Friday, May 6, 2011

The 300 Spartans

45 years before the "epic" movie 300, another movie about the Battle of Thermopylae was made: The 300 Spartans. That earlier movie can be seen tomorrow (Saturday, May 7) afternoon at 2:00 PM ET on the Fox Movie Channel.

I... am... Spartan!Richard Egan plays Leonidas, King of the Spartans. The Greek city-states are being attacked by the Persians and their giant army, under King Xerxes. Leonidas realizes that the Persians are going to reach a bottle-neck at the mountain pass at Thermopylae, and that it's critical the Greeks get soldiers there before the Persians do. Meanwhile, Athenian King Themistocles (Ralph Richardson) knows that the Athenians have a better navy than army, and that the Persians don't have much of a navy. So if the Persians can be held off at Thermopylae long enough for him to use his navy effectively, the Greeks might just have a chance to defeat the Persians. However, most of the Greek kings are reluctant to join the fight.

If you've seen a later movie like 300 or are a student of ancient history, you should be able to figure out what happens next. Leonidas marches more or less alone with his woefully undermanned army, but manages to hold off the Persians for some time: after all, only so many people can enter the pass at one time, so most of the Persian soldiers are too far back to join the fight. But, the Spartans are betrayed when the Persians are given information about a way around the pass that will allow them to pincer the Spartans, which results in the deaths of Leonidas and his army. Fortunately for Greece, Leonidas was successful in holding off Darius long enough that the Athenians could fight the decisive naval battle at Salamis.

The 300 Spartans is actually fairly well done. They didn't have CGI at the time, but that works to the movie's benefit. Also, the color looks much nicer than the denatured stuff we get in the movies of today. The characters aren't exactly deep, but that wasn't really the point of this particular historical epic. It would kind of be like asking Nero to be deep as he plays the lyre while watching Rome burn. In fact, the one attempt to add depth is a love story between Leonidas' young aide Phylon and his woman (Barry Coe and Diane Baker) is mostly pointless. On the plus side is location shooting in Greece. The movie got a DVD release, which in the wake of the movie 300 wouldn't be too surprising. What is surprising is that the DVD release came a few years before 300.

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