Total Film|July 2020

For our 300th issue, we catch up with Zack Snyder to chat about his Spartan epic – a film that split opinion but paved the way for a new kind of sword-and-sandals blockbuster while changing the rules for comic-book movies…
This is the gayest film ever made,” Zack Snyder tells Total Film. It’s May 2020 and we’re discussing 300, the alpha-male Spartan fantasy that redefined the historical epic, but not without attracting some controversy. The director’s comments may jar with some critics – there’s no homosexuality portrayed on screen and the Spartan king, Leonidas, played by Gerard Butler, even disparages the Athenians by calling them “boy lovers” – and yet Snyder vehemently disagrees with those who allege otherwise.

“It literally celebrates this masculine form in a way that is transformative for people,” Snyder continues. “I remember being asked, ‘Is your movie pro-gay or pro-NRA?’ I was like, ‘What? It’s both, I guess?’”

As luck would have it, the filmmaker – who has since directed the superhero flicks Watchmen, Man Of Steel, Batman V Superman, and Justice League – just happens to have watched 300 a few days before our chat (it’s about to be re-released in HDR).

“When I watched it the other night, did I think, ‘Oh?’” he says. Would he change anything? “I think it could be a bit weirder. But I don’t think I would change it necessarily. I don’t feel that way about any of the films I’ve made.”

300 had a long road to cinemas. Snyder first pitched his adaptation of Frank Miller’s limited comic-book series – a fictional retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae where 300 Spartans face down the Persian empire by funnelling them into a tight rocky pass – before he worked on his debut feature-length film, the 2004 remake of Dawn Of The Dead. After being rejected twice by Warner, then joining and departing a separate project, Snyder finally got the green light from the studio for 300.

“There was this creative break that happened. It was right before I got married. I felt good about it,” he says. “And then [the studio] said, ‘We’re not exactly sure what this is. Can you do this little test?’ So we shot one single shot [of the Spartans hacking through the Persians in slow motion]. It’s the way we were going to visualise the movie. And everyone was like, ‘Holy shit, this is nothing like what we thought.’ They were expecting just a traditional sword-and-sandals movie, and they got something else.”

Warner Bros was after a PG-13-rated adaptation of Miller’s work, but Snyder accepted a smaller budget to secure an R-rating. This meant that he could stick faithfully to the source material. As had been done with Sin City – Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of another Miller work – 300 ways to be an almost shot-for-shot retelling of the comics. Snyder drew his own storyboards based on the source material.


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July 2020