What Went Right: 300
By Shalimar Sahota
March 5, 2012
Neither the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lyn Varley nor Zack Snyder’s film is meant to be historically accurate. 300 is an exaggeration of a real historical event, made to look as cool as possible.
Before Snyder had even shot his remake of Dawn of the Dead, he and producer Gianni Nunnari met with Warner Bros with the intention of adapting 300. However, Warner’s focus was currently on Troy, which they were about to go and shoot. The wait could be seen as a blessing, for it had also been over a decade since Frank Miller had last worked on a film and he was reluctant to hand anyone the rights to his work. What convinced him was Robert Rodriguez’s test sequence for Sin City, which proved to Miller that his work could make a successful translation to screen. When released in April 2005, it also helped that Sin City was a hit.
300 tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae. King Leonidas of Sparta (Gerard Butler) is dutifully informed by a messenger that Sparta stands to be completely annihilated unless they submit to the will of King Xerxes of Persia (Rodrigo Santoro). Leonidas declines and instead gathers 300 of his best soldiers to fight Xerxes and his approaching Persian army of thousands.
The film is narrated by one of the soldiers, Dilios (David Wenham) and as such it is subjective. The visual look of 300 enhances the mythical nature of the story, in that this is not a history lesson, this is not a reality that we know; instead it is more a fantastical retelling, the kind of film you wish they put on the school curriculum. In fact, the overall look of the film is probably one of the most important factors contributing to its success.
Snyder was intent on capturing the images as close (if not exactly) as seen in the graphic novel, so took Robert Rodriguez’s approach and shot 300 on a digital backlot. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Sin City were the only other US productions that had previously adapted the same technique and attained wide release. It’s interesting that Miller’s adaptations have proven to be big successes, for whereas Sky Captain was offering outdated thrills, Sin City and 300 offered R-rated excitement, with the marketing for 300 specifically targeting young men that had a thing for comics, video games, sex and violence.
If people didn’t know of Miller’s graphic novel, then they at least ought to have been aware of the Battle of Thermopylae. Had they failed history, then just the look of the film was probably enough to sway them into paying for their tickets. Since the turn of the millennium, special effects are now so prevalent that it has become much harder to be truly wowed by what we see on screen. Anyone can add CGI to a film, but understanding the technology and using it effectively is down to the skills of the director and his crew. In 300, the style is so overt that the film is practically saying, “Let’s see you find a condom for this.”