Friday, March 16, 2007

Victor David Hansen's thoughts on 300

I just recieved this from a friend of mine and in light of the recent discussion over the allogations against the movie 300 thought I would pass this along. Below are Victor David Hanson's, a well know military historian, thoughts on the movie.

Victor Davis Hanson on the "300"

I haven't written a formal review of the "300", since I was asked to
write an introduction to the book accompanying the movie, and wouldn't
be a disinterested critic. Below are the reactions I had after seeing
the premier Monday night in Hollywood. I took my son and daughter to
the showing. They had a great time, especially talking to Frank

Last Night at the 300

I went to the Hollywood Premier of the "300" last night, and talked a
bit with Director Zack Snyder, screenwriter Kurt Johnstad, and graphic
novelist Frank Miller. There will be lots of controversy about this
film-well aside from erroneous allegations that it is pro- or
anti-Bush, when the movie has nothing to do with Iraq or contemporary
events, at least in the direct sense. (Miller's graphic novel was
written well before the "war against terror" commenced under President

I wrote an introduction for the accompanying book about the film when
Kurt Johnstad came down to Selma to show me a CD advanced unedited
version last October, but some additional reflections follow from last

There are four key things to remember about the film: it is not
intended to be Herodotus Book 7.209-236, but rather is an adaptation
from Frank Miller's graphic novel, which itself is an adaptation from
secondary work on Thermopylai. Purists should remember that when they
see elephants and a rhinoceros or scant mention of the role of those
wonderful Thespians who died in greater numbers than the Spartans at

Second, in an eerie way, the film captures the spirit of Greek fictive
arts themselves. Snyder and Johnstad and Miller are Hellenic in this
sense: red-figure vase painting especially idealized Greek hoplites
through "heroic nudity". Such iconographic stylization meant sometimes
that armor was not included in order to emphasize the male physique.

So too the 300 fight in the film bare-chested. In that sense, their
oversized torsos resemble not only comic heroes, but something of the
way that Greeks themselves saw their own warriors in pictures. And
even the loose adaptation of events reminds me of Greek tragedy, in
which an Electra, Iphigeneia or Helen in the hands of a Euripides is
portrayed sometimes almost surrealistically, or at least far
differently from the main narrative of the Trojan War, followed by the
more standard Aeschylus, Sophocles and others.

Third, Snyder, Johnstad, and Miller have created a strange convention
of digital backlot and computer animation, reminiscent of the comic
book mix of Sin City. That too is sort of like the conventions of
Attic tragedy in which myths were presented only through elaborate
protocols that came at the expense of realism (three male actors on
the stage, masks, dialogue in iambs, with elaborate choral meters,
violence off stage, 1000-1600 lines long, etc.).

There is irony here. Oliver Stone's mega-production Alexander spent
tens of millions in an effort to recapture the actual career of
Alexander the Great, with top actors like Collin Farrel, Antony
Hopkins, and Angelina Joilie. But because this was a realist endeavor,
we immediately were bothered by the Transylvanian accent of Olympias,
Stone's predictable brushing aside of facts, along with the
distortions, and the inordinate attention given to Alexander's
supposed proclivities. But the "300" dispenses with realism at the
very beginning, and thus shoulders no such burdens. If characters
sometimes sound black-and-white as cut-out superheroes, it is not
because they are badly-scripted Greeks, as was true in Stone's film,
but because they reflect the parameters of the convention of graphic
novels, comic books, and surrealistic cinematography. Also I liked the
idea that Snyder et al. were more outsiders than Stone, and pulled
something off far better with far less resources and connections. The
acting proved excellent-again, ironic when the players are not marquee

Fourth, but what was not conventionalized was the martial spirit of
Sparta that comes through the film. Many of the most famous lines in
the film come directly either from Herodotus or Plutarch's Moralia,
and they capture well, in the historical sense, the collective Spartan
martial ethic, honor, glory, and ancestor reverence (I say that as an
admirer of democratic Thebes and its destruction of Sparta's system of
Messenian helotage in 369 BC).

Why-beside the blood-spattering violence and often one-dimensional
characterizations-will some critics not like this, despite the above

Ultimately the film takes a moral stance, Herodotean in nature: there
is a difference, an unapologetic difference between free citizens who
fight for eleutheria and imperial subjects who give obeisance. We are
not left with the usual postmodern quandary 'who are the good guys' in
a battle in which the lust for violence plagues both sides. In the
end, the defending Spartans are better, not perfect, just better than
the invading Persians, and that proves good enough in the end. And to
suggest that unambiguously these days has perhaps become a
revolutionary thing in itself.
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