“Earth and water”, for submission to the Persian Empire, King Xerxes I demanded this. However, both the Athenians and the Spartans did not take to this seemingly humble request as they both tossed the Persian messengers into pits in defiance. As part of the Greco-Persian War (incidently begun by Xerxes’ father Darius), The Battle of Thermopylae took place in 480 B.C. where 300 valiant Spartans led by King Leonidas, along with 700 Thespians and other allies, stood strong to protect a mountain pass vital to Greece’s survival.
With morale very high to defend their lands, the Spartans battled forces numbering toward the millions. When asked to surrender their arms and submit to the will of the god-king Xerxes, King Leonidas scoffed at the demand and told Xerxes to “come take them”.
Forged and tempered in their youth by rigorous training, to the Spartan warrior, battle was the only profession. The Spartans’ tactics included fighting as one cohesive unit. In order to achieve this illusion of one, Spartan spears were overlaid and shields were connected to protect a comrade on either side. The first wave of Persians sent by Xerxes, included the Medes which the Persians only recently conquered. The Medes became the frontline of the attack. As a probe to test the battle strength of the Greeks, the Medes quickly fell under the Spartan spear and Xerxes, known for his temper, sent another wave of his soldiers. This time his own elite imperial guards answered the call- The Immortals.
Numbering 10,000 in strength, The Immortals decked out in metallic face shields and short swords, charged the Spartans with a monstrous looking soldier right out of a freak show. As the battle unfolded, the mountain pass kept the advantage Xerxes had in check, and like the Medes, the Immortals also took copious losses. King Xerxes pulled back his elite and rethought his strategy, completely befuddled concerning this tiger of an enemy. Taking the route of persuasion, he offered, Leonidas the title of “warlord of Greece”, should he only kneel before him which was one act, the King of Sparta would never do.
With a touch of humor, Leonidas (played wonderfully by Gerard Butler) complains of a bad knee due to the numerous killing he has done to Xerxes men therefore he could not possibly kneel before him. Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) failed to lure him by fame, fortune or glory, for Leonidas’ resolve stood true. However, for the hunchback known as Ephialtes who once came to Leonidas in order to redeem his honor and fight along side the Spartans, was denied in his request by the Spartan King. Sore about the whole event, Xerxes discovered the traitor to be easily swayed by reward. Ephialtes informed the Persian ruler about another pathway for which his men could outwit the taurine Spartans.
Back in Spartan, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) had her own battles to wage with the Senate secretly run by a vicious and corrupt Theron (Dominic West) who tries to keep reinforcements being sent to Leonidas. Downplaying the entire affair and believing the words of the Oracle,
Theron attempts to taint the reputation of the Queen while having his eye on her figure (and pocketing Persian coins). Theron manipulates her in order to have her own people turn against her, once they learn of her not so queenly ways. The plot backfires and Theron finally gets the point if you know what I mean.
Director Zack Snyder who brought us the 2004 remake of “Dawn of The Dead”, makes a visually stunning recount of what occurred at the Battle of Thermopylae based upon Frank Miller’s (Sin City) graphic novel. With blood splattering across the frame, endless slow mos, and bright crimson capes fluttering in the wind, “300”, is sure to dazzle the senses and get your blood flowing.
* Audience Reactions: a Testosterone fest. Filled from end to end with males of various ages and ethnicities, there was a raw energy of excitement prior to the film starting. This excitement was carried throughout the entire film. Cheers and applause followed upon the film’s conclusion.
•Cool Factor: The fighting style of the Spartans. The stylistic cinematography. King Leonidas munching calmly on an apple after scores of the enemy have fallen.