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300 by Frank Miller & Lynn Varley March 7, 2007

Posted by a Wristfister in Action, Books, Comic book, graphic novel, Historical Fiction, war.
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FM300

Published by: Dark Horse Comics [1999], hardcover [initially published as a monthly five-issue comic book in 1998], 88 pages, ~$30.00

Reviewed by: Bowie

Synopsis: The Battle of Thermopylae occurred in 480 BC, when 300 Spartan warriors and other Greek allies, lead by Spartan King Leonidas, held back an overwhelming Persian invasion force before being ultimately destroyed. This graphic novel is a reimagining of that famous last stand.

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Review: With the movie adaptation coming to theaters soon, I wanted to read the source material before seeing Zack Synder’s film. More a dynamic dramatization, than an accurate historical account, this epic retelling is a bloody, action-packed thrill ride that hits you right between the eyes like a ten-foot spear. If you are looking for a good historical fictional account of this battle, I highly recommend Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire. Frank Miller’s take is certainly an entertaining read and brings a visceral element to the classic, almost legendary tale. [It should be noted that Warner Bros’ 300 the movie is based solely on Frank Miller’s work and NOT Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, but that Universal Studios has bought the option for a Gates of Fire movie.] The art is beautifully rendered as one would expect from the renowned creator of Sin City and The Dark Knight Returns, with appropriately complementary watercoloring by Lynn Varley in a subtle and aged palette. The writing is bold and highly quotable (“…for tonight we dine in HELL!”) and Miller does a good job of incorporating both myths and facts about Spartan society int the narrative. Overall, it is a spectacular graphic novel by a talented storyteller about one of history’s most fascinating events.

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Comments»

1. Bowie - March 10, 2007

ADDENDUM

I just saw 300 in the theater and it is as visually arresting as the trailer promises. It showcases the most beautifully filmed sword & sandal-style violence I have seen thus far, which is to say that this movie is a fantastic feast for the eyes. While not entirely historically accurate (Miller’s graphic novel isn’t either nor does it pretend to be), this film is the ultimate in cinematic fun. Shamelessly graphic in its portrayals of death, this is a sensually vivid and bombastic film that while not intellectually profound, succeeds in presenting a very stylized (and masculine) vision of the Battle of Thermopylae.

2. Jason - March 12, 2007

Nice write up. I’m glad someone’s got this engine moving.

I’ve actually heard negative things about the graphic novel, yet nothing but praise for the movie. But then again, I hear a lot of things around the way.

On a side note, I really enjoy the visual aids you’ve provided. Also, it seems you’ve gone the high-road and excised the number rating altogether. lol, I’ve been thinking about doing that, so that everyone will actually read the review instead of jumping towards a number.

3. Bowie - March 12, 2007

Yes, I’m glad someone noticed that I stopped with the numerical rating. You’re right; I’d have rather folks read the review and not simply see my highly subjective grade.

4. Laura - March 15, 2007

Very informative! I was debating whether or not this movie would be something I would enjoy…perhaps reading the book first will fuel my interest.

5. Markus - March 16, 2007

Movie and graphic novel were both highly “arresting.” The movie especially was so “arresting” that I am seriously considering going back to the theater and get myself “re-arrested.” I have heard many people talk about it, some with mixed feelings. Some say the movie has no plot, which makes it dumb. But sometimes, people just need to accept the fact that a movie about pure honor and sheer will-power can be enough to keep the audience flabbergasted and of course “arrested” for every minute of it.

6. Bowie - March 17, 2007

Markus, your sarcasm is duly noted. I probably could have used the words “stunning” or “commanding”, but “arresting” is what came to mind.

On a different note, I’ve recently read some other commentary on “300” as an allegory for our current crisis in the Middle East. To that I shall respond with the following quote by my favorite author:

“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

Frank Miller wrote 300 in 1998. He was inspired by a 1962 movie titled “300 Spartans”. The events depicted in 300, albeit fantastical in a splashy comic-book style, are based on a historical event which has no bearing toward current political situations.

7. Yasmin - April 15, 2007

Steven and I saw “300” this weekend and guess what…..I haaated it!
Yes, the cinematography is stunning and of course, I did enjoy the legions of hot, chiseled bodies parading about…..but beyong that – this film was nothing but a porno-military orgy. Awful dialogue, no character development and some not so subtle racist and homo-phobic overtones (all the “bad” guys are dark skinned? Xerxes is a highly effiminate freak who indulges in one orgy after the other). I invite you to read the New Yorker’s review of the film, which provides of a thoughtful analysis of the film in the current geo-political climate:

“Still, the Iranians have a point: though first planned years ago, “300” is a political fable that uneasily engages the current moment. An all-volunteer expeditionary force of Spartans ventures forth, the warriors sacrificing themselves to stop the invading hordes from killing their wives and children, which may be an allusion to the Bush Administration’s get-them-in-Iraq-before-they-hit-us-here rationale. The Spartans also fight, as a lofty narration informs us, “against mysticism and tyranny.” Against mysticism? How many ancient armies went to their deaths with that as their battle song? And how many men have died, as the Spartans do, to defend “reason”? A whiff of contemporary disdain for the East—what the late Edward Said called “Orientalism”—arises from the mayhem: “300” turns into a dawn-of-democracy epic in which violence is marshalled to protect the future of Western civilization. Made in a time of frustration, when Americans are fighting a war that they can neither win nor abandon, “300” and “Shooter” feel like the products of a culture slowly and painfully going mad. ♦”

8. Bowie - April 16, 2007

I read the NYtimes’ very good review before seeing the film. I counter with the following:

If “300” carried any intellectual heft (if, in other words, it was scrupulous with historic details), one could see the point of thrashing these provocative notions to their metaphoric nubs. But this movie in no way pretends to be a replication of historical events. It is, instead, a willed hallucination of ancient history goosed with mutant warriors, rhinos outfitted like Sherman tanks and a King Xerxes who’s dolled up with enough glittering threads and glossy makeup to make every David Bowie wanna-be from the mid-1970s chew his knuckles in fuming envy.

Put bluntly, the movie’s just too darned silly to withstand any ideological theorizing. And “silly” is invoked here, more or less, with affection.

Sometimes a silly fanboy movie about comic book violence is just that. No more, and perhaps even less.

9. Yasmin - May 28, 2007

Yasmin:
Yes – 300 is a lavish comic book film meant to be enjoyed with a group of friends over pop-corn – pure entertainment. Nevertheless, for the average American viewer that only knows Iran in the context of “the axis of evil”, this film probably just re-inforces their view of the Middle East as a barbaric, terrorist society out to get “the West”. As I dont see any mainstream films countering this view, I am concerned with the not so subtle message of the movie.
Films, books, essays etc. form the discourse of a society and so inform much of public opinion. As part of the larger cultural landscape, they re-inforce particular views and frame a debate. Yes, movies are entertainment, but they also are important agents of social dialogue and a reflection of the times we live in. Perhaps 300 is simpling mirroring the view prevalent in American society today.

10. KT - October 30, 2008

Here’s a news alert, Yasmin: the Iranian regime is our enemy. Look at how they treat their own people before you go prattle on about every geo-political sensitivity that the movie had nothing to do with. The line: “and of course, I did enjoy the legions of hot, chiseled bodies parading about” really shows your neophyte, adolescent understanding of the world. Maybe you should stick with that before mouthing what the New Yorker told you to think.

11. stormstrike - June 2, 2010

Three years late to the discussion, and I got here by searching for Frank MIller’s art. (I owned copies of the 300 graphic novel about 10 years ago, then gave it to a friend.)

But I think time has proven that New Yorker Review wrong — Iraq is calm, no one remembers the movie Shooter (because we know it sucked even if we didn’t watch it), and people like Yazmin have probably moved on to stretch new movies into critiques of American foreign policy.

I particularly liked how Yazmin asserted (by assumption) that “the average American viewer only knows Iran in the context of the ‘Axis of Evil’.” The scientific method: Yazmin said it!

Thermopylae wasn’t even the decisive battle in the second Persian war, the Greeks were not fighting out of religious zealotry, and there is a massive difference between pitched hoplite battles and modern-day insurgents who by definition avoid “traditional” warfare.

And the idea that the Greeks were the Americans and the Persians were the poor, misunderstood…what, exactly? They’re not Arabs. And they weren’t Muslims — back then they were worshiping Ahura Mazda, not Allah.

So the Persians are the not-Arabs-not-Muslims, and somehow the Spartans, people from a freakin’ village, for crying out loud, were the white American oppressors? I mean, do you make a basic effort to understand history? How is was *village* of 50,000 people gonna subjugate one of histories most far-reaching empires?

Yeah, the village was renowned for its martial prowess. Yeah, it was influential. And yeah, it could field a formidable military — but it never fielded more than 10,000 full Spartiates in a single battle, and before the Persians invaded twice, it never showed interest in exercising control over anything except Argos and Corinth, two cities in its own backyard.

Furthermore, Sparta could not become a major power and its leaders knew that — they had enough problems at home with the helots, which was the biggest reason their ambitions never really went past Greek territory, even after Sparta defeated Athens.

And Sparta would have stayed a tiny little village with outsized — but severely limited — military power if not for Epaminondas and the Thebans, which in turn paved the way for Phillip and Alexander.

So you could even make the case that, had Sparta remained the primary Greek power, the Greeks would have never had the ambition to conquer other people, Alexander wouldn’t have perfected Theban tactics, the city-states would never have been united, the Persian empire would not have fallen to the Greeks, and “Iran” might be a Zoroastrian state right now instead of a place where Ahmadinejad holds his Holocaust revisionist sleepovers with buddies like David Duke.

Apologies for getting into the realm of alternate history there, but I found it necessary to point out just how ridiculous Yazmin’s posts were.

Greetings from ’10 as I necro this conversation.


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