Thursday, September 13, 2007

Dir. by Rudolph Maté

Thermopylae is the Greek Alamo. A small group of Greek soldiers held a strategic pass against overwhelming odds because it was their duty.

Before it became a controversial hit, the battle of Thermopylae was the subject of a film way back in 1962. Staring Richard Egan as Leonidas, the Spartan king, Three Hundred Spartans takes a slightly less extreme look at that critical battle.

Xerxes, the king of Persia, has determined to conquer Greece and avenge an earlier defeat of his father at the hands of the Greeks. Xerxes has two voices competing for his ear: Artemisia, the queen of Lycia, and Demaratus, an exiled Spartan king (the Spartans had two kings). While Artemisia flatters Xerxes and tells him how the Greeks are a pushover, Demaratus warns Xerxes that he’s in for a fight.

Meanwhile back in Sparta King Leonidas is working with Themistocles, an Athenian politician, to get a united Greek force to confront the Persian hordes. Unfortuntely, the Spartan elders won’t go for it and Leonidas is on his own.

Phelan, a young warrior, has an even bigger problem. Queen Gorgo herself has given him his shield, with the classic Spartan injunction: come home with your shield or on it. Phelan’s got a beautiful girl and he’s going to war, that’s heaven for a Spartan. Alas, his father was spotted in the company of Demaratus at the Persian court. Phelan is stripped of his rank. Under these trying circumstances this disparate group meets in one of Antiquity’s bloodiest battles.

Three Hundred Spartans is not exactly Spartacus. The acting is more dinner theater than Hollywood. I half expected Xerxes to twirl his mustache and say, “A curse upon these Spartans! They have foiled me again!” Well, actually that would have been cool, but you can’t get everything.

The battle scenes are actually pretty well done, considering that they did not seem to have enough extras. The troops look like guys who’ve been in a week-long hand-to-hand fight. The big problem with the lack of extras is that the Spartan phalanx is reduced to single lines with large spaces between them. The claustrophobic confines of clashing shield walls gets on screen, but rather late in the game.

Overall, the film holds rather well to history. The real virtue is not so much the rather limited storyline as the sense of drama inherent in the clash of cultures diametrically opposed in their politics and way of life. While I might not pay hard cash to add it to my collection, you can always ask your library to get it for you.

-Dave Hardy


Charles Gramlich said...

A related movie that I watched and really liked was "Go Tell the Spartans," a Vietnam war movie about a valiant last stand. It was quite good.

Dave Hardy said...

That's one I've never seen. I'm partial to war movies. Not all of them though. I watched a lot of routine WWII shoot-'em-ups wen I was a kid. I tend to look for a different setting or an unusual take: Zulu (for its setting) or Paths of Glory (for its harsh look at military politics) or Southern Comfort (technically NOT a war movie, but its really Viet Nam in Lafayette Parish)