This frenetic, computerized gorefest bludgeons and butchers history, recasting the ancient Battle of Thermopylae fought between the mighty Persian Empire and an army of Greeks into a crude and uncomfortably racist romp. Sure, director Zach Snyder can justifiably say his movie is based on the Frank Miller comic book, not Herodotus or Xenophon, but tell that to the generation of American kids who’ll now forever associate Persians with hapless, degenerate sissy men.
The film makes the heroic Spartans — whose digitally enhanced abs ripple in the Hellenic half-light — into champions of freedom and democracy. This when Sparta was in reality one of the least free city-states in all of Greece and notorious for its exploitation and mistreatment of a vast population of slaves, known as Helots. Helot uprisings were a common feature of Spartan history. As for the Persians, 300 makes them out to be swarthy, spineless dissemblers. Their emperor is more campy circus freak than towering monarch; their habits are debauched and debasing. They seem to be able to defeat the noble, muscular Greeks only through deceitful schemes. Of course, this characterization is absurd. Generations of Persian rulers governed over a sprawling, cosmopolitan empire, which included many Greek cities. Some historians argue the Persian campaigns in the Greek peninsula were tantamount to that of a powerful state trying to subdue some rowdy hill-dwelling outliers — an exaggeration too, perhaps, but nowhere near as grotesque as the falsehoods given garish life by 300.