The whole of Asia is descending upon us. Many times more men than there are Greeks. These men are fierce, savage, bloodthirsty, merciless. But that is not the reason why we should fear them. That is not the source of their power. Their power lies in their unity. Unity! Remember that one terrible word which will surely destroy Greece, unless we counter it with a unity of our own. A unity of free men fighting together resisting this united tide of tyranny.
One of my favourite films of the last ten years was the highly enjoyable “300”. It was a film that you could just sit back and enjoy without having to think too much, unfortunately some people didn’t understand that it was a soldier telling an exaggerated story to motivate an army (such as goat men, every woman is a mutant, famous Persian fighting units being portrayed as monsters, etc) and took it as as being a racist film. Those that didn’t realise what was going on missed out on something, but maybe they would enjoy this 1962 version of the story instead.
I am a big fan of Greek mythology films. It all started with the 1963 telling of “Jason and the Argonauts” and since then I have enjoyed pretty much all film from the genre, with the exception of 2011’s horrendous “Immortals” (the story of Theseus) and the Sam Worthington take on “Wrath of the Titans”. I have read Homer’s “Iliad” on a few occasions so know most of the stories quite well and I am fascinated by the genre.
Whilst it isn’t as exciting (for lack of better words) as the remake, “The 300 Spartans” certainly holds it’s own in the Greek mythology genre.
King Leonidas of Sparta (Egan) refuses an offer from Xerxes of Persia (Farrer) to join their army instead of being laid waste to as they plan on expanding the empire. In response Xerxes sends an army of countless thousands to destroy Sparta and send a message to the individual city states of Greece.
The Ephors, a powerful group of mystics, deny Leonidas the chance to go to war, he comes up with a plan to still defend Sparta without breaking the law. He takes 300 of his best men as his personal bodyguard as he marches towards Thermopylae. Although the Spartans are joined by a group of Greeks, their are significantly outnumbered and is seems almost inevitable that they will lose.
Camping themselves in a narrow passage, the Spartans prove more than a match for their Persian counterparts, however, a bitter Ephialtes (Moore) could prove the difference after Leonidas rejects his request to join the Spartan army.
So, it is as good as the remake?
This isn’t like when I compare the second or third film in a trilogy to the first, this is completely different. The films were made more 45 years apart and therefore it is impossible to compare them fairly, especially as they’re not even slightly done in a similar style. Because of this I am not going to compare it to it’s remake.
With films based on actual events the first thing that you will always look for is accuracy and based on all that I know of the Battle of Thermopylae, this film does a good job. Much like the aforementioned “Jason and the Argonauts”, it was done in a time when there weren’t any computers, at least not any capable to add special effects, and therefore the films can only be judged on their characters, setting and story, and for me this does an excellent job.
Initially the film was going to be shot in Thermopylae but that was impossible due to 2,500 years of silt build up, turning it into a coastal plane, so they used the village of Perachora and it serves excellently as a believable location for a battle. It looks great due to the surroundings largely matching ancient Thermopylae and this makes it feel considerably more authentic. I’m sure I’m not the only person who prefers films to be made on location as opposed to in a green-screen studio, which is far too common these days.
The acting seems considerably more genuine that modern day actors as they didn’t get the chance to have minor errors corrected so earlier, and in particular Farrer is fantastic as Xerxes. I can’t say that I am overly familiar with Farrer’s work, especially as this turned out to be his final film before his retirement, and I found his portrayal of the character to be far more menacing than Rodrigo Santoro’s portrayal in the remake, and I do like Santoro so I don’t mean that in a bad way, but for me your main antagonist should always seem genuinely threatening, and Farrer did that exceptionally well.
Arguably the most enjoyable part of the film for me was the “win at all costs” mentality from the Xerxes. They go into far more depth than in the remake, including his order to kill all the women that have travelled with his army so that his men not only don’t have that distraction, but will be more determined to get to Sparta to take advantage of the women there.
Infact, I hadn’t seen any actors in this film before or since, other than Donald Houston who was in the original “Clash of the Titans” and this was a refreshing change. It’s very rare to see a film with so few people that you have seen before that isn’t a horror film. That’s not to say that they were an inexperienced cast because the majority had long careers, but my knowledge of films in the 1960s is limited to say the least.
The one thing I could say is that you shouldn’t go into this film expecting a full on adrenaline rush, it’s nothing like the remake and that’s a good thing in man ways because even though they are based on the same events, they both offer something different. I’d even go as far as recommending watching both back to back before casually ignoring “300 : Rise of An Empire”.
Whilst many will prefer the 100mph of the remake, this original is a classic in it’s own right and is more historically accurate.