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(with its nearly identical soundtrack) are stunning.

The visual effects are unparalleled; the entire affair is CGI-enhanced, showing that we are now at the point where we are unable to distinguish between real six-pack abs and computer-generated ones.

Once it gets going, the action is non-stop, the battles exquisitely rendered, and there's enough blood to satisfy the most stalwart Roger Corman fans.

And the representation of disability in this film is more appallingly retrograde than anything to hit the American cinema in recent memory.

, a force of 300 fanatic Spartans (with other Greek volunteers), led by the charismatic king Leonidas, sacrificed themselves to delay the advance of an invading army of between 2 and 5 million Persians (experts differ).

In the three days of the battle, the 300 Spartans slew over 80,000 Persians sent against them, and might have slain thousands more if they had not been betrayed and outflanked, pinned down by archers and destroyed.

The film is far more faithful to Frank Miller's 1999 Dark Horse graphic novel version of these events than to Herodotus, and approaches the ancient accounts of the battle like a buffet, picking what it likes from the history and leaving the rest.

It's all a rather cohesive attempt to make the Spartans emblematic of rational Western democracy fighting a desperate battle for survival against Oriental religious fundamentalism and tyranny.

The obvious parallel to the current political tensions between Iran (ancient Persia) and the United States is undisguised in this film; the Spartans regularly spout slogans that are unmistakable echoes of the shibboleths of Bush Administration foreign policy and offhand condemnation of "moonbat liberals." For example, when the Persians suggest that the Greeks might benefit from "sharing their cultures," Leonidas (played by Gerard Butler), standing on a mountain of dead Persians, replies laconically "we've been sharing our culture with you all morning." Orientalism?

Well, the Spartans of are macho-men of action and truth, while the Persians are effete deceivers corrupted by both materialism and mysticism.

The Persians oppress their women, while the Spartans honor theirs (in front of them at least; when in battle, they make derisive sexist comments at one another).

The Spartans fight for homeland, democracy, and honor; the Persians fight for money.