As some of you may know, I have a Ph.D. in ancient history, although I have not pursued my studies in that field seriously for many years. Because of the hoopla over the movie, I did re-read Book VII of Herodotus in the original together with the old How and Wells commentary.
I had thought it might be fun to see to movie just for laughs, but after I quickly read the Frank Miller comic bo-, er "graphic novel" in my local B&N (damned if I'll pay $30 for a comic book I can read in a few minutes!), I decided not to. The whole thing just seem too offensive to my historical sensibilities.
Just a few points: Neither the Spartans nor any other Greek hoplites wore black leather shorts in battle. They wore brazen breast plates, greaves, thigh guards and kilts in battle! Having them fight virtually naked, while it might be eye-candy for the gay set, makes the battle ridiculous. The main reason the Spartans (and the other Greeks) were able to hold the pass was because they were more heavily armored than the Persians. The superiority of Greek heavy infantry over the Persians was a recurring theme in the period, as at the Battle of Cunaxa, when Cyrus' Greek mercenaries routed the Persians before them. The longer, heavier spears of the Spartans also played a major role in their successes as Thermopylae, as Herodotus notes.
A minor dramatic touch they missed was that the Spartans' shields were painted white with a black lamba on it. When the Spartans were in formation it created a striking zigzag pattern the sight of which doubtless struck terror into their adversaries.
Having the Persians played by black men is historically ridiculous (although there were black-skinned men in the Persian army--contingents from Africa and Indian Dravidians). Moreover, having them portrayed as grotesque, hideous black men with all manner facial piercings and such is generally offensive, period--very reminiscent of the old-time "ooga-booga" black savages from the movies of 75 years ago. Some Persian friends of mine are absolutely outraged over this movie. In point of fact, the Persians of Xerxes' time were probably a good deal "whiter" than the modern Iranians, their Aryan blood not having been mixed with that of subsequent darker invaders--Arabs, Turks, Mongols, Tatars, etc. In fact, one of the Iranian tribal contingents accompanying Xerxes was simply styled the "Aryans" ("Arioi" in Herodotus).
Judging from the Frank Miller comic, there was much else inaccurate in bunk-filled about the movie (assuming they followed the comic book closely, as I believe they did, e.g. the portrayal of Ephialtes as some sort of deformed, monstrous reject from Sparta.
I never heard of war-rhinos before. War elephants, of course. I don't think the Persian army was accompanied by anything more exotic than camels, however.
On Friday, I had lunch with my friend Richard Venola. He told me he had walked out of the movie. He characterized in as "gay slasher porn." Richard is the last guy you'd think of as a pussy--a brawny, hulking longtime career Marine and the newly appointed editor of Guns & Ammo magazine.