Thursday, December 22, 2016

FACT CHECKING “300: Rise of Empire”

       I recently rewatched “300: Rise of an Empire” to see if my first impression from seeing it in a theater was reasonable.  I am a big fan of the first movie and, like most,  found the sequel to be a disappointment.  But I was not surprised because “300” was so groundbreaking and the vibe was impossible to recreate.  So Hollywood did what it is known for, it tried to give the audience the same, but bigger.  I have already reviewed it based on that trip to the multiplex, so it is not my intention to tweak that review.  Instead, let’s have some fun doing something the movie was never designed to withstand – fact checking.  Now don’t get all pissy about how you can’t expect the movie to be a history lesson.  “It’s just entertainment!”  I would be the first to admit that bringing a graphic novel to the screen makes it bullet proof when it comes to historical accuracy quibbles.  But since we’re unlikely to get a more serious take on the Persian Wars any time soon, let’s look at what the viewers of this film came away with.  With the caveat that the movie cannily structures much of the narrative as a tale being told by Queen Gorgo so you could argue that what you are watching is a Spartan bedtime story and you know how accurate bedtime stories are.

1.  Let’s start with the title.  Who dreamed that up?  You would have to stretch quite a bit to imagine that they are referring to the Delian League (sometimes called the “Athenian Empire”) which was created after the war.  Since Athens basically became an arrogant bully which forced other city-states to join and remain in its self-serving alliance, this would seem to clash with the movies theme of the war being fought for Greek freedom.  A much better title would have been “300:  The Fight for Freedom”.

2.  Battle of Marathon -  The movie wastes little time (4 minutes) to get to the Battle of Marathon.  It is a nice touch to reach back to cover the most famous battle of the Persian Wars.  It would have been nicer if there were a little truth in this segment.  Gorgo may have been told that the Persians were attacked as they disembarked on the shore, but in reality they had been camped there for several days before Themistocles convinced the Athenians to attack.  The movie does show the Athenians running toward the surprised enemy, but there is no reference to the famous tactical decision to weaken the center of the phalanx and double envelop with the wings.  In fact, as per the two films, the Greeks are shown fighting as individuals, not shields overlapping.  They do not run through a kill zone of Persian arrows.  In fact, the movie is very shaky on weapons.  Hollywood much prefers sword play to spear thrusting.  There would have been no horses available to squash a man’s head.  (Not that I would want that image removed from the film.)  Do I need to tell anyone that Themistocles did not hit Darius with an arrow?  Darius was not at the battle.  Nor was Xerxes.

3.  Artemesia -  The Greeks loved to wet their beds over strong female warriors (that’s why they invented the Amazons), so I can see why they would have enhanced Artemesia to super villainous proportions.  Although Herodotus does not do this and he never felt constrained.  The fact is that she was a Greek queen who threw in her lot with the Persians.  This was most likely an attempt to bet on a winning horse and certainly not to avenge her family.  She apparently was an advisor to Xerxes, but he seldom listened to her.  She was famously proven right.  Her role in making Xerxes into a god is fantasy.  Do I have to tell you that she did not have a steaming hot sex tryst with Themistocles?  I'm not saying they should not have included that scene.

4.  the Athenian Assembly -  It would have met outdoors, not in a building.  The movie glosses over Themistocles’ remarkably persuading his fellow citizens to rely on the fleet and evacuate the city. 

5.  the invasion -  Nice job depicting the pontoon bridge across the Hellespont.  (Props please, historians!)  However, no war elephants. Sorry.

6.  Gorgo -  If you think Artemesia was some male screenwriters fantasy, why stop there?  Although Spartan women had more influence than any other women in Greece, the portrayal of Gorgo as co-ruler with her husband and then sole ruler after his death is ahistorical.  Since she is telling the story, we can assume she is clearly delusional.

7.  Battle of Artemisium -  The movies has three separate naval bouts representing the actions at Artemisium that happened coincidental with Thermopylae.  The first movie covered the gale that cost the Persians a third of their fleet.  This movie takes huge liberties in depicting the subsequent fighting.  There is a brief glimpse of the outnumbered Greeks in a circular defensive formation, but soon abandons this accuracy for a melee version of the movie’s infantry tactics.  By the way, normally the triremes would carry ten hoplites for defense and boarding.  The movie really ups the number and gives them incredible balance as they stand on the decks.  I guess the triremes were like giant surf boards.  The trio of battles builds to the cataclysmic Greek fire soaked inferno (replete with sea monsters!).  In reality, the main battle was something of a draw, but the Greeks retreated after word of the failure of Leonidas to hold the pass.  There is no reason to believe Greek fire was used in the battle.

8.  Athens is burned – True, but the city had been abandoned by everyone except the idiots that interpreted “rely on the wooden walls” to mean the walls around the citadel.  I suppose the movie fairly accurately depicts what happened to them.

9.  Themistocles uses Ephialtes to sucker Xerxes into attacking near Salamis -  The movie insists on bringing back every actor except Gerard Butler so what to do with Ephialtes?  Have him fill the role of Themistocles’ slave who was sent to Xerxes camp with word that the Greeks were planning on fleeing, so hurry up and attack them in the narrow strait.  Pretty please.  In reality, Artemesia advised Xerxes not to fall for the trap.  In other words, exactly the opposite of what the movie depicts.  

10.  Battle of Salamis -  Xerxes did watch from the cliff (on his throne with his ass-kissers).  That’s where the accuracy ends.  Well, there was a lot of ramming and boarding, but it was not the land battle asea that the movie depicts.  Artemesia famously read the handwriting on the sail and rammed a Persian ship to make her escape.  ONce again, the exact opposite of what the movie showed.  Xerxes supposedly witnessed this action sans binoculars and remarked “my men fight like women and my women fight like men”.  (Or as the movie would have it:  “my men fight like human blood splatter emitters, and my women fight like psychotic she-bitches.”)  

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