Wednesday, August 08, 2007

300: Boys and Ancient History

Last week marked the long awaited (at least at my house) release of the DVD version of 300, the Frank-Miller-based epic about the Greek stand against the Persians at Thermopylae. This is one I previewed before deciding whether Wolfie and Xavier could see it (see my previous post about Movie Mom) because the other Frank-Miller-based movie I saw Sin City gave me nightmares. One look at the naked, writhing and historically inaccurate "Delphic oracle" was enough to make them wait for the DVD. (We just skip the naughty bits.)

Why am I telling you this? Two reasons: first, because the release of 300 on DVD seemed to be kind of underplayed and second, because I think there is some value to using this noninteractive video game to hook middle school boys on ancient history. Victor David Hanson writes in History and the Movie "300":

"Recently, a variety of Hollywood films — from Troy to Alexander the Great — has treated a variety of themes from classical Greek literature and theater. But 300 is unique, a sui generis in both spirit and methodology. The script is not an attempt in typical Hollywood fashion to recreate the past as a costume drama. Instead it is based on Frank Miller’s (of Sin City fame) comic book graphics and captions. Miller’s illustrated novelette of the battle adapts themes loosely from the well-known story of the Greek defense, but with deference made to the tastes of contemporary popular culture.

So the film is indeed inspired by the comic book; and in some sense its muscular warriors, virtual reality sets, and computer-generated landscapes recall the look and feel of Robert Rodriquez’s screen version of Sin City. Yet the collaboration of Director Zack Snyder and screenwriters Kurt Johnstad and Michael Gordon is much more of a hybrid, since the script, dialogue, cinematography, and acting all recall scenes of the battle right from Herodotus’s account."

These swords-and-sandals epics can be useful to bring middle and high school boys into the world of history. The History Channel often has "the real story" documentaries that air about the time the movie debuts, like "The Last Stand of the 300", which will be on again on August 12. There is also a critical analysis component if you read and watch various accounts of these ancient battles. History is a slippery thing, often written by the victors to show a particular point of view, resurrected in times of crisis to reflect ourselves. (In Iraq, are we the Spartans or the Persians?) History and historical epics allow us to identify and wrestle with these ideas.

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