300 was released in both conventional and IMAX theaters in America on March 9, 2007. The film broke box office records, although critics were divided over its look and style. Some acclaimed it as an original achievement, while others accused it of favoring visuals over characterization. Controversy arose over its depiction of the ancient Persians.
Dilios narrates of the young Leonidas undergoing his childhood training, explaining the rigors of Spartan life. He is cast out into the wild, and survives the harsh winter to return to his home, when he is crowned King. Dilios then tells of when a group of Persian messengers arrive at Sparta, demanding Sparta's submission to King Xerxes. Outraged and offended at their behavior, King Leonidas and his guards throw the messengers into a pit, resolving to face the Persians. Leonidas then visits the Oracle, explaining his plan of war with the Persians and offers a customary payment in gold. The priests of the Oracle, the Ephors having already been bribed by Xerxes, interpret her message to mean that Sparta should not go to war, so as to not interrupt the sacred Carneian festival.
King Leonidas fighting soldiers of the Persian Empire
Despite the warning, Leonidas gathers 300 of his best soldiers to fight the Persians, selecting only those who have already sired male children, so that their family name can continue even after their death. As they march north, they are joined by a group of Arcadians and other Greeks. Arriving at the narrow cliffs of Thermopylae (referred to as the "Hot Gates"), in sight of the Persian army, they build a wall to halt the Persians' advance. Ephialtes, a hunchbacked Spartan whose parents had fled to save him from customary infanticide, approaches Leonidas, requesting to redeem his father's name in battle, and warning him about a secret goat path that the Persians could use to surround them. Leonidas turns him away as his inability to properly hold the shield would create a weak spot in the phalanx. Before the battle starts, the Persians ask that the 300 drop their arms. Leonidas responds; "Persians! Come and get them!" The Spartans use the phalanx formation, the narrow terrain, and their fighting skill with shield, spear and sword to effectively fight off numerically superior waves of attackers including Xerxes's elite guard, the Immortals. The 300 defend their position while suffering relatively few losses. Xerxes, impressed, personally approaches Leonidas and attempts to bribe him with wealth and power in exchange for his surrender. The Spartan king declines, saying that he will instead make the "God King" bleed. Shortly thereafter, an embittered Ephialtes reveals the location of the goat path to Xerxes, having been promised a lucrative and powerful position in the Persian Empire.
Xerxes encourages Leonidas to surrender
Back in Sparta, Queen Gorgo, upon the advice of a councilman, attempts to enlist the influential Theron to help her persuade the Spartan council to send reinforcements to Leonidas. Theron agrees to help, but demands that Gorgo submit sexually to him; Gorgo reluctantly consents to his advances. Meanwhile, the Greeks realize that Ephialtes has betrayed them, and the Arcadians decide to retreat in the face of certain death. The Spartans refuse to follow, obedient to their law. Leonidas orders only one man, Dilios, to retreat and use his rhetorical skills to tell the story of the 300 to the Spartan people, ensuring that they be remembered. Dilios reluctantly leaves with the Arcadians. At Sparta, Queen Gorgo appears in front of the council, but is not supported by Theron, who furthermore accuses her of adultery. The Queen, enraged at this betrayal, snatches a sword from a nearby soldier and kills Theron. Persian coins fall from his purse, the Council denounces him as a traitor, and unites against Persia.
At Thermopylae, the Persians have surrounded the 300 on all sides. Xerxes's spokesman demands their surrender, saying that Leonidas may keep his title as King of Sparta and become warlord of all Greece, answerable only to Xerxes. In defiance, Leonidas throws his spear at Xerxes, cutting his cheek, delivering on his promise to "make the 'God King' bleed." Shaken at the reminder of his own mortality, Xerxes orders his archers to fire. The remaining Spartans are killed in the hail of arrows, with Leonidas dying last. Dilios eventually returns to Sparta and inspires the council with the bravery of the 300.
Dilios finishes his tale of the 300 on a new battlefield surrounded by raptly listening soldiers. He concludes that the Persian army, who lost countless numbers defeating a mere 300 Spartans a year earlier, must now be terrified to face 10,000 Spartans and 30,000 Greeks from the other city-states. The roused Greek host charges the Persian army, beginning the Battle of Plataea.
Above: the film version of a panel from the graphic novel (below).
Above: A scene during filming. Below: The finished scene.
Producer Gianni Nunnari had nourished a passion for the Battle of Thermopylae since his youth but the story was already in development as Gates of Fire with director Michael Mann. Nunnari discovered Frank Miller's graphic novel300, which impressed him enough to acquire the film rights.300 was jointly produced by Nunnari and Mark Canton, with Michael B. Gordon completing a second draft of the script. In June 2004, director Zack Snyder, previously known for Dawn of the Dead, was hired to direct. Snyder, who had already attempted to make a film on the basis of Miller's novel, worked with screenwriter Kurt Johnstad to rewrite Gordon's script for production. Miller was attached to the project as executive producer and consultant.
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," said Snyder. 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 related from a subjective perspective. By utilizing Dilios' gift of storytelling, Snyder 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 13 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.
300 entered active production on October 17, 2005 in Montreal, and was shot over the course of 60 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 a 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. Chris Watts and 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 shot 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 given rise to 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 allegedly from Elliot Goldenthal's 1999 score for Titus. "Remember Us," from 300, is identical in parts to the the "Finale" from Titus, and "Returns A King" is similar to the cue "Victorius Titus." Commentators have also noted that the melody of "Message for the Queen" is identical to the song "Zajdi, zajdi" by composer Aleksandar Sarievski. Macedonian portal On.net published a response by Tyler Bates, who claims that he "can't say there is a specific source of inspiration for the cue."
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.
300 opened two days earlier, on March 7, 2007, in Sparta, and across Greece on March 8. The Greek gross of $2.9 million set a new box office record. In Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, the film opened simultaneously with the American release, with a total overseas gross of $6.2 million. 300 had grossed $127.5 million after its second weekend, when it once again topped the box office despite a 56% drop off. On April 15, the film crossed the 200 million dollar mark domestically, making it Warner Bros.' 10th highest grossing film of all time, besting Superman Returns. As of May 10, 300 grossed $436,463,965 worldwide (including $208,063,965 from North America). Studio executives are predicting the film will make over $210,000,000 in North America before its theatrical run concludes.
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. In North America, critical reviews of 300 are divided. On Rottentomatoes.com, it has a 61% approval rating from listed critics and 49% from its "Cream of the Crop." On MetaCritic.com, 300 received a rating of 51/100 based on 34 reviews, resulting in "Mixed or Average Reviews" status.
The two major industry trades published generally positive reviews. Variety's Todd McCarty describes the film as "visually arresting," while Kirk Honeycutt, writing in The Hollywood Reporter, praises the "beauty of its topography, colors and forms."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 acclaims Zack Snyder as a cinematic visionary and the "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," as well as 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." Some Greek newspapers have been particularly critical, with film critic Robby Eksiel saying that moviegoers would be dazzled by the "digital action" but irritated by the "pompous interpretations and one-dimensional characters."Derek Malcolm, writing in the LondonEvening Standard found beneath the "perfunctory" acting a subtext of homophobia, with the effete, "boy-loving" Persians inevitably succumbing to the "macho posturing" of the Spartans, and with the Spartan Queen serving no major narrative purpose except to be serviced by Leonidas. It is worth noting that the "boy-lovers" line, referred to in the film, was actually referring to the protagonists' fellow Greeks, the Athenians, and not the enemy Persians as the review implies.
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". Quoted in a BBC news story, Snyder stated 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 honor," while expressing reservations about its "'West' (goodies) vs 'East' (baddies) polarization."
However, 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. He suggests that the film's moral universe would have seemed as "bizarre to ancient Greeks as it does to modern historians."
Military historianVictor Davis Hanson, 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."
Touraj Daryaee, associate professor of Ancient History at California State University, Fullerton, criticizes the central theme of the movie, that of "free" and "democracy loving" Spartans against "slave" Persians. Daryaee states that the Achaemenid (Persian) empire hired and paid people regardless of their sex or ethnicity, whereas in fifth-century Athens "less than 14%" of the population participated in democratic government, and "nearly 37%" of the population were slaves. He further states that Sparta "was a military monarchy, not a democracy," and adds that Sparta collectively owned an entire enslaved population (the Helots).
Prior to the release of 300, Warner Brothers 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 of 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, matches 300 to Susan Sontag's definition of "fascist art." David Kahane of the National Review praises the movie for valorizing "Real all-American stuff," in which "heroes [stand] up for God and country".
However, Newsday critic Gene Seymour states that such reactions are misguided, writing that "the movie's just too darned silly to withstand any ideological theorizing." Snyder himself dismisses 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 has attracted controversy over its portrayal of people of the Persian Empire. Various critics, historians, journalists, and officials of the Iranian government including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have denounced the film. As in the graphic novel, the Persians are depicted as a monstrous, barbaric and demonic horde, and King Xerxes is portrayed as androgynous. Critics have suggested that this is meant to stand in stark contrast to the masculinity of the Spartan army. Film critic Dimitris Danikas has suggested that the film portrays Persians as "bloodthirsty, underdeveloped zombies," writing that the filmmakers "are stroking [sic] racist instincts in Europe and America." American critics, including Steven Rea, have argued that the Persians are a vehicle for an anachronistic cross-section of Western stereotypes of Asian and African cultures. Dana Stevens of Slate states that as the "bad" side the Persians are depicted as black people, brown people, homosexual, handicapped and/or deformed in some way.
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."
300 will be released on DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray on July 31, 2007 in Region 1 territories, in single-disc and two-disc editions. The special features include an audio commentary with Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Larry Fong, deleted scenes, 300: Fact or Fiction?, Who Were The Spartans: The Warriors of 300, Frank Miller Tapes, webisodes, and a photo gallery.