Cast & Crew
In 480 B. C. Emperor Xerxes of Persia plans a massive invasion of Greece. Themistocles of Athens calls an emergency meeting of all the Greek rulers and King Leonidas of Sparta suggests that his legions check the Persians at the narrow pass of Thermopylae, thereby giving the other Grecian states time to mobilize. But Sparta's ultimate ruling body, the Council of Euphors, decrees that there can be no fighting during the religious festival in progress; and Leonidas is left with only his personal retinue of 300 men. As they make their way to Thermopylae, they are followed by a young Spartan soldier, Phylon, who has been falsely accused of being a traitor's son, and his beloved Ellas, the niece of Leonidas. The Persians attack, and great numbers of their soldiers are slaughtered in the narrow pass. But the Spartans are betrayed by a goatherd, Ephialtes, who tells the Persians of a little-known trail by which they can traverse the mountain and attack the Spartans from the rear. Though warned of the imminent danger, Leonidas chooses to make a stand. After sending Phylon and Ellas back to Athens to warn the Greeks and tell them of the Spartans' resistance, he and his men form a wedge of shields and hold their ground until they are totally overwhelmed by the Persians. Their sacrifice serves to unite the Greeks, and a few months later the Persian army is annihilated at the Battle of Plataea.
John G. Contes
Gian Paolo Callegari
Remigio Del Grosso
Anna Maria Fea
Fred R. Simpson
George St. George
George St. George
The 300 Spartans on Blu-ray
The historical background is quickly sketched in via introductory crawls and stentorian narration while we watch the march of the Persian army through the ancient world. The production doesn't have the resources to show the scope of the invasion force so instead we get shot after shot of marching columns and discussions of the enormous size of the army to get the point across. It isn't until King Xerxes (David Farrar, sounding a lot like Ian McKellan) lets a captured Spartan spy go free (so he can spread the word of impending doom) that we get to Greece, where the heads of the free city states debate the response to the upcoming assault. Richard Egan, who was strictly second-tier leading man material but had credentials swinging swords and wearing togas in such period pieces as Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954) and Esther and the King (1960), stars as King Leonidas of Sparta, but he's largely silent during the debate. It's Themistocles of Athens (Sir Ralph Richardson) who dominates the scene, and for good reason. The great British actor is almost unrecognizable behind his stage beard but his voice is unmistakable and delivers his lines like tactical weapons, punctuating his points with wary glances and cagey pauses. You can believe that his silver-tongued speech and cutting asides really does sway the assembly. The stiff, stalwart Egan is really little more than a prop in his presentation, a fact that becomes evident in the next scene.
The basic story follows the historical record and Miller's fanciful take: the warrior king leads his own personal force of bodyguards into battle when the elders of his city state refuse to send the army against the invading army of Xerxes. The Spartan council takes an isolationist stand--they want Athens and other states of Southern Greece to handle their own defense and to hold back their forces for their own personal defense--but Leonidas has given his word and as we know, honor and duty are more important than survival to the Spartans.
It's the details and subplots that are different. Miller's graphic novel and Snyder's film dwell on the extremes of Sparta's warrior culture, the political schemes within the ruling council, and the perversions of the city's religious oracles, not to mention the oiled-up torsos of warriors who look more like runway models at a Mr. Universe pageant than soldiers. The 300 Spartans is much more conventional, a straightforward conflict of an ambitious Persian king determined to revenge himself on Greece by conquering it and the stalwart warriors ready to give their lives to protect their country and their honor. The Spartans are fitted out in bronze armor and red cloaks (much more suited to battle than the speedos of Snyder's film) and the battles play out in the scrub field in front of the pass of Thermopylae, a sunny, otherwise picaresque location that is surely more historically accurate than the grim, rocky arena-like creation of Snyder's 300. But it's also a pokey film that gets bogged down in stilted debates in generic old world sets and a silly romantic subplot involving Leonidas's niece Ellas (a perky, giddy Diane Baker) and Phylon (Barry Coe), the son of a seemingly traitorous Spartan warrior camped out with Xerxes's troops. For reasons not quite clear, Ellas treks along with the disgraced Phylon, who follows the troops to prove his loyalty to the Spartans but neglects to pack along anything like food or water or a tent.
Hollywood veteran Rudolph Maté was no epic director but he did spend decades as a cinematographer before moving into the director's chair and he composes a handsome image, helped in no small part by lovely locations in the mountains and rivers of Greece. While he doesn't have the numbers to fill the frame with endless bodies in battle, he uses the smaller groupings to show us the tactics in action. Some of the individual actor in the battle can get a little sloppy, something that becomes more apparent with the clarity of Blu-ray, but the big sweeping movements are usually quite effective and sometimes--especially in the final battles--quite striking. The performances are another story. Farrar brings nuance to the role of the would-be conqueror confounded by the tactics and tenacity of the tiny Spartan force and Richardson classes up the film in his brief screen time (he's in a mere four scenes), but the rest of the cast tends to stiff pageantry, reciting lines rather than committing themselves to dramatic engagement.
The CinemaScope production is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen from a clean but faded master with muted colors. Geoffrey Unsworth's cinematography isn't as crisp as the big-budget studio epics but that seems to be an issue with the film itself rather than the mastering: various planes tend to shift out of focus through the film and some close-ups look a little distorted by the anamorphic lens. The supplements are limited to American and Spanish theatrical trailers (widescreen and color) and three TV spots (Academy ratio in black and white) and are not mastered in HD.
by Sean Axmaker
The 300 Spartans on Blu-ray
Filmed on location in Greece. The working title of this film is Lion of Sparta.