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300

Year: 2007
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Zack Snyder
Writer: Frank Miller/Zack Snyder
Cast: Gerard Butler, David Wenham

One of the most interesting markers of gay culture is the adoption of figures and icons who are neither gay themselves nor have any inherent quality that could be construed as such.

Kylie Monigue, Judy Garland, David Beckham and Superman are all straight, yet they're all gay icons. So it's while watching the sweaty, oiled, six-packed male bodies brutally penetrated by swords, spears and assorted other male genitalia parables that I wonder how long it will be before the gay community adopts 300 as a mythology for their times.

Director Zack ( Dawn of the Dead ) Snyder has gone on record admitting he increased the role of King Leonidas (Butler's) politically astute wife Gorgo (Headey) to balance the 'appeal' of so many loincloth-clad men.

But the gay symbolism is just beneath the surface; the public face of 300 is yet another comic book/graphic novel bought to life on the screen. Based on Frank Miller's book, it gets the Sin City treatment (Miller's other big title), the actors performing in an empty warehouse draped in green so computer engineers can insert the backgrounds later, pulling Miller's panels straight from the book and capturing every colour, mood and movement.

The 300 of the title refers to the number of Spartan soldiers history tells us held off the 300,000 strong Persian army during the Battle of Thermopylae – probably nowhere near as long as depicted.

When his plan to take the entire Spartan army to stop the advancing Persians is rebuffed by the corrupt clerics who pass down the word of law in Sparta, Leonidas takes his personal bodyguard detail of 300 men instead.

The Spartans are fighting machines, their weaker or malformed young thrown down wells and the survivors brutalised from childhood into a life of professional soldiery, beatings immunising them against pain, banished to the elements as children to prove their mettle by coming back alive.

The twin-stranded plot follows the sacrifice, bravey and skills in mass slaughter of Leonidas and his men as his wife lobbies for him in the ruling council back home, navigating the wiles of his political adversaries.

If anything, the cartooniness is a little disconcerting, and you wonder if 300 would have been better served by a traditionally shot film. The overdone bloodletting and determination to crush and destroy anything and everything would have been just as effectively portrayed in a 'real' movie. If you're that desperate to see a graphic novel, go and buy a graphic novel.

Snyder, Warner Bros and millions of Frank Miller fanboys also don't realise - and would probably be horrified to realise – but 300 is current (and uncool) US foreign policy writ large. The Spartans' training and sense of honour demands they stay the course no matter what the outcome – even knowing it's hopeless. It's Iraq: The Movie, but in this lost cause, the King/President joins his men on the lost cause instead of sitting in the White House sending other people's children to die.

It's a cacophony of shouting, gritted teeth and a Homeric epic of war and sacrifice, and although the story demands such grandiose dialogue and performance, it just feels ridiculous after awhile.

With militarily superior, unswerving and white heroes and slovenly, multiracial villains it could be another parable entirely – maybe the desperate struggle to spread American values among the godless hordes at the barrel of a gun. But such subtexts were apparently far from Synder's mind, and if you like your orgies of violence big, loud and dumb they might not occur to you either. Let's all go Greek!

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