King Leonidas: Earth and water... you'll find plenty of both down there!
300 is the Zack Snyder film based on the Frank Miller Graphic Novel that he wrote after seeing The 300 Spartans, which is based on the Battle of Thermopylae as described by Herodotus as occurring in 480 BC. This film is at the extreme end of Adaptation Distillation.
A young, one-eyed Spartan soldier relates to a group of soldiers how recent events came to pass. King Leonidas of Sparta refuses to bow to the God King Xerxes' demands for Sparta to submit to the Persian Empire. A visit to the deformed, elderly Ephors and their Oracular Urchin/Sex Slave brings worse news: Sparta cannot wage war against the armies of Persia on the eve of the sacred Carneia festival.
After much deliberation, Leonidas himself defies the oracles' prophecies; gathering three hundred of Sparta's finest soldiers and calling them his "personal bodyguard", Leonidas plans to walk to the Hot Gates (Thermopylae), a narrow pass between the ocean and mountains. By rebuilding an ancient wall to bottleneck the vast Persian army, the superior fighting ability of the Spartans would conceivably make up for the small size of their army. Seven hundred or so other Greeks turn up as Leonidas and the 300 make their way to the Hot Gates, and a hideously deformed Spartan man called Ephialtes also joins the convoy to ask Leonidas for a place on the battlefield; in exchange, Ephialtes will give the king information about an unguarded path that would leave the Spartans wide open to retaliation from behind. Leonidas refuses to accept Ephialtes into the fighting ranks -- it would leave a weak point in their defense -- and returns his attention to preparing for the battle.
When the Persian Army brings its forces down on the Hot Gates, the Spartans' plan works perfectly, and a lot of one-sided ass-kicking ensues.
In the meantime, the bizarrely-named (yet incredibly hot) Queen Gorgo tries to persuade the Spartan politicians to support Leonidas, but Theron -- scarily played by Dominic West -- is the most stubborn of the lot.
The battle goes exactly according to Leonidas' plan; the skill and perfect defensive position of the Spartans proves to be too much even for the monstrous Persian army. The kill count is obscenely lopsided, and the only real problem occurs when Ephialtes sells his information to Xerxes for women, wealth and a (horrible) uniform.
300 is very stylized, as it's presented as a morale-boosting story by Dilios, a Spartan orator, on the eve of the Battle of Platea in 479 BC. Word of God states that Dilios doesn't let the facts get in the way of his story; he intentionally leaves out a lot of extra detail, exaggerates pretty much everything, recounts dialogue of scenes that he didn't witness and would be unknown to him, and paints everything in pretty broad strokes. (As an example: the legions of the Persians are monstrously inhuman, whereas the Spartans are all white, muscular men.)
If you want some historical background: while the movie is stylized, it is still accurate (in very Broad Strokes) as to what happened. Many of the lines are taken verbatim from the accounts of Herodotus and other ancient historians (though their objectivity has been questioned by historians and scholars). Xerxes had the nickname of "The Avenger" due to the Persians losing a prior war against the Greeks under King Darius. There was also a second prong of the invasion that arrived by sea and was dealt with by Athens' navy and the other Greek city-states.
Zack Snyder is reportedly working on a "sequel" to 300 which would show the war from the Athenian point of view, and Frank Miller is working on a prequel about Xerxes.
- Absurdly Sharp Blade: Both sides hack a lot of limbs and heads off quite cleanly, despite having only iron weapons.
- Acceptable Feminine Goals: As was the case in real life, Spartan women seem to take the highest pride in giving birth to strong Spartan soldiers. Gorgo boasts, "Only Spartan women give birth to real men." In fact, only women who died in childbirth merited a tombstone in ancient Sparta.
- Acoustic License: At the end of the film, the narrator is talking to an army of over a thousand men. Somehow, the guys way in the back, who are probably half a mile away, hear him perfectly fine.
- Adaptational Badass: Invoked slightly. The original comic was still filled with badasses but the movie version went straight into pure fantasy with monsters and combat feats that defy the laws of physics. The movie was more of a comic book than the comic book.
- Adaptation Expansion: The entire Gorgo subplot was created for the movie.
- Adrenaline Time: Used extensively. It's mocked in a number of the parodies of this film.
- Aggressive Negotiations: What the "This is Sparta!!!!" scene amounts to.
- Alternate DVD Commentary: If you love 300 and think it's awesome, you should check out the Riff Trax. If you hate 300 with the passion of a thousand nations of the Persian Empire, you should definitely check out the Rifftrax.
- Amazon Brigade: Gorgo's attitude and actions suggest that Leonidas wasn't kidding when he said he could march Sparta's women to Thermopylae instead of its men. Spartan women actually did enjoy more political power than in other Greek city-states, since their husbands were so often off at war.
- Armor Is Useless: Played so very straight.
- Artistic License: As Frank Miller put it, he doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story.
- Artistic License History: The movie is so obviously not meant to reflect actual history. In fact, historical records of the event are already believed to be rather sensationalized and greatly embellished. Zack Snyder and Frank Miller also drew inspiration from ancient artwork, which, much like Hollywood, glamorize battles of the past. Audiences have loved muscle-bound, half-naked supermen kicking the snot out of each other for quite a while. The embellishment is heavily implied as part of the Greek propaganda even during the film. On the other hand, Zack Snyder did state rather audaciously that the history presented in the film is "90% accurate, although the visuals are pretty crazy". However, none of these explain a few details:
- The Spartan soldiers' disdain for the Ephors and the supernatural in general. Spartans were particularly religious for Ancient Greeks.
- Leondias criticizes Athenians as "boy-lovers." Spartans were even more committed to pederasty, the relationship between adult men and adolescent boys, than the other Greek city-states.
- Adultery was not shameful in Sparta.
- Author Tract: Critics have argued a lot about whether or not the film is an allegorical author tract, whose tract it is, and who represents what.
- Autobots Rock Out
- Axe Crazy: Every other Greek believes the Spartans to be this. They aren't wrong...
- Back-to-Back Badasses: Stelios and Astinos.
- Badass: The story's goal is to essentially portray the Spartans as the biggest badasses of all human history.
- Badass Army:
- The Spartans, who are portrayed as suicidally infatuated with carnage and glory.
- Subverted by the Immortals, who were never defeated in Xerxes' army of a thousand nations, but become an army of mooks when they meet the Spartans.
- Badass Beard: Leonidas is the most prominent example.
- Badass Boast: There is a reason the term "laconic wit" was named for the Spartans. They had a deep cultural love for pithy, badass statements.
- As recorded/invented by Plutarch: Leonidas' laconic reply, "Come and get them!" when the Persians demand that the Spartans surrender their weapons. The original Greek, "Molōn labe", is the motto of the Greek I Army Corps, as well as the United States Special Operations Command Central.
- Another example, also taken straight from Herodotus, is when they are warned that the Persian army is so great, its arrows will blot out the Sun. A Spartan soldier casually replies, "Then we will fight in the shade."
- Gorgo's reply to the messenger's query of why she dared to speak in the presence of men "Because only Spartan women give birth to real men" was something she actually said, although historically she said it to a visiting Athenian lady, not a Persian messenger.
- Badass Cape: The Spartan army.
- Bald of Evil: Xerxes again.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: The Ephors are grotesque, lecherous and corrupt. Many of the villainous Persians are freakish and inhuman. Ephialtes betrays his fellow Spartans when they do not accept him for his deformity.
- Black Dude Dies First: Messenger from Xerxes in the beginning of the movie.
- Blatant Lies: "I thought to take a short stroll. These three hundred soldiers are my personal bodyguard." The counselors clearly know he is lying, but can't do anything about it.
- Bottomless Pit: Where the Spartans threw the Persian messenger who demanded their surrender. Actually Truth in Television; in Real Life, the Spartans heard that the Athenians threw their messenger off a cliff, said, "We can do better than that," and threw theirs down a well.
- Bowdlerise: Male genitalia appeared in the graphic novel, while all male characters wear at least their Spartan shorts in the film.
- Chroma Key: All but one shot were done in a Montreal soundstage in front of a blue screen.
- Conservation of Ninjitsu: 300 vs 1,000,000.
- Cultural Posturing: Leonidas and Xerxes exchange proud statements about their cultures during their first meeting.
- Deadpan Snarker: Leonidas, early on in the film.
- Decapitation Presentation: As noted in the page quote, the Messenger starts his interview by trying to intimidate Leonidas with a sackful of the severed heads of those who refused his offer.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: The Spartans are portrayed overall as good guys, but the story still contains reminders of their complete insanity. It opens with one of them lovingly describing mass ritual infanticide.
- Den of Iniquity: Xerxes' royal pavilion, filled with drugged courtiers, freaks and all forms of sex. Xerxes throws such a swingin' party that even Baphomet shows up.
- Deus Ex Machina: Totally subverted. The Spartans celebrate when a storm hits the Persian ships only for the rest of the fleet to arrive the next morning.
- Diagonal Cut: Horizontal, but the same effect.
- Disney Villain Death: The Persian messenger ends up being kicked into the well, shortly after the infamous dialogue between him and Leonidas.
- "The let's give them something to drink. To the cliffs!"
- Doomed Moral Victor: A 300-man bodyguard of those.
- Elite Mooks: The Immortals. They don't fare much better than regular mooks, but they are the first ones to kill Spartans.
- The Empire: The Persians.
- Equal Opportunity Evil: The legions of Xerxes are from all over the world (including Africa and Japan, apparently), and he even hires hunchbacks, which actually is Truth in Television, as the Persians had territory in the Middle East, parts of India (or at least Pakistan), and also ruled part of North Africa. The Greeks, however, were all... Greek.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Captain Artemis as "Captain".
- Evil Laugh: Stelios.
- Evil Plan: The battle at Thermoplyae is triggered by Xerxes' desire to take over Greece.
- Evil Sounds Deep: They really lower Rodrigo Santoro's voice for Xerxes.
- Exact Words: The Persian emissary demands that Sparta give the traditional tokens of submission: earth and water. Leonidas complies by throwing the emissary down a well.
- Eyepatch of Power: Dilios.
- Eye Scream: Leonidas stabbing the Persian giant with a knife.
Leonidas: You going to be alright with that scratch?
- Face Heel Turn: Ephialtes.
- Fan Service: Want your girlfriend to watch a comic book movie and get incredibly horny? Rent this movie; though keep in mind she won't be thinking about you later.
- A Father to His Men: Leonidas as this exchange proofs:
Xerxes: It isn't wise to stand against me, Leonidas. Imagine what horrible fate awaits my enemies when I would gladly kill any of my own men for victory.
- Faux Affably Evil: Xerxes fancied himself as "kind".
- Final Speech
- Five-Man Band:
- Foreign Money Is Proof of Guilt: The fact that Theron had Persian coins on him when he died serve to convince the assembly that he was a traitor.
- Genre Blindness: Astinos should have been well-trained enough to know that hearing anyone crying out his name in terror would mean he was in imminent danger and take action accordingly. He loses his head for it.
- Giant Mook: At least two of them are fought in battle.
- Glowing Eyes of Doom:
- In the scene where the (black) emissary of Xerxes bribes the priests of the oracle; the emissary fades to a silhouette with only his eyes remaining, glowing white.
- Also, the eyes of the wolf Leonidas slays for his initiation.
- God-Emperor: Xerxes, reflecting an actual belief the ancient Persians had and explaining why the "making him bleed" bit was so dramatic. The Persians were actually mostly Zoroastrian in real life, monotheistically believing in the divinity of a single deity, not that of their king.
- A God Am I: Xerxes.
- Good People Have Good Sex: Leonidas and Gorgo.
- Have I Mentioned I Am a Dwarf Today?: It is very important that there is no doubt they are Spartans.
- The Hero Dies: Leonidas and all 300 Spartans, with the sole exception of Dilios.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: The Spartans.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: The Persians.
- Hollywood Costuming: The Spartans are dressed in loincloths save for their helmets and shields. This was based on the Greek fondness for athletic male figures in artwork, which fitted in well with Frank Miller's superhero comic background.
- Honor Before Reason
- Hot Dad: Leonidas, Artemis.
- Hot Mom: Gorgo, as well as some of the other Spartan women in the background. Spartans breed out deformity and infirmity, after all.
- Hufflepuff House: The Arcadians who come help the Spartans.
Dilios: "Brave amateurs. They do their part."
- Idiot Ball: Leonidas, in spite of being an wise commander, doesn't seem to realize how stupid it is to kick Ephialtes to the curb when he's only other guy who knows about the critical weakness in the Spartans' strategic location. Leonidas refuses to allow him to fight with the Spartans because he is physically unable to hold the line, but he could at least have offered to let him fight with the "brawlers" from the other Greek city-states. At the very least he should have preventing him from just wandering off. It might be explained by sheer Spartan arrogance, however, in assuming that Ephialtes could never be a threat to them.
- I Like Those Odds: At the end, just before the Battle of Plataea, Dilios points out that though the Persians number 120,000, they are actually scared out of their minds. "The enemy outnumbers us a paltry three-to-one, good odds for any Greek!"
- Instant Oracle, Just Add Water: A meta-example. The oracle's surreal dancing was achieved by filming the actress underwater.
- Ironic Echo: "This will not end quickly." The funny part about this line is that it did end rather quickly.
- I Surrender, Suckers: At the end. They know it'll fail, but it's a cover for Leonidas to use his plan.
- It's What I Do: Leonidas explains to the Arcadians that despite having fewer number he brought more soldiers then they did.
- Karma Houdini: We never see the Ephors punished for selling out their country. It might be presumed that, once corruption in the Senate was discovered, it could be traced back to them.
- Karmic Death, metaphorically, sort of: Queen Gorgo was awesome enough to shank Theron (by surprise) with a borrowed sword some time after he requires a sex-bribe from her, complete with the Ironic Echo mentioned above.
- Kneel Before Zod
- Large and In Charge: Xerxes.
- Large Ham: 300 of them.
- Last Stand
- Lighter and Softer: 300 - PG Version.
- Like Reality Unless Noted: Averted, which many of the people criticizing the film were not aware of.
- Loin Cloth
- Loophole Abuse: Leonidas legally cannot send his army to fight the Persians. So, he decides to just take a walk. To the Hot Gates, a strategic point. With 300 bodyguards.
- Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me
- Made of Iron:
- The Spartans...
- The Giant Mook that Leonidas fights during the Immortals' assault takes this to a perhaps even crazier level, casually removing a sword stabbed all the way through his upper arm and continuing without any real sign of discomfort or impaired ability.
- Made of Plasticine:...and the Persians.
- Major Injury Underreaction: "It's just an eye. The gods saw fit to give me a spare."
- Male Frontal Nudity: In the comic.
- McNinja: The Immortals.
- Mooks: Pretty much every Persian.
- Mr. Fanservice: The Spartans. Incredibly so. There's a reason why this movie is considered girl porn.
- Narrator All Along: Dilios, in his role of retelling the story as a morale-boosting tale.
- No Indoor Voice: Gerard Butler screams about half his lines in the film. In the comic, Leonidas' dialogue is not drawn as yelling quite so often.
- Off with His Head: Astinos and the Uber-Immortal
- One-Liner: Plenty. Stelios's "Then we shall fight in the shade," Leonidas's "This is SPARTA!", "Tonight we dine in Hell!", and "Come and get them!" The narrator Delios receives a slightly more subtle joke: When asked about his one eye, he replies, "It's only an eye. The gods saw fit to grant me a spare." Probably the most obvious one is Leonidas's comment that "There's no reason we can't be civilized" as his men butcher their wounded enemies. Historically, the Spartans were well trained in philosophy and literature, and several of the above lines were either paraphrased or directly taken from actual accounts of the battle.
- The real-life Spartans were so famous for their One Liners that the term Laconic humor is actually named after them. Take a look at the list!
- Laconic humor was a course at the Spartan military academy. The students would be punished if they didn't answer quickly, forcefully, and wittily.
- All Greeks butchered wounded enemies. One of the main purposes of the butt spike on their spears was to make this more convenient. They simply considered this perfectly fair play as long as the battle was still going on. After the battle though they would also always let the enemy come and get their casualties (looted of their armor of course but that was part of the bet) and take them home. They just had different rules.
- One Sided Battle: Three hundred Spartans and 700 Thespians versus several hundred thousand Persians. The Persians are overwhelmed in battle until the climax.
- Only Sane Man: Daxos the Arcadian is unnerved by the Spartans' axe craziness.
- Opening Monologue: Dilios describing The Spartan Way.
- Outscare the Enemy: A major theme.
Leonidas: You have many slaves, Xerxes, but few warriors. It won't be long before they fear my spears more than your whips.
- Papa Wolf: The Captain completely loses it when his son is killed.
- Patriotic Fervor: Because this was guess where?
- Power Walk: Backed by the thumping anachronism of a track "Fever Dream."
- Praetorian Guard: The Immortals.
- Protagonist-Centered Morality: Leonidas rants about 'an age of freedom'...which freedom? The freedom to hurl babies from a roof because they are not perfect? the freedom to take 7-years-old children away from their mothers and turn them into indoctrinated super-soldiers? The freedom to break the rules of diplomacy because the messenger was nothing more than rude? The freedom to kill wounded, helpless Mooks who are repeatedly stated to be slaves forced against their will to fight by fear and have absolutely nothing against you just for nothing more than spite?
- In the Ancient Greek context it often meant mostly a synonym for "sovereignty". Being a city that takes orders from another city was held to be kind of like being a High School kid who gets his lunch extorted by a bigger kid.
- Proud Warrior Race: Why are 300 Spartans more of a threat than ten thousand troops from other Greek cities? Because the other troops are bakers, potters, bankers, and other civilian professionals who've been conscripted into militia duty. The Spartans are something that had never been seen on Earth before: Full-time professional soldiers.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: The iconic "This! IS! SPARTA!" is the former Trope Namer. Gerard Butler really went the Large Ham route with the role. The comic did not have the emphasis, so this was something Butler added himself. He does the same for "Tonight! We dine! In hell!"
- Pyrrhic Victory: the Persians win, in the technical sense.
- The Quisling: Ephialtes turns the tide of the battle in the Persians' favor by revealing a mountain pass that will allow them to outflank the Greek forces. The Persians also bribe the Spartan priests and a member of their senate to facilitate the Persian conquest.
- Rage Helm: The Immortals wear them.
- Rated "M" for Manly: Warning: this film will impregnate any non-protected viewers, be they men or women.
- A Real Man Is a Killer: If you're not killing your fellow man or dying to him, You Fail Spartan Forever.
- Refuge in Audacity: You think the Spartans are being sarcastically witty about fighting in the shade? They mean it.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Some could argue the whole movie is this, but Artemis' response to his son's death provides the greatest example.
- Rousing Speech: Dilios gives a magnificent one to the combined Greek army just before the credits roll.
- Rule of Cool: The producer of the film is on record as saying, "I don't want anything in this film that isn't COOL."
- Say My Name: Artemis does this, immediately followed by a Big No just before Astinos is beheaded.
- Scarpia Ultimatum: Theron, to Queen Gorgo.
- Scary Black Man: Xerxes is portrayed in this fashion, with Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro's skin having been darkened for the role.
- The Shadow Knows: In the destroyed village, when the young boy approaches Leonidas to tell him about the Persian attackers, his shadow's shape is that of a Persian Immortal.
- Shirtless Scene: To put it mildly. Shirts are apparently outlawed for Spartan men. Shirtless Movie would be more accurate.
- Shoot the Messenger: Almost a Running Gag.
- Shut UP, Hannibal: "This! IS! SPARTA!"
- Sidelong Glance Biopic
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Goodies on the Idealist side, baddies on the Cynical side (specially Theron). But, hey. They are NOT! Pacifist! Idealists!
- Smug Snake: Theron.
- Sorry, Billy, But You Just Don't Have Legs: Sorry Ephilates, but you're too deformed to join the 300 Spartans.
- Sorting Algorithm of Evil: Noted by Dilios as a valid tactic. He chastises Xerxes for sending his best men in while the Spartans are still fresh.
- The Spartan Way: Showcased especially in the beginning with Leonidas's upbringing.
- Stealth Insult: Leonidas' statement to Ephialtes after the latter's betrayal, "May you live forever," doesn't sound like an insult at first. It could be taken to mean that Ephialtes will never get the glory of an honorable death in battle. It could also mean that Ephialtes will always be remembered as a traitor. In fact, even today in modern-day Greece, "Ephialtes" carries the same connotation that calling someone a "Benedict Arnold" would in the US.
- Stripperiffic: Pretty much all the Greeks. Xerxes, too.
- Sword Fight: Leonidas vs Uber-Immortal.
- Take That: Leonidas gets one aimed at Ephialtes. As the latter faces the former whilst the Persians are about to attack, Leonidas tells him, "May you live forever." Hence, either intending that his betrayal should be remembered throughout the generations, or due to that the Spartans valued death in combat highly. Hence Leonidas gave him his version of the finger.
- Testosterone Poisoning: Only Spartan women can handle the sheer manliness!
- Unperson: Xerxes threatens to do this to all of Sparta if Leonidas doesn't bow down to the King of Kings.
- Unreliable Narrator: The whole movie is Dilios telling a campfire story to boost morale, and as Frank Miller said, he doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story. More specifically, he even narrates parts he wasn't even present for (the ending of the battle, for instance).
- Unstoppable Rage: The Captain flies into one of these.
- Villainous Breakdown: Xerxes. In a most epic manner.
- Walking Shirtless Scenes: You could grate cheese on those abs...
- War Elephants: Used by the Persians, until they die of cliff.
- Where Do You Think You Are?: Leonidas gently reminds the Persian messenger that things work a little differently in these parts.
- World of Ham: THIS! IS! THAT! KIND OF! MOVIE!!!
- You Have No Chance to Survive (Make Your Time):
Herald: By noon this day, you will be dead men.