March 7, 2007

DID THE GREEKS CALL IT THEIR ALAMO?

An epic tale, told '300' strong (Susan Wloszczyna, 3/06/07, USA TODAY)

Leading the charge at what is known as the Greek Alamo was King Leonidas, whose headstrong valor and unwavering discipline to his culture's militaristic code is captured in all its glory in 300. The mind-blowing ballet of R-rated butchery, beefcake and bombast rumbles into theaters at late-night screenings Thursday.

The $60-million-plus epic starring Gerard Butler also will play at IMAX theaters, and for good reason. The History Channel this is not. The surreal ode to extreme combat is part Fellini freak show, part Lord of the Rings-style blood feast and all adrenaline rush, stoked by the occasional heavy-metal power chord amid the usual ululating arias that are indigenous to such ancient derring-do.

Its bruised beauty is enhanced by an inky palette and moody skyscapes inspired by the illustrations found in Frank Miller's 1998 graphic novel. And 300 might just do for Hollywood's ailing epic genre, which has been wounded by the unsatisfying likes of Troy and Alexander, what the Spartans did for war: Turn the thrill of the kill into high art. [...]

Clips were unveiled at last summer's Comic-Con, the annual San Diego event that is ground zero for comic-book supergeeks who generate buzz, pro and con, by the blogs-ful. When they spied the sneering Leonidas kick the chest of a Persian messenger and send him down a deep well, the crowd shouted its demand for an instant replay of the preview. Twice.

"When we ask, 'What are the most highly anticipated movies of the year?' 300 and Spider-Man 3 are the ones mentioned the most," says Alex Billington, co-founder of fan site FirstShowing.net, who witnessed the Comic-Con reaction firsthand. "What 300 has achieved now, no one else has come close to achieving. This is setting the new standard for comic-book movies."

Among those eagerly awaiting 300's arrival are history buffs who have had to make do with The300 Spartans, a much stodgier re-enactment from 1962. But just as Miller was haunted by the thought of these doomed heroes who don't get out alive when he saw the film at age 6, so, too, was John Trikeriotis, 47, who runs 300SpartanWarriors.com and TheLeonidasExpeditions.com.

"Frank Miller blew the dust off of a story that has been around 2,500 years," says Trikeriotis, who plans to take a scholarly trip to Thermopylae in 2008. Although purists might nitpick the factual liberties taken by 300, the core appeal of the tale remains.

"It is the self-sacrifice. That is really it in a nutshell," he says. "If the film gets people to say, 'I want to read more about this,' that is a good thing."

As for anyone who thinks 300 is guys-only fare, consider those half-naked Spartans. At test screenings, the film tested 100% positive for women of all ages.

Says Snyder: "The studio was like, 'What the hell? We don't even get this at our romantic comedies.' "


Posted by Orrin Judd at March 7, 2007 9:22 AM
Comments

Chippendalamo.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 7, 2007 9:54 AM

So who is going to report back whether it's got an unfortunate political message in it or not. I was looking forward to this until some articles raised the possibility. I couldn't tell if it was audience interpretation or something that actually in the movie.

Posted by: RC at March 7, 2007 10:25 AM

Frank Miller, writer and artist of the comic, has a libertarian streak. The comic definitely has an anti-clerical stance; Leonidas is depicted as not trusting the Oracle and believing all priests are gold hungry liars.

However, he is very pro-West and pro-freedom. He certainly depicts the 300 Spartans as heroes for being willing to sacrifice themselves to give time for the Greeks to rally. And he honors the martial virtues.

There was a minor controversy when one of the first issues came out, before the Spartans rallied, when Leonidas said something to the effect that they weren't weak boy-lovers like the Athenians, and some readers pointed out that homosexuality was equally found in Sparta. Miller replied that though all the Greek city states practiced homosexuality that there would have been a difference in attitudes and that it would be wrong to project modern attitudes on the subject to ancient Greece because it wasn't San Francisco in togas. It was a one panel piece of dialogue; I don't expect it to be in the film.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at March 7, 2007 10:40 AM

RC,

I'll take the word of Victor Davis Hanson over reporters trying to foist a contemporary political message where there is none.

Posted by: Anthony Perez-Miller at March 7, 2007 11:05 AM
"...the Greek Alamo."

That line is funny enough to have been written by Richard Armour.

Posted by: HT at March 7, 2007 11:24 AM

I like Barry's coinage too.

Posted by: erp at March 7, 2007 12:41 PM

At test screenings, the film tested 100% positive for women of all ages.

Says Snyder: "The studio was like, 'What the hell? We don't even get this at our romantic comedies.'

Fascinating. Perhaps, despite she and the studios being in denial about it, the modern woman prefers King Leonidas to Hugh Grant.

Posted by: Mike Earl at March 7, 2007 1:43 PM

Tacticaly very much like the Alamo, and so considered at the time..

Both Thermopolae and the Alamo stand as successful defensive economy of force operations. In both instances, a superior attacking enemy force was fixed and delayed so that major victories could be achieved elsewhere.

There is more to the attraction of the sayings and institutions of the Lacedemonians for women than the pictures. Everyone knows the "With this or on this," line. Somewhere in Plutarch a foreignor compliments a Spartan woman on the social and economic power wielded by women in Sparta contrasted to the subordination enforced elsewhere. "Only in Sparta do women rule men," the guest observed. "Only in Sparta do they bear men," was the answer.

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 7, 2007 2:02 PM

The Persians had to go through Thermopylae, but Santa Ana had absolutely no compelling reason to spend so much time and effort on the Alamo. Of course, San Jacinto was won because the Texans attacked during the Mexican army's siesta time, so the decision was pretty typical of his generalship skills...

Posted by: b at March 7, 2007 2:09 PM
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