I missed seeing 300 when it was breaking box office records and provoking rather unmerited heavyweight controversy. Our recent discussion about war movies, the publication of our Campaign title on Thermopylae, my personal interest in the period and its wars, and its release on DVD prompted me to buy a copy. I wanted to find out if 300 could be classed as a war movie at all and to know where I would place myself against the extreme range of critical opinions it aroused. I was not surprised that Frank Miller\'s involvement and Zack Snyder\'s direction, also featuring gigabytes of graphical computer muscle, successfully delivered a gorefest that fully captured the look and feel of the graphic novel. By these quite narrow but technically demanding criteria, I think it is a good movie and I was entertained. But history or military history? All those prosthetics and orc teeth left over from Lord of the Rings, the stretch rhinoceros and the GM elephants, the Mutant Ninja Turtle Immortals, those Mamluk grenadiers, that ultra-camp Xerxes... I could go on and on, and many have. It is a fantasy movie, an Xbox demo even. As such, it grossly misrepresents Achaemenid Persia, one of the greatest civilizations and cultures of the ancient world. It is also wonderfully inventive about aspects of the Spartan way of life, military, domestic and political, but with some astonishing lapses into accuracy which touch upon some of the truly nasty side of it. This would not have been allowed in a movie with the post-9/11 agenda some have attributed to this one.
Stretching to judge 300 as a war movie, I found one tiny moment that did, maybe, authentically recreate, reconstruct, re-enact the world-shaping warfare of 480-479 BC. At this point, the camera darts around the feet in the front two rows of the phalanx as the Spartans lean into their shields and heave against the much more numerous but less heavily-armed Persians, and drive their spears into them. Shortly before, Leonidas gives a brief lecture on the working of the phalanx (the hoplite method of war which would bring final victory for Greece a year later). Here, just for a moment, I got a very real sense of what it was like to be there (though the pecs and abs would have been sculpted in bronze not in CGI-enhanced flesh). Good war movies sustain this effect for rather longer. For a while, Steven Spielberg was looking at Steven Pressfield\'s Gates of Fire - that to me would be the perfect starting point for a fantastic war movie about Thermopylae.