This week’s display features movies that are based on books, including fiction, non-fiction and graphic novels. Frank Miller’s 300 (BOOK ZONE 741.5973 MIL) tells the story of the battle of Thermopylae, a decisive defeat in the war between the combined Greek forces and the invading Persian conqueror Xerxes. The 2007 film (DVD LOBBY 791.43) adapted and directed by Zack Snyder, deviates from the comic, and both neglect a few historical facts! We take a look at the context of 300 the novel and compare it to 300 the movie.
CONTENT WARNING: 300 (2007) is certified 15, for those who are 15 years old or over. It contains graphic violence and scenes of sexual assault.
First, our least favourite part of the graphic novel: Frank Miller’s 300 contains no women. Spartan women were spared the brutality of formal military training, but still highly respected in Spartan society. They owned property, which meant they could vote around 2,400 years before English women. They studied music, dance and poetry, but also wrestled and raced against Spartan men- by contrast, the women in neighbouring Athens were legally owned by their fathers, forbidden from leaving the house and made to completely cover their bodies. Child marriage was common in Athens but unheard of in Sparta- only a fit, intelligent woman could raise strong children who would grow into legendary warriors. The marriage ceremony in Sparta involved a bride with a shaved head dressed in a soldier’s uniform- as Spartan men and women lived separately from early childhood, it was thought a long-haired bride might scare them off! It is conceivable that the soldiers in 300 are all unmarried Spartans under 35- while this would account for the lack of women, there is no excuse for Leonidas’ homophobic language. Soldiers in single-sex regiments were encouraged to form romantic bonds, as men would fight to the death for the people they loved. 100 years after the Battle of Thermopylae, the Spartans were defeated by the Sacred Band of Thebes. Widely regarded as an elite military unit, the Sacred Band was comprised of 150 gay couples.
No women here amongst the Spartan army 😦
Spartan women who died in childbirth were buried with as much honour as men who died on the battlefield. In a memorable scene from the movie, King Leonidas scoffs at a messenger who calls him weak for consulting his wife, Queen Gorgo. He recognises that both he and his kingdom would be nothing without Spartan women. Written for the film by Zack Snyder, Gorgo is based on a real, powerful player in Sparta’s war against Xerxes’ Empire. According to the Greek Historian Herodotus, she really did discover a plot by the invading Persian forces, by decoding a message rather than exposing a traitorous councillor. As her husband King Leonidas leaves for war, she tells him to come back with his shield, or on it- called the ‘mother’s battle cry’ by another historian, Plutarch, this means that it is better for a Spartan to die than conduct themselves poorly in battle. It was considered disgraceful for a Spartan soldier to lose his shield because the shield was used to protect others and not just himself. This is demonstrated by Ephilates, a rightful Spartan denied citizenship due to his disability. There is no place in Sparta for people with physical weaknesses and children who would not survive military training were routinely left outside to die of exposure. Leonidas is surprised that Ephilates has lived into adulthood, and promises he can join the army if he can help make a shield wall. Ephilates is unable to lift his shield above his shoulders, meaning the soldiers on his left and right would be open to the enemy. Ephilates is humiliated, and goes on to betray Leonidas. According to Herodotus, the real Ephilates was one of three local men who attempted to assist the Persian army. He deduced that only Ephilates provided them with correct information, as he was the only one to get his reward- and the only one to find himself with a price on his head. The story is ingrained in Greek folklore to the point that “Ephilates” is still synonymous with “Traitor”, much like the name “Judas”. The name is also used as another word for “Nightmare”!
A Spartan warrior must be able to lift his shield to protect his brothers
300 (2007) was filmed using chroma-key, otherwise known as green-screen, in order to faithfully replicate images as they appear in the graphic novel- the same technique was used in 2005’s Sin City, another Miller adaption. 300 was effectively written in widescreen: each illustration filled an entire double page spread, so the compiled graphic novel is twice as wide as a regular trade paperback. This website shows stills from the movie and panels from the comic side-by-side. If you’re interested in filmmaking, we recommend From Word to Image: Storyboarding and the Filmmaking Process (BOOK ZONE 741.6 BER) Zack Snyder was certainly able to save time by replacing most of his storyboards with Miller’s panels!
300 is a rare example of a landscape-oriented graphic novel
If you enjoyed 300, try our review of Watchmen, another graphic novel adapted for the screen by 300 director Zack Snyder. Watchmen the movie is a labour of love by a genuine fan, who consciously made the decision to faithfully adapt the comic and ignore the movie studio’s demands for less philosophy and considerably more romance!
Previously on Between the Lines, we skipped forward in time to look at some of 2016’s biggest upcoming releases, many of which began life as graphic novels. Begin with part one here.
leg0fenris This is badass-battle-madness accessed at https://flic.kr/p/8EG8rV on 15/01/2016
Chandrasekariah, K 300 accessed at https://flic.kr/p/EqxWC on 15/01/2016
Kore, R 300 accessed at https://flic.kr/p/wkVig on 15/01/2016