Zack Snyder’s 300 is a problematic film I happen to love despite its Us vs. Themness and Straight vs. Queerness — thrusts that set my teeth on edge. I loved it when it opened in 2006, and I loved it again this week when I gave it a re-watch. It’s not a love I can justify any more than I can justify my love for Clash of the Titans or Showgirls. I didn’t even expect to enjoy 300 a second time. It’s one thing to be awed by the sight of comic-book panels stirred to life, or to be swept up in a big-screen experience; a second viewing of Sin City taught me that these infatuations can be of the moment, never to be relived. But 300 appeals to me as a lover of history-as-myth, which Snyder (via Frank Miller) has fully realized with his red-gold fusion of fact, fable and anachronism. I really truly feel the legend when I’m watching it, and for every glitch or overstatement or dubious portrayal, there’s a goosepimpling instant that would have satisfied Leonidas himself.
This is a personal perspective, hardly universal. 300 is a silly film save for its astonishing visuals, an above-average score, and some great choreography. I’m sure it bored and annoyed some folks the way Spiderman and Pirates of the Caribbean bored and annoyed me (blockbusters are as prone to the Law of Inconsistent Reception as anything else). The beefcake is legitimately camp, however Michelangelo. The acting is uneven, the message facile, and the subtext abysmal. The Theron/Gorgo scenes back in Sparta never should have been conceived. But this gleaming screen is my catnip, and its spell is just potent enough to overcome my better judgment. It hypnotizes me with its athleticism (Riefenstahl would covet every spear-thrust, both as fascist and director) and its walking Grecian urns — Gerard Butler is magnificent in part because Snyder’s film is so transformational, kicking actors out of time. I think 300 is beautiful to watch, a hybrid of ham and masterpiece, and a rare combination of action and aesthetic that manages to transcend its corporate origins.
300 also won me over with its naked bombast, which is too thick to admit even a sliver of ironic light. Marry 2,000 years of Eurocentric tradition with Miller’s infantile worldview and this is what you get: jingoistic agitprop with no sense of self-awareness. At some point you have to admire such excess, which is rendered so glorious that you almost forget to mock it. But I mocked it in a class project back in 2006, when we were asked to compose progymnasmata exercises. I chose to write a tongue-in-cheek encomium to the raucous bastard of Heroditus, Miller and Snyder, one that spared no one, including viewers like me who eat this shit up with a smile. And since this is a film blog, I’ll give this verse a permanent home here. It’s a mock-epic so it’s meant to be as bombastic as its topic, and it features stylistic in-jokes that might only be apparent to literature scholars (the assignment demanded that certain conventions be used), but hey. Like 300 the film, it’s sustained by its own self-importance.
In Praise of Bombast
Born in the Thermopylaean melee,
Fabric’d by 300 hoplites and king,
Nursed by Herod’tus and fostered by Time,
Bombast blasts forth on a wide movie screen.
Those of the River Evrotas who died—
Those of Laconian Plain who fought strong—
Aspis and xiphos and doru in hand,
300 Spartans ne’er imagined their role.
Scions of him whose twelve labours are sung
Nectared this grandsire of tympanic roar,
Nourished this offspring of grandiose mien—
Bled out their courage for Bombast to sip.
Nor did the Halicarnassian see
How pages of hist’ry would fatten this gall,
Lending to Hot Gates a chest-beating cast;
Lessons for Bombast which bluster his brain.
Taught by the wars and philosophies grand,
Valuing praise as a virtue most high,
Certain of envy at meag’rest declaim,
Bombast awaits in a slumbering bow’r.
Two thousands years fall away as he sleeps,
‘Til Miller pokes Bombast awake with a pen,
Canvassing Honour and Combat and Death—
Bombast’s old dulce decorum compeers.
Panels of glory and pictures of gore,
Beauty made manly and ancient and tall;
300 Spartans are inked into page,
Battling anew with an eye on their doom.
Gorgeous on paper, in reds, browns and blues,
Bombast re-surges in comic-book form;
Reason and Justice are championed here—
Asians will strike them lest Spartans resist!
“Miller’s not giving old Bombast his due,”
Snyder considers while paging the book.
“I can do more for our flatulent friend—
“Showcase his beauty and balls—e’en his soul!”
Running to console and green-screen and bank,
Snyder works hectic in Montreal loft.
Synema’s fashioned like thick crimson cape;
Bombast’s best costume—he’s dressed for the crowds.
Scarlet is whipping about his stout brawn;
Carmine are cloaks that forebode Spartan ruin!
Bombast is blood-dipped like Bacchus‘ beard—
Xerxes sees red as he rides for the Gates.
Hair-like the mantles which streak by in red,
Curling like tresses o’er Bombast’s new face.
Swords are his members and shields are his eyes—
Argus Panoptes takes form on the field.
Up on the screen flash the six-packs en mass,
Plateless and heaving and girded with straps;
Virile and proud in bombastic rapport,
300 Achilles march north to the Gates!
Butler as hero and drag-queen as foe;
We are the Reasoned and They are the Mad.
“Freedom’s not free!” scold the Spartan elite—
Bluster for battle, in voices full-boom.
Fare for the fanboys and grist for the hawks,
Homoerotic, and gorgeous all told,
Something for all eyes—appeal for the whole,
Bombast deceives us with Hermes‘ veil.
Flesh is a jewel and landscape a gem,
Blood paints like lacquer o’er smooth, fluid deaths.
Nothing can match all the images here—
War is so graceful when it’s on parade!
Bombast reminds us of Grecian ideals,
Bodies of marble and hearts full of swell.
Past is envisioned as virtue and guts,
Present is cued in provocative theme.
Up on the screen now does Bombast hold sway;
Goosebumps on arms as we drink in his face.
Popcorn en-staling in buckets on laps,
Eyeballs absorbing what Bombast would have.
“Bombast! All bombast!” chime many reviews,
Naming our hero in flawless refrain.
Bombast rakes fortune as money pours in;
Snyder counts tickets with increasing pace.
Bombast held Xerxes for three battle-days;
Bombast Immortal revives on the screen;
Bombast as Movie enraptures the West—
K’leidoscopes crimson to president green.
Thus does our Bombast sustain all these years,
Fashioned of hist’ry, then comic, then film;
Godlike in stature when Cineplex-high—
Heirloom and dower of rhetoric preen.
 The ancient Spartan city-state was situated on the right bank of the Evrotas which cut through the Laconian Plain.
 The hoplite’s circular shield, short sword and battle spear, respectively.
 The Spartans believed they were direct descendents of Herakles.
 Herodotus’ birthplace.
 Frank Miller, co-author of the graphic novel 300, which details Leonidas’ fall at Thermopylae.
 Zack Snyder, director of the 2007 film adaptation of 300.
 Synema is a buzzword for “synthetic” cinema, like the kind Snyder created in a Montreal warehouse using computer animation and actors working against green-screens (a.k.a. blue-screens).
 In Greek mythology, the giant with a hundred eyes.
 Actor Gerard Butler plays King Leonidas.
 The veil of illusion, which was given by Hermes to his son Autolycos (Odysseus’ maternal grandfather), had the power to transform/disguise the appearance of (stolen) objects.