SAN DIEGO, California — Imagine fighting five, 10, 15 guys at once, or battling a force so big it outnumbers you and your friends by thousands — fighting even after you know you've lost and death is certain. Imagine fighting through agony and torment and begging for more, wishing, as a spear rips you open, only that you could have taken the enemy who threw it with you. Imagine staring death in the eye and making him blink first, because you're the toughest, most hard-core soldier to ever walk the Earth.
Imagine being that badass. Imagine being a Spartan.
History, meet your doom maker. Frank Miller, the "Sin City" graphic artist/filmmaker who has yet to encounter a decapitation he doesn't like, tells the story of the fated-but-heroic Spartans and their suicidal last stand against the million-man-strong Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylae in "300," adapted for the screen by "Dawn of the Dead" director Zach Snyder.
It's the story of history's ultimate badasses told by two of the industry's biggest — or as one of the film's stars, David Wenham, explained, "It's the story of the 300 Spartans who eventually laid down their lives for something they believed in." Wenham, best known for playing Faramir in "Lord of the Rings," continued, "The defense of their land, the loyalty and the sacrifice for their people."
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Want to see Frank Miller's take on the badass battle for yourself? Click here to watch the "300" trailer.
The brilliance of the Greek strategy was to use the rocky terrain of the mountain pass to its best advantage, funneling the Persian forces into a Spartan phalanx. The enormity of the Persian army held no tactical benefits in such close quarters. In an open field the Spartans wouldn't have lasted an hour. Man against man, however, they could seemingly go on forever.
The dogged army might have found, in Miller, a kindred spirit — a man who historically is not willing to let go of his properties except on his terms. For "300," that meant filming a historical adventure in completely new ways.
"The new rules are that there are no rules, and why should there be? You can break every convention," Wenham asserted. "This is based on a true story, a piece of history, but when you see the film, you're like, 'Wow, it's out there!' You can see it's solidly based in a foundation of truth but [at the same time] it's so different. It's a contemporary retelling of that story infused through the mind of Frank Miller."
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They didn't just defeat the Persians — they decimated them. One after the other, each Persian advance was ripped apart like waves crashing upon a rocky wall. After two days of battle, the Spartans had killed roughly 20,000 Persians. The Spartans themselves lost but a few.
Miller's renditions of these scenes are full of characteristic gore and violence. Snyder wasted no time in translating that grittiness — what he called "a freak show" — to the big screen, employing computer effects to enhance rather than replace Miller's vision.
"It feels like we're making this film in a very different world then you would ever see in 'Troy' or 'Alexander,' " Butler argued, referring to two recent epic-battle pictures. "It's kind of like a hyper-real, virtual world, but is also at the same time real."
The Spartans faced and defeated the very best soldiers the Persian army had to offer, including the legendary "Immortals," an elite regiment of imperial guards. King Leonidas did much of the killing himself, leading his forces by example.
Before the battle, Xerxes offered Leonidas lordship over the whole of Greece, which he would govern as part of the expanded Persian Empire if he would only surrender and lay down his arms. Leonidas responded, "Come take them!" When you're outnumbered by as much as the Spartans were, that's not just hard-core — that's savage. The film's actors knew it was an attitude that had to be portrayed on screen.
"[The King is] just that bit more demonic, insane and brutal than I think the standard Hollywood fare. Giving us an R rating is so exciting, because these guys are so incredibly uncompromising," Butler contended. "To me, it's the opposite of a typical hero's journey where the hero usually gets kicked, he's down on his ass and then gets up and fights at the end. These guys go up against all odds, they kick ass the whole way until the end. There's an arrogance about them. There's a self-love and a self-appreciation which I love, because I feel that they deserve it. They know who they are.
"They know that there is nobody more focused or determined or expert in the art of warfare than they are," he continued. "They're like, 'You know what? Bring it on.' "
The Spartans finally lost their tactical advantage on the third day of battle, when a traitor told the Persians about an alternate trail through Thermopylae and used it to outflank the Greeks. Realizing that without their superior position they were as good as sitting ducks, Leonidas dismissed all the Greek regiments, save his band of 300 warriors. It was Spartan law never to surrender.
The tiny army of brave soldiers fought literally to their deaths.
Twenty-five-hundred years later, they faced a seemingly more menacing foe — the Comic-Con geeks, whose views on the early trailer would go a long way toward determining whether or not the film would be a commercial success (see "Comic-Con Recap: 'Spider-Man 3' Surprises; Snoop, Samuel L. Reveal Inner Geeks").
The viewers at Comic-Con demanded to see the trailer three times consecutively.
"Three times!" Butler enthused. "Well, I think I was one of the ones demanding to see it as well. It was great, actually. It was incredible for me to see the trailer for the first time on the big screen the first time it also was shown to the public, and they went crazy for it."
They lost the battle, but their sacrifice helped win the war. Miller's "300" ensures that history's most badass soldiers won't be forgotten anytime soon.
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