300 is a 2007 American fantasy action film based on the 1998 comic series of the same name by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. Both are fictionalized retellings of the Battle of Thermopylae within the Persian Wars. The film was directed by Zack Snyder, while Miller served as executive producer and consultant. It was filmed mostly with a super-imposition chroma key technique, to help replicate the imagery of the original comic book.
The plot revolves around King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), who leads 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian “god-King” Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers. As the battle rages, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to rally support in Sparta for her husband. The story is framed by a voice-over narrative by the Spartan soldier Dilios (David Wenham). Through this narrative technique, various fantastical creatures are introduced, placing 300 within the genre of historical fantasy.
300 was released in both conventional and IMAX theaters in the United States on March 9, 2007, and on DVD, Blu-ray Disc, and HD DVD on July 31, 2007. The film received mixed to positive reviews, receiving acclaim for its original visuals and style, but criticism for favoring visuals over characterization and its depiction of the ancient Persians in Iran, which some had deemed racist; however, the film was a box office success, grossing over $450 million, with the film’s opening being the 24th largest in box office history at the time. A sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, which is based on Miller’s unpublished graphic novel prequel Xerxes, was released on 7 March 2014.
Over Dilios’ narration, the life of young Leonidas is depicted, chronicling his journey from a boy to a man per Spartan doctrine. Years later, after Leonidas is crowned King, Persian messengers arrive at the gates of Sparta demanding its submission to King Xerxes. Offended by their threats and behavior, King Leonidas and his guards kick the messengers into a well. Leonidas visits the Ephors, proposing a strategy to repel the numerically superior Persians by using the terrain of Thermopylae (the Hot Gates) – his plan involves funneling the Persians into a narrow pass between the rocks and the sea. The Ephors consult the Oracle, who decrees that Sparta must not go to war. As Leonidas departs, a messenger from Xerxes appears, rewarding the Ephors for their covert support.
Defying the Ephors, Leonidas follows his plan, gathering 300 of his best soldiers. Along the way to Thermopylae, they are joined by Arcadians and various other Greeks. They construct a wall at Thermopylae to contain the approaching Persian advance. Meanwhile, Leonidas encounters Ephialtes, a hunchbacked Spartan whose parents fled Sparta to spare him certain infanticide. Ephialtes asks to redeem his father’s name by joining Leonidas, warning him of a secret path the Persians could use to outflank and surround them. Leonidas is sympathetic to the eager warrior but rejects him, as Ephialtes cannot properly hold a shield, which would compromise the Spartans’ phalanx formation.
Prior to the battle, the Persians demand that the Spartans lay down their weapons. Leonidas refuses, and with their tightly-knit phalanx formation the Spartans use the narrow terrain to repeatedly rebuff the advancing Persian army. Xerxes personally approaches Leonidas to persuade him to surrender, offering Leonidas wealth and power in exchange for his loyalty. Leonidas declines, promising instead to make the “God-King” bleed. Outraged, Xerxes sends in his elite guard, the Immortals, whom the Spartans dispatch. As the Spartans continue to defeat Xerxes’ forces, Ephialtes defects to the Persian king and reveals the location of the secret path. When they realize Ephialtes’ treachery, the Arcadians retreat. Leonidas orders a reluctant Dilios to return to Sparta to tell the Council of their sacrifice.
In Sparta, Queen Gorgo reluctantly submits sexually to the influential Theron in exchange for help in persuading the Spartan council to send reinforcements to Leonidas. When Theron betrays her in front of the Council, Gorgo kills him out of rage, which spills open a bag of Xerxes’ gold from Theron’s robe. Marking his treachery, the Council unites against Persia. At Thermopylae, as the Persians surround the Spartans, Xerxes’ general demands their surrender, again offering Leonidas titles and prestige. Leonidas seemingly bows in submission, allowing one of his men to leap over him and kill the general. A furious Xerxes orders his troops to attack. As Persian archers shoot at the remaining Spartans, Leonidas rises and hurls his spear at Xerxes, cutting the Persian, thus making good on his promise to make “the God-King bleed.” Visibly disturbed by this reminder of his own mortality, Xerxes watches as all of the Spartans are felled by arrows. Concluding his tale before an audience of attentive Spartans, Dilios declares that the 120,000-strong Persian army that narrowly defeated 300 Spartans now faces 10,000 Spartans commanding 30,000 Greeks. Praising Leonidas’ sacrifice, Dilios leads the assembled Greek army into a charge against the Persian army, igniting the Battle of Plataea.
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