The human being isn’t very good at comprehending quantity (its why there are people with special jobs to survey them). That‘s not just the drunk stating he’s had twenty pints instead of four, or even the same drunk estimating the number of inches in his package size. The human being can recognise only about seven individuals as separate items until they have to laboriously start counting each of them to get an accurate head count.

My point it, what does three hundred people look like? Especially if they are all dressed the same?

The film 300, all its bombast, shouting and silliness put aside, has to deal with this quandary. Because three hundred people, all told, is quite a big crowd. It’s a half full medium sized music venue, its four bendy bus full’s, it’s a difficult amount to estimate by eye alone. But its okay, because the Greek’s wrote this story, they quite possibly had access to the actual record. Perhaps there really were only three hundred Spartan’s at Thermopylae. Though bear in mind that the honour and courage of these men increases, the LESS of them there are.

As for Xerxes forces, the Persians, the tale tells there was a million of them. What does a million look like? If you have trouble estimating three hundred, then you have no chance in recognising a million. A million is six times a Glastonbury, if everyone was in the same field at the same time. Its not a number the Greeks would have used very often, and pretty unwieldy for an army. Let’s just say that this was probably over-estimated for effect. But in the film, well effect is what films do well. Considering that Xerxes forces are faceless cannon-fodder, the film happily pops up rank upon rank upon rank of digital soldiers as you can see from the photo above.

So back to the SPARTANS then (you have to write it that way, it’s the way Gerard Butler SHOUTS it through the film). Apparently there are three hundred of them. Plus a few other amateur Greek’s who decided to help out. But at any one scene in the film the most you ever see is about twenty. Of whom only five have any well defined speaking roles. And this is where the wonderful numbers of the tale (300 vs 1,000,000 – a ration of 1: 3,333 (and a third of a soldier which it is quite clear the Spartans are happy to divvy up) falls down in film terms. Because films like to deal in scale, but only ever work on the personal level. So it actually becomes a battle between five real people and hundreds of faceless digital effects. It is also why the eventual result: Lyonides dying, is such a shock. This is a film, the hero survives insurmountable odds of a million to one. And here its only 3,333 to one. Or what we actually see, one to twenty.

One film, as in yr brain, all the figures do is impress you with the ratio. Three thousand to a million is probably as impressive. The human brain does not think of its storied in mathematical terms, else it would realise that the odds were not insurmountable but impossible. But beyond the calculations which make up the million digital effected warriors, there has never been much mathematics in films at all. Is the sacrifice of 300 Spartans impressive as a film? Only when you counter in the bombast, slow-motion and Frank Miller’s gory comic book stylings. It’s a great story, but belongs to a tale-telling style which fits uncomfortably with film. Or our understanding of maths.