Thursday, July 23, 2009

Warner Considers "300" Sequel: Is There Glory to Be Found After Thermopylae?

In 480 BC, 300 Spartans with the aid of some 400 Thebens and 700 or so hoplites from Thespiae stood at the pass of Thermopylae in the hopes of delaying the massive Persian army of Emperor Xerxes. The force failed to provide any significant delay to the march of the Persian army and not long after the defeat of the Spartans the Persian army captured Athens -- the battle at Thermopylae had provided sufficient time for the Athenians to flee their city to bide their time for a better time and place to face Xerxes' army. But the death of the 300 did fuel the fires that enabled the Greeks to defeat Xerxes' army. In dying, the 300 had proven that Spartans were willing to die in defense of Greece and provided a wonderful morale boosting tale for later battles. The death of the 300 made it so that Xerxes would have to face a unified Greece and not individual city states that could be defeated one by one.

In 2007, Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures released a summer blockbuster film based on a Frank Miller graphic novel adaptation of the sacrifice of the 300 at Thermopylae. The film was a huge financial success and stirred up some political controversy as well.

Now it appears that Warner and Legendary are inching toward putting together a sequel to the successful epic.

But what would such a sequel look like? What story would one adapt as a sequel to 300? Hollywood loves to build on the success of a winner, all businesses do, but what story could serve as a worthy successor to one of the most inspirational battles in recorded history?

One might think that the ultimate defeat of Xerxes' navy and army at the battles of Salamis and Plataea would be a good place to start. I wouldn't agree. Primarily because the narrative framing device of 300 is that of a warrior telling the tale of the sacrifice of the 300 to a mass of troops gathered at Plataea just before they charge against the Persian army. In a way, 300 is already the story of Plataea. So that's not really a good place to start.

How about a representation of the Peloponnesian War where the Spartans "came to the defense" of Boeotia and Corinth? Given that one would have to portray Sparta's subjection of the Messenian Helots and the fact that Sparta, after defeating Athens and preventing Athens from becoming "imperial", is itself defeated by Epiminondas of Boeotia when Sparta attempts to become "imperial" in its own right. The Boeotian's of Thebes are the people who most easily translate into the champions of freedom during the Peloponnesian War. In what may be a legacy of the Peloponnesian war, or at least the Boeotian War that immediately followed it, it is often argued that the 400 Thebans who fought at Thermopylae were hostages taken by Leonidas.

Unless you're willing to paint the heroes of the previous films as the anti-heroes (or even villains) of the second film, it's better to avoid using the Peloponnesian War as a "sequel" to 300. A kick ass movie about Epiminondas would be a real treat, and it would be nice for people to witness the darker side of Sparta's "helot policy," but it doesn't make for a natural sequel.

This really leaves only two choices.


The first choice would be a portrayal of the Greek victory against Darius at Marathon. The battle, and the way that the message of victory was delivered, still echo in modern athletics. We once more have a story about "democracy" vs. "empire," but we would also be watching the story of the Athenians whose participation was minimized in 300. In 300, the Athenian naval victory over the Persians is portrayed merely as a storm brought by Zeus to crush the Persian navy. Barely a mention of Athens is made in 300. Gerard Butler, as Leonidas, tells us perfectly which city state 300 is about when he proclaims, "Madness?! THIS IS SPARTA!" 300 is about Sparta, and highlighting its virtues while overlooking its vices, and not about some "intellectual" city state to the north. Once more we are left with a subject which would make a great film, the Battle of Marathon, but one which doesn't translate well into a sequel to 300.

This leaves us with our second, and probably best, remaining choice. The tale of the 10,000 and their journey home after the death of Cyrus the Younger. During the Peloponnesian War, Darius II sent money and his young son Cyrus to aid the Spartans in their war against Athens. Cyrus used the opportunity to gain allies among the Spartans as he desired the throne that his older brother Artaxerxes II would inherit when their father died. He eventually brought some 11,000 mercenary Greeks -- including a goodly number of Spartans -- to aid him in his attempt to take the throne. He was wise to bring the Greeks as they were able to win a large battle at Cunaxa, but he wasn't lucky and was killed during the battle. This left 10,000 Greeks trapped in enemy territory seeking a way home. The leaders of the 10,000, including Clearchus of Sparta, were slain while trying to negotiate safe passage home. The 10,000 had to fight their way home. The tale of the 10,000 -- while it still has some Peloponnesian war baggage -- is one of the great tales of Ancient Greece.

The story of the 10,000 was also the inspiration for one of the great "cult" films of the late 70's -- The Warriors.

So here's to hoping that 300 is followed by 10,000. The audiences should have a good time with a rip roaring tale, and the critics will have a field day with puns a plenty.
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