attack, Leonidas visits the Ephors—ancient, leprosy-ridden priests whose blessing he needs before the Spartan council will authorize going to war. He proposes they repel the numerically superior Persians by using the terrain of Thermopylae (the Hot Gates), and funnel the Persians into a narrow pass between the rocks and the sea. The Ephors consult the Oracle Pythia, who decrees that Sparta must not go to war during their religous festival. As Leonidas departs an agent of Xerxes appears, who bribes the Ephors with concubines and money.
Leonidas follows his plan anyway, setting out with only 300 soldiers, which he calls his personal guard to avoid needing the council's permission. Though he knows it is a certain suicide mission, he hopes the sacrifice will spur the council to unite against Persia. Along the way to Thermopylae, the Spartans are joined by Arcadians and other Greeks. At Thermopylae, they construct a wall to contain the approaching Persian advance. Meanwhile, Leonidas meets Ephialtes of Trachis, a hunchbacked Spartan whose parents fled Sparta to spare him certain infanticide. Wanting to redeem his father's name, he asks to join Leonidas and warns him of a secret path the Persians could use to outflank and surround them. Though Leonidas is sympathetic to the eager warrior, he nevertheless turns him down, as Ephialtes cannot properly hold a shield, which would compromise the Spartans' phalanx formation.
Before the battle, the Persians demand that the Spartans lay down their weapons. Leonidas refuses, and with their tightly-knit phalanx formation the Spartans use the narrow terrain to repeatedly rebuff the advancing Persian army. Xerxes personally parleys with Leonidas, offering him wealth and power in exchange for his loyalty and surrender. Leonidas declines and Xerxes sends his elite guard, the feared Immortals, to attack them. The Spartans successfully dispatch them, but Ephialtes defects to the Persians and informs them of the secret path. When they realize Ephialtes' treachery, the Arcadians retreat and Leonidas orders Dilios to return to Sparta to tell the Council of their sacrifice. Though Dilios had recently lost his left eye in combat, he is still fit for battle, but Leonidas decides to use Dilios' gift for storytelling to appeal to the Spartan council. Though reluctant to leave his brothers behind, Dilios leaves with the Arcadians.
In Sparta, Gorgo, Queen of Sparta reluctantly submits sexually to the influential Theron in exchange for his help in persuading the Spartan council to send reinforcements to Leonidas. Following her address to the Council, Theron publicly betrays the Queen, prompting the councilmen to cry out in outrage and Gorgo to kill him in a fit of anger. The dagger pierces his purse, spilling Persian coins from his robe. The Council agrees to unite against Persia. Meanwhile, at Thermopylae, the Persians use the goat path to surround the Spartans. Xerxes' general demands their surrender, again offering Leonidas titles and prestige. Leonidas seemingly bows in submission, allowing one of his men to leap over him and kill the general instead. Furious, Xerxes orders his troops to attack. Leonidas rises and hurls his spear at Xerxes, cutting the King on the cheek, thus making good on an earlier promise to make "the God-King bleed." Visibly disturbed by this reminder of his own mortality, Xerxes watches as all the Spartans are slaughtered by a massive barrage of arrows. Moments before his death, Leonidas pledges his undying love to Gorgo, his queen and wife.
Concluding his tale before an audience of Spartans on the edge of the battlefield a year after Thermopylae, Dilios relates how the Persian army is depleted by desertions, out of fear, and the heavy casualties they suffered at the hands of a mere 300 Spartans. Word of the valiant resistance of the 300 Spartans spread across Greece, inspiring the different city-states to unite against the Persians. Now the Persians face 10,000 Spartans commanding 30,000 Greeks. Although still outnumbered, Dilios declares that the Greeks shall be victorious, and praises the sacrifice of King Leonidas of Sparta. He then leads the Greeks in a charge against the Persian army, beginning the Battle of Plataea.
Producer Gianni Nunnari was not the only person planning a film about the Battle of Thermopylae; director Michael Mann already planned a film of the battle based on the book Gates of Fire. Nunnari discovered Frank Miller's graphic novel 300, which impressed him enough to acquire the film rights. 300 was jointly produced by Nunnari and Mark Canton, and Michael B. Gordon wrote the script. Director Zack Snyder was hired in June 2004 as he had attempted to make a film based on Miller's novel before making his debut with the remake of Dawn of the Dead. Snyder then had screenwriter Kurt Johnstad rewrite Gordon's script for production and Frank Miller was retained as consultant and executive producer.
The film is a shot-for-shot adaptation of the comic book, similar to the film adaptation of Sin City. Snyder photocopied panels from the comic book, from which he planned the preceding and succeeding shots. "It was a fun process for me... to have a frame as a goal to get to," he said. Like the comic book, the adaptation also used the character Dilios as a narrator. Snyder used this narrative technique to show the audience that the surreal "Frank Miller world" of 300 was told from a subjective perspective. By using Dilios' gift of storytelling, he is able to introduce fantasy elements into the film, explaining that "Dilios is a guy who knows how not to wreck a good story with truth." Snyder also added the sub-plot in which Queen Gorgo attempts to rally support for her husband.
Two months of pre-production were required to create hundreds of shields, spears and swords, some of which were recycled from Troy and Alexander. An animatronic wolf and thirteen animatronic horses were also created. The actors trained alongside the stuntmen, and even Snyder joined in. Upwards of 600 costumes were created for the film, as well as extensive prosthetics for various characters and the corpses of Persian soldiers. Shaun Smith and Mark Rappaport worked hand in hand with Snyder in pre-production to design the look of the individual characters, and to produce the prosthetics, props, weapons and dummy bodies required for the production.
300 entered active production on October 17, 2005, in Montreal, and was shot over the course of sixty days in chronological order with a budget of $60 million. Employing the digital backlot technique, Snyder shot at the now-defunct Icestorm Studios in Montreal using bluescreens. Butler said that while he didn't feel constrained by Snyder's direction, fidelity to the comic imposed certain limitations on his performance. Wenham said there were times when Snyder wanted to precisely capture iconic moments from the comic book, and other times when he gave actors freedom "to explore within the world and the confines that had been set." Headey said of her experience with the bluescreens, "It's very odd, and emotionally, there's nothing to connect to apart from another actor." Only one scene, in which horses travel across the countryside, was shot outdoors. The film was an intensely physical production, and Butler pulled an arm tendon and developed foot drop.
Post-production was handled by Montreal's Meteor Studios and Hybride Technologies filled in the bluescreen footage with more than 1500 visual effects shots. Visual effects supervisor Chris Watts and production designer Jim Bissell created a process dubbed "The Crush," which allowed the Meteor artists to manipulate the colors by increasing the contrast of light and dark. Certain sequences were desaturated and tinted to establish different moods. Ghislain St-Pierre, who led the team of artists, described the effect: "Everything looks realistic, but it has a kind of a gritty illustrative feel." Various computer programs, including Maya, RenderMan and RealFlow, were used to create the "spraying blood." The post-production lasted for a year and was handled by a total of ten special effects companies.
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 scene 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.
The score has caused some controversy in the film composer community, garnering criticism for its striking similarity to several other recent soundtracks, including James Horner and Gabriel Yared's work for the film Troy. The heaviest borrowings are said to be from Elliot Goldenthal's 1999 score for Titus. "Remember Us," from 300, is identical in parts to the "Finale" from Titus, and "Returns a King" is similar to the cue "Victorius Titus." (See Copyright issues.) On August 3, 2007, Warner Bros. Pictures acknowledged in an official statement:
... a number of the music cues for the score of 300 were, without our knowledge or participation, derived from music composed by Academy Award winning composer Elliot Goldenthal for the motion picture Titus. Warner Bros. Pictures has great respect for Elliot, our longtime collaborator, and is pleased to have amicably resolved this matter.
The official 300 website was launched by Warner Bros. in December 2005. The "conceptual art" and Zack Snyder's production blog were the initial attractions of the site. Later, the website added video journals describing production details, including comic-to-screen shots and the creatures of 300. In January 2007, the studio launched a MySpace page for the film. The Art Institutes created a micro-site to promote the film.
At Comic-Con International in July 2006, the 300 panel aired a promotional teaser of the film, which was positively received. Despite stringent security, the trailer was subsequently leaked on the Internet. Warner Bros. released the official trailer for 300 on October 4, 2006, and later on it made its debut on Apple.com where it received considerable exposure. The background music used in the trailers was "Just Like You Imagined" by Nine Inch Nails. A second 300 trailer, which was attached to Apocalypto, was released in theaters on December 8, 2006, and online the day before. On January 22, 2007, an exclusive trailer for the film was broadcast during prime time television. The trailers have been credited with igniting interest in the film and contributing to its box-office success.
In April 2006, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment announced its intention to make a PlayStation Portable game, 300: March to Glory, based on the film. Collision Studios worked with Warner Bros. to capture the style of the film in the video game, which was released simultaneously with the film in the United States. The National Entertainment Collectibles Association produced a series of action figures based on the film, as well as replicas of weapons and armor.
Warner Bros. promoted 300 by sponsoring the Ultimate Fighting Championship's light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, who made personal appearances and participated in other promotional activities. The studio also joined with the National Hockey League to produce a 30-second TV spot promoting the film in tandem with the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In August 2006, Warner Bros. announced 300's release date as March 16, 2007, but in October the release was moved forward to March 9, 2007. 300 was released on DVD, Blu-ray Disc, and HD DVD on July 31, 2007, in Region 1 territories, in single-disc and two-disc editions. 300 was released in single-disc and steelcase two-disc editions on DVD, BD and HD DVD in Region 2 territories beginning August 2007. On July 21, 2009, Warner Bros. released a new Blu-ray entitled 300: The Complete Experience to coincide with the Blu-ray release of Watchmen. This new Blu-ray is encased in a 40-page Digibook and includes all the extras from the original release as well as some new ones. These features include a Picture-in-Picture feature entitled The Complete 300: A Comprehensive Immersion, which enables the viewer to view the film in three different perspectives. This release also includes a Digital Copy.
On July 9, 2007, the American cable channel TNT bought the rights to broadcast the film from Warner Bros. TNT will be able to start airing the movie in September 2009. Sources say that the network paid between $17 million and just under $20 million for the movie. TNT agreed to a three-year deal instead of the more typical five-year deal.
300 was released in North America on March 9, 2007, in both conventional and IMAX theaters. It grossed $28,106,731 on its opening day and ended its North American opening weekend with $70,885,301, breaking the record held by Ice Age: The Meltdown for the biggest opening weekend in the month of March. 300's opening weekend gross is the 24th highest in box office history, coming slightly below The Lost World: Jurassic Park but higher than Transformers. It was the third biggest opening for an R-rated film ever, behind The Matrix Reloaded ($91.8 million) and The Passion of the Christ ($83.8 million). The film also set a record for IMAX cinemas with a $3.6 million opening weekend.
300 opened two days earlier, on March 7, 2007, in Sparta, and across Greece on March 8. Studio executives were surprised by the showing, which was twice what they had expected. They credit the movie's stylized violence, the strong female role of Queen Gorgo which attracted a large number of women to the movie, and the MySpace advertising blitz. Producer Mark Canton said, "MySpace had an enormous impact but it has transcended the limitations of the Internet or the graphic novel. Once you make a great movie, word can spread very quickly."
Since its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival on February 14, 2007, in front of 1,700 audience members, 300 has received generally mixed reviews. While it received a standing ovation at the public premiere, it was reportedly panned at a press screening hours earlier, where many attendees left during the showing and those who remained booed at the end. Critical reviews of 300 are divided. Rotten Tomatoes reports that 60 percent of North American and selected international critics gave the film a positive review, based upon a sample of 215, with an average score of 6.1 out of 10. Reviews from selected notable critics were 46 percent positive, giving the film an average score of 5.6 out of 10 based on a sample of 39. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received an average score of 51 based on 35 reviews. Empire gave the film 3/5 having a verdict of "Visually stunning, thoroughly belligerent and as shallow as a pygmy’s paddling pool, this is a whole heap of style tinged with just a smidgen of substance."
Variety's Todd McCarthy describes the film as "visually arresting" although "bombastic" while Kirk Honeycutt, writing in The Hollywood Reporter, praises the "beauty of its topography, colors and forms." Writing in the Chicago Sun Times, Richard Roeper acclaims 300 as "the Citizen Kane of cinematic graphic novels." 300 was also warmly received by websites focusing on comics and video games. Comic Book Resources' Mark Cronan found the film compelling, leaving him "with a feeling of power, from having been witness to something grand." IGN's Todd Gilchrist acclaimed Zack Snyder as a cinematic visionary and "a possible redeemer of modern moviemaking."
A number of critical reviews appeared in major American newspapers. A.O. Scott of the New York Times describes 300 as "about as violent as Apocalypto and twice as stupid," while criticizing its color scheme and suggesting that its plot includes racist undertones. Kenneth Turan writes in the Los Angeles Times that "unless you love violence as much as a Spartan, Quentin Tarantino or a video-game-playing teenage boy, you will not be endlessly fascinated." Roger Ebert, in his review, gave the film a two-star rating, writing, "300 has one-dimensional caricatures who talk like professional wrestlers plugging their next feud."
Some Greek newspapers have been particularly critical, such as film critic Robby Eksiel, who said that moviegoers would be dazzled by the "digital action" but irritated by the "pompous interpretations and one-dimensional characters."
At the MTV Movie Awards 2007, 300 was nominated for Best Movie, Best Performance for Gerard Butler, Best Breakthrough Performance for Lena Headey, Best Villain for Rodrigo Santoro, and Best Fight for Leonidas battling "the Über Immortal." It eventually won the award for Best Fight. 300 won both the Best Dramatic Film and Best Action Film honors in the 2006-2007 Golden Icon Awards presented by Travolta Family Entertainment. In December 2007, 300 won IGN's Movie of the Year 2007, along with Best Comic Book Adaptation and King Leonidas as Favorite Character. The movie received 10 nominations for the 2008 Saturn Awards, winning the awards for Best Director and Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film.
300's director Zack Snyder stated in an MTV interview that "the events are 90 percent accurate. It's just in the visualization that it's crazy.... I've shown this movie to world-class historians who have said it's amazing. They can't believe it's as accurate as it is." He continues that the film is "an opera, not a documentary. That's what I say when people say it's historically inaccurate." He was also quoted in a BBC News story as saying that the film is, at its core "a fantasy film." He also describes the film's narrator, Dilios, as "a guy who knows how not to wreck a good story with truth."
Paul Cartledge, Professor of Greek History at Cambridge University, advised the filmmakers on the pronunciation of Greek names, and states that they "made good use" of his published work on Sparta. He praises the film for its portrayal of "the Spartans' heroic code," and of "the key role played by women in backing up, indeed reinforcing, the male martial code of heroic honour," while expressing reservations about its "'West' (goodies) vs 'East' (baddies) polarization." Cartledge writes that he enjoyed the film, although he found Leonidas' description of the Athenians as "boy lovers" ironic, since the Spartans themselves incorporated institutional pederasty into their educational system.
Ephraim Lytle, assistant professor of Hellenistic History at the University of Toronto, states that 300 selectively idealizes Spartan society in a "problematic and disturbing" fashion, as well as portraying the "hundred nations of the Persians" as monsters and non-Spartan Greeks as weak (although because the story seen in the movie is told from a Spartan perspective, is can be assumed that this is how the Spartans saw their allies and enemies). He suggests that the film's moral universe would have seemed "as bizarre to ancient Greeks as it does to modern historians."
Victor Davis Hanson, National Review columnist and former professor of Classical history at California State University, Fresno, who wrote the foreword to a 2007 re-issue of the graphic novel, states that the film demonstrates a specific affinity with the original material of Herodotus in that it captures the martial ethos of ancient Sparta and represents Thermopylae as a "clash of civilizations." He remarks that Simonides, Aeschylus and Herodotus viewed Thermopylae as a battle against "Eastern centralism and collective serfdom," which opposed "the idea of the free citizen of an autonomous polis." He further states that the film portrays the battle in a "surreal" manner, and that the intent was to "entertain and shock first, and instruct second."
Some passages from the Classical authors Aeschylus, Diodorus, Herodotus and Plutarch are spilt over the movie to give it an authentic flavor. Aeschylus becomes a major source when the battle with the "monstrous human herd" of the Persians is narrated in the film. Diodorus' statement about Greek valor to preserve their liberty is inserted in the film, but his mention of Persian valor is omitted. Herodotus' fanciful numbers are used to populate the Persian army, and Plutarch's discussion of Greek women, specifically Spartan women, is inserted wrongly in the dialogue between the "misogynist" Persian ambassador and the Spartan king. Classical sources are certainly used, but exactly in all the wrong places, or quite naively. The Athenians were fighting a sea battle during this.
Robert McHenry, former editor-in-chief of Encyclopedia Britannica and author of How to Know states that the film "is an almost ineffably silly movie. Stills from the film could easily be used to promote Buns of Steel, or AbMaster, or ThighMaster. It’s about the romanticizing of the Spartan “ideal,” a process that began even in ancient times, was promoted by the Romans, and has survived over time while less and less resembling the actual historical Sparta."
Before the release of 300, Warner Bros. expressed concerns about the political aspects of the film's theme. Snyder relates that there was "a huge sensitivity about East versus West with the studio." Media speculation about a possible parallel between the Greco-Persian conflict and current events began in an interview with Snyder that was conducted before the Berlin Film Festival. The interviewer remarked that "everyone is sure to be translating this [film] into contemporary politics." Snyder replied that, while he was aware that people would read the film through the lens of contemporary events, no parallels between the film and the contemporary world were intended.
Outside the current political parallels, some critics have raised more general questions about the film's ideological orientation. The New York Post's Kyle Smith writes that the film would have pleased "Adolf's boys," and Slate's Dana Stevens compares the film to The Eternal Jew, "as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war." Roger Moore, a critic for the Orlando Sentinel, relates 300 to Susan Sontag's definition of "fascist art." Alleanza Nazionale, an Italian political party formed from the collapse of the neo-fascist party MSI, has interpreted the values of the work within candidate propaganda posters titled: "Defend your values, your civilization, your district".
However, Newsday critic Gene Seymour stated that such reactions are misguided, writing that "the movie's just too darned silly to withstand any ideological theorizing." Snyder himself dismissed ideological readings, suggesting that reviewers who critique "a graphic novel movie about a bunch of guys...stomping the snot out of each other" using words like " 'neocon,' 'homophobic,' 'homoerotic' or 'racist' " are "missing the point."
Since its opening, 300 also attracted controversy over its portrayal of Persians. Various critics, historians, journalists, and officials of the Iranian government including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denounced the film. As in the graphic novel, the Persians were depicted as a monstrous, barbaric and demonic horde, and King Xerxes was portrayed as androgynous. Critics suggested that this was meant to stand in stark contrast to the masculinity of the Spartan army. Steven Rea argued that the film's Persians were a vehicle for an anachronistic cross-section of Western stereotypes of Asian and African cultures.
The film's portrayal of ancient Persians caused a particularly strong reaction in Iran. Azadeh Moaveni of Time reported that Tehran was "outraged" following the film's release. Moaveni identified two factors which may have contributed to the intense reaction: its release on the eve of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, and the common Iranian view of the Achaemenid Empire as "a particularly noble page in their history." Various Iranian officials condemned the film. The Iranian Academy of the Arts submitted a formal complaint against the movie to UNESCO, labelling it an attack on the historical identity of Iran. The Iranian mission to the U.N. protested the film in a press release, and Iranian embassies protested its screening in France, Thailand, Turkey and Uzbekistan.
Slovenian philosopher and author Slavoj Žižek defended the movie from those who attacked it. He wrote that the story represents "a poor, small country (Greece) invaded by the army of a much large[r] state (Persia)," suggesting that the identification of the Spartans with a modern superpower is flawed. Instead of seeing a "fundamentalist" aspect in the Spartan identity, he stated that "all modern egalitarian radicals, from Rousseau to the Jacobins...imagined the republican France as a new Sparta."
In response to the criticisms, a Warner Bros. spokesman stated that the film 300 "is a work of fiction inspired by the Frank Miller graphic novel and loosely based on a historical event. The studio developed this film purely as a fictional work with the sole purpose of entertaining audiences; it is not meant to disparage an ethnicity or culture or make any sort of political statement."
The original 300 creator, Frank Miller, has made the following statement about the work in question: "For some reason, nobody seems to be talking about who we're up against, and the sixth century barbarism that they actually represent. These people saw people's heads off. They enslave women, they genitally mutilate their daughters, they do not behave by any cultural norms that are sensible to us. I'm speaking into a microphone that never could have been a product of their culture, and I'm living in a city where three thousand of my neighbors were killed by thieves of airplanes they never could have built." He also explained the upcoming work Holy Terror, Batman!, a story wherein Batman takes on Al-Qaeda, as: "It is, not to put too fine a point on it, a piece of propaganda ... Superman punched out Hitler. So did Captain America. That's one of the things they're there for."
300 has been spoofed in various media, spawning the "This is Sparta!" internet meme, with parodies also appearing in film and television. These include the short United 300, which won the Movie Spoof Award at the 2007 MTV Movie Awards. Skits based upon the film have appeared on Saturday Night Live and Robot Chicken, the latter of which mimicked the visual style of 300 in a parody set during the American Revolutionary War, titled "1776." 20th Century Fox released Meet the Spartans, a spoof of 300. Universal Pictures is planning a similar parody, titled National Lampoon's 301: The Legend of Awesomest Maximus Wallace Leonidas. 300 was also parodied in an episode of South Park named "D-Yikes!".
300, particularly its pithy quotations, have been "adopted" by the student body of Michigan State University (whose sports teams are nicknamed the Spartans), with chants of "Spartans, what is your profession?" becoming common at sporting events starting after the movie's release, and Michigan State basketball head coach Tom Izzo dressed as Leonidas at one student event.
In June 2008, producers Mark Canton, Gianni Nunnari and Bernie Goldmann revealed that work had begun on a prequel to 300. Legendary Pictures has announced that Frank Miller is writing the follow-up graphic novel, and Zack Snyder has declared his interest in directing the adaptation, though he is waiting until he sees the graphic novel before officially signing onto the project. The new film's title is rumored to be Xerxes.