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300 > Reporting directly from Thermopylae, Greece March 27, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life, Movies Life Greek.
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Greek moviegoers ignore critics, flock to sword-and-sandal flick ‘300’

Greece’s critics hated “300” but moviegoers here are lining up to watch the gory recreation of the Battle of Thermopylae in record numbers, happy to lap up the Hollywood thrills and take an indulgent view of what detractors call a butchery of their ancient history.

Zack Snyder’s film had a record opening weekend in Greece after its March 8 release, with 325,000 ticket sales. That easily exceeded the previous mark set last year by “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” with an opening tally of 220,000.

Inspired by Frank Miller’s graphic novel, the movie is about 300 Spartans, led by King Leonidas, holding off hundreds of thousands of invading Persians, and the odd imaginary monster, at a mountain pass in Greece. Critics instantly dismissed the movie as gratuitously violent and historically inaccurate, with one magazine describing it as a “bloodlust videogame.” They were soon silenced by ordinary moviegoers.

“The film was incredible on all counts. It’s the first time I’ve heard a cinema audience clap at the end of a movie” said Nikos Mastoris, who owns a comic bookstore in central Athens. “The photography, the music and all the scenes are really brilliant. The movie is very faithful to the comic book.”

Haris Antonopoulos, of distributors Village Roadshow said ticket sales of “300” in Greece have topped the one million mark, out of a population of 11 million, and is on course to beat the record-setting “Loufa kai parallagi: Sirines sto Aegeo,” a movie about life as a Greek army conscript which sold 1.4 million tickets in 2005. ” ‘300’ is expected to be the biggest all time box office success in Greece,” Antonopoulos said.

The movie is showing at some 70 screens in the Athens area alone and double that number nationwide. Cinemas in rural towns have added special midnight screenings to cope with demand.

leonidas_thermopylae.jpg  The village of Thermopylae, population 250, lies about 200 kilometres north of Athens, and is marked by a modern monument near the country’s main highway to the battle fought in 480 B.C.

Most villagers still haven’t seen the movie because the nearest cinema is in the city of Lamia, an hour’s drive to the north, but are still proud of its success. The film, which has grossed over US$162 million worldwide so far, had a two-week run at No.1 in the United States and remained in second position after its third week, according to box office tracker Media by Numbers LLC.

“It looks good, but it’s not in Greek” local restaurant owner Panagiotis Panopoulos said. “There’s lots of bearded men, with long hair and they’re speaking in a foreign language.”

Local archaeologist Elena Froussou watched “300” and couldn’t help being impressed. “The movie was great spectacle,” said Froussou who works for the Fthiotida District Archaeology Department. “There were many inaccuracies, but the movie, generally, does base itself on reality.”

In the battle, King Leonidas led a small force which fought to the death against the invading Persians to give Athens valuable time to prepare its defences and ultimately defeat the army of Emperor Xerxes I. Unlike the movie, historians believe Leonidas was not a young man. And Sparta, of course, was not a democracy as it is depicted in the movie but a fearsome military power ruled with absolute authority.

Greek movie fans didn’t seem to mind the history-bending or the comic book style.

“The visual extravaganza of movie-director Snyder is not confining itself by simple history,” critic Andreas Kirkos, a rare positive reviewer, wrote in the Let’s Go listings review magazine which featured Scottish actor Gerard Butler, who plays King Leonidas, on its cover.

Greek Internet bloggers also zealously defended the fantasy-laden movie, many arguing that “300” stands up historically, although it is spiced up with allegorical interpretations. Xerxes’ colossal proportions, they say, represent his inflated ego and monsters in his army represent an invincible force in the eyes of Greeks.

“Isn’t it obvious to everyone . . . that the Persian army generated such fear, especially when it came to its elite fighting force?” asks blogger Polikarpos Parioritsas.

The Iranian government, which has drawn international condemnation over its nuclear program, has objected to the film’s depiction of ancient Persia as barbaric and for its politically loaded, West vs. Iran storyline. The Iranian UN Mission issuing a statement denouncing the film as a “crude demonization of Persians as the embodiment of evil.”

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