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300: Ephialtes

NECA Reel Toys
by yo go re

For all the fun it has playing around with history, Frank Miller's 300 is a surprisingly accurate story. No, the Persians didn't employ albino, sword-armed tubs of lard. No, the Immortals weren't demonic ninjas. No, the Spartans probably didn't fight bare-chested. Basically, all the events are real, but all the visuals are made up. A prime example of this is the character of Ephialtes.

The real Ephialtes was a Malian Greek from the town of Trachis, west of Thermopylae. Hoping for a reward, he told the Persian army of a pass through the mountains that would allow them to circle around behind the Spartan forces. A month later, when the Persians were defeated at the Battle of Salamis, Ephialtes fled far to the north, since there was now a reward offered for his death.

The Ephialtes in Frank Miller's story was a Spartan child, deformed at birth. The (true historical) Spartan way was to take any babies that were too small, weak or sickly to the pine-covered slopes of nearby Mt. Taygetos and leave them to die. Ephialtes' parents were weak, however, and instead fled Sparta for an anonymous life in the country. Though his father had tried to teach him Spartan ways, he was physically incapable of fighting properly, and Leonidas rejected his help. After a failed suicide attempt, the deformed monster turned to the enemy for acceptance.

So there's no historical evidence that Ephialtes was in any way deformed - Frank Miller just drew that as a way of portraying the state of his soul. While he's still quite deformed in the movie, it's not quite as extreme as in the comics - mainly because it would have taken about 300 pounds of make-up to pull it off.

The figure is nice enough, but is at once too deformed and not deformed enough. How does that work? Well, his legs and feet are completely normal, while Andrew Tiernan had to wear 15-pound prosthetics to make his feet more inhuman. Below the waist, this figure could be any random, healthy Spartan. His back is extremely detailed, with all the oddly distended muscles and the off-kilter skeletal structure looking wonderfully gross. His left arm is stretched out, with a hand that is twice as long as usual. That's all nice, but because of the way the figure is designed, all Ephialtes can do is look straight down at the ground beneath him.

Part of the problem is the articulation. He moves at the ankles, waist, wrists, shoulders and head. The waist is a balljoint, but it doesn't have enough range. We're not asking Ephialtes to stand up straight - after all, that was his problem in the story. But a better range of motion on the neck and waist would allow his creepy face to stare out much better. Knees would help, too. Given his hunched pose, the included base is a must if you want him to stand for any length of time.

The figure has four accessories, not counting his red cloak. Yes, it's sculpted beautifully, with a woven texture and evidence of the rough life of the wearer, but it's not removable. He has the same spear and shield as Leonidas, and a removable Spartan helmet that has been split up the rear to fit (intentionally) clumsily over either of the figure's two heads - one with a sad face, the other with an angry face. The "big triangle" on the Spartan shields, incedentally? It's a L (Lambda), standing for Lacedaemon, the proper name of the Spartan state.

Ephialtes was not the only man suspected of betraying the Spartans. Herodotus also named Onetas and Corydallus, but places the blame solely on Ephialtes because no reward was ever offered for the others - a bounty that was paid out about a decade later, even though Ephialtes was killed over an unrelated matter. The name "Ephialtes" literally means "nightmare," and has the same connotation as Judas, Quisling or Benedict Arnold. This figure isn't perfect, and is marred by its inability to adequately move its head, but he's a central character not only in the film, but in Western history, and how often can you claim that about a simple toy?

-- 03/25/07

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