The History Channel is the “go-to” authority in today’s mass-consumption society, and it’s the ultimate Hollywood companion. Who needs history books when you have a channel devoted to all things history? And why exercise your noodle when the television can do the critical thinking for you? Like their complementary show to The Da Vinci Code, the History Channel again comes to the rescue of fans of both Hollywood and academia with Last Stand of the 300.
In 1998, legendary comic book writer and illustrator Frank Miller (Daredevil, Sin City) created 300, a graphic novelization of the historic Battle of Thermopylae. He took liberties, as is both accepted and expected in a case like this. With the success of the film adaptation of his remarkable Sin City work, Hollywood took notice and brought 300 to the big screen in similar heavily stylized fashion in 2007. The result was, unfortunately, what amounted to a cross between Gladiator, Sin City, and a steaming pile of . . . well, you know.
Where Miller fictionalizes the famous battle, the History Channel takes a more critical (and presumably historically accurate) stab at presenting the story. Last Stand of the 300 is the story of the genius military tactician, Spartan King Leonidas, and how he held off the 300,000 strong Persian army of Xerxes I in the narrow mountain pass of Thermopylae.
The History Channel provides context for the battle and the warriors — especially on the Greek side. At the time of the battle (480 BC), Greece was a disorganized mess of infighting city-states. In fact, when Athenians originally sent out the call for allies to help defend against a Persian army made up of 80 percent infantry and 20 percent cavalry, there were no takers. Only after consulting the Oracle at Delphi were the Spartans permitted to join the defense, but even then only 300 of the 9,000 Spartan warriors were allowed to go — a particularly devastating blow for a society built around producing the perfect soldier.
Last Stand of the 300 matches its Hollywood brother in terms of visual dazzle by way of technology. Eye-popping animated illustrations of the battle site provide detailed information, but the show does little to dispel the myth of the 300. While what was accomplished by an outnumbered army and navy at the Battle of Thermopylae is nothing short of amazing, the History Channel’s Last Stand of the 300 never fully fleshes out the 1,000 Thesbians that remained behind with the Spartans for the last stand or the full 7,000 that fought for Greece during the three-day battle. As impressive as the battle itself was in terms of military strategy, it is what was at stake (democracy) and the residual effects (a united Greece) that truly matter. And that shouldn’t be understated.