Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Greek Critics Rip '300,' but Audiences Love It

THERMOPYLAE, Greece (AP) -- 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.

The film had a record opening weekend in Greece with 325,000 ticket sales. That easily exceeded the previous mark set last year by "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (220,000).

Inspired by Frank Miller's graphic novel, the movie directed by Zach Snyder 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 dismissed the movie as gratuitously violent and historically inaccurate, one magazine describing it as a "bloodlust videogame."

They were soon drowned out by 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 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 1 million mark -- out of a population of 11 million -- and is on course to beat the record-setting "Loufa kai parallagi: Sirines sto Egeo," a movie about life as a Greek army conscript which sold 1.4 million tickets in 2005.

The movie is showing at some 70 screens in the Athens area alone and double that nationwide. Cinemas in rural towns have added special midnight screenings to cope with demand.
The village of Thermopylae, population 250, lies about 125 miles 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 has grossed more than $162 million in the United States alone so far, had a two-week run at No. 1 and after its third weekend still was No. 2, according to box office tracker Media by Numbers LLC.)

Local archaeologist Elena Froussou watched "300" and couldn't help being impressed.
"The movie was great spectacle," said Froussou. "There were many inaccuracies, but the movie (generally) does base itself on reality."

In the battle, King Leonidas (played by Gerard Butler) led a small force which fought to the death against the invading Persians, to give Athens valuable time to prepare its defenses and ultimately defeat the army of Emperor Xerxes I (Rodrigo Santoro).

Historians believe Leonidas was not a young man, unlike the way he's presented in the movie. 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. And Greek Internet bloggers 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.

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 what it sees as a politically loaded, West vs. Iran story line.

Copyright 2007 The
Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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