A few weeks ago, while I was watching Thor, something hit me – and no, it was not Thor’s shiny armor or his bleached eyebrows. I know the movie is adapted from a comic loosely based on the Nordic mythology, which I am certainly no expert in. Watching this movie (in all its inconsistency), I was saying, gave me the desire to do a Hollywood-movies-based-on-ancient-mythology marathon. So, I called a few friends, prepared a list of amazing movies and a good meal, and there we went. That was fun, that’s for sure, but not really accurate on the mythology part, and let’s face it, for most movies, very poor in regards of the storyline. Before I say more, I want you to know that when I watch a movie, I generally like it, I am not a huge critic or anything. I actually enjoyed some really bad movies, even though I could see the big plot holes and easy way-out (like, Thor: I had a good time watching it, even more the second time with my friends… Ok, that was maybe not entirely due to the movie). However, that day (well, night), I decided I would watch these movies the way I would study stories, and here are a few thoughts on Immortals, Troy (oh, Troy, our middle-school years, we, these stupid kids at the theater …), Clash of the Titans and 300. I couldn’t get myself to watch Wrath of the Titans, the first one was bad enough, and I know 300 is not about mythology, but I haven’t seen it before, and I really wanted to. It was, um, enlightening. So here are some points I’d like to discuss.
Dear people from Hollywood (anyone, really),
First of all, one thing: the Greeks, in Antiquity, were not living among the ruins of their own temples. They were still up, nice-looking, and sometimes painted. Yes, for us today, it looks kind of kitsch, but that’s the way it was for most of these. So no, the Trojan temple of Apollo did not look like that, nor most of the sanctuaries we can see in Clash of the Titans. Also, just so we’re done with design and costumes, plastic was not a well-known thing at the time, and I’m not sure navy blue tie-dye was such a high trend in Troy (I agree, it’s closer to reality than the Spartans’ plastic armors – um, underwear).
Also, I’m all for the idea of getting our inspiration from what has been done and told and created before, to reuse these models, themes, incredible stories to make something new and unseen before, don’t get me wrong. However, please, let’s do it well. In Immortals (and it saddens me to say that, I really loved other movies from Tarsem Singh), nothing makes sense.
The plot, in the imdb.com words, goes like this: Theseus is a mortal man chosen by Zeus to lead the fight against the ruthless King Hyperion, who is on a rampage across Greece to obtain a weapon that can destroy humanity. He made Theseus – founder of Athens (nice) – a bastard and a fisherman. OK; the Minotaur, a brutal man (one of the bad guys) with a mask, who enjoys torturing people (kind of fits with the original monster, but officially, he’s supposed to be stuck in the labyrinth); oh, a funny thing: the VIRGIN (yes we got it the first time they said it, we know he’s gonna hook up with the pretty one) Oracles, when in trance, speak in Greek, so that it all sounds mystic and everything. But come on people, this HAPPENS in Greece, they’re all supposed to speak Greek. And well, let’s not spoil you the end of that really violent (but quite aesthetic movie, like every one of his) – or maybe yes, just because it makes as much sense as the rest of the movie: [SPOILER] The Titans kill most of the Gods; yes the Immortals themselves die at the end. [/SPOILER]
And I’m just talking about one movie. I won’t go in detail about Clash of the Titans (where there is NO Titan), you should just know that we follow Perseus, himself followed everywhere by Io (the ultimate stalker in my opinion), who has to save the world and the gods from Hades (guys, he is not the bad guy in the mythology, he just inherited the infamous realm of the dead), and thus to defeat his monster, the Kraken (um, Nordic mythology).
To manage to kill the sea monster, he needs the head of Medusa (first and unique thing actually from the original Perseus story): that’s why he ends up finding blue Djinns (no pun intended) riding giant scorpions in a desert (I’m not sure where the movie is based at that point) on his way to the underworld – or something approaching. And I will stop there, I cannot redo this movie in my head, it was so bad it still hurts.
I will end with a few words on 300. I wanted to watch it, yet I was worried, because I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it, although I usually like comics turned into movies (as a French girl, I don’t really have a good culture in the comics area, which is more of a US thing, I think). I haven’t read the book it’s based on, but a lot of things made me uncomfortable, and not necessarily the faulty historical background. It is made as an epic. The episode of the Thermopiles has everything to make this story a great epic. It is a great battle, just as the Trojan war, which inspired the Iliad. It is a story of glory; of a few hundreds of great men fighting to save Greece, facing millions of enemies. This was epic.
But what they did in the movie was not good. The first aim of an epic is to tell the deeds of their heroes. Homer sang the great deeds of the Greeks in the Iliad and the Odyssey, in the French literature of the Middle-Ages, the Song of Roland glorified Charlemagne’s army, in Finland, the Kalevala is an epic poem about the Finnish folklore … This disturbed me in the movie: an American author and then a director used real peoples – the Spartans and the Persians, in an historical context – the battle of the Thermopiles, but emphasized and fictionalized the story, making it kind of an epic, but not really. And the stereotypes that underwent from this fictionalization were not a good thing (I won’t enter into a political discussion, it’s not the point, but it was disturbing).
Also, this poses the question of what we can do with history: when I saw what they made of the Ephors, I nearly stopped watching. If you watch that movie, and don’t look up what their role really was in Sparta (and I know not everyone is fascinated by the study of the history of Greece), do you think it is such a good thing to let people think they were these old, perverted guys, moved only by lust and gold? And let’s not talk about what this movie suggests about the Athenians – “these boy lovers”.
Not even going into history itself, but just the fiction, do you think we should let people think that in Homer’s Iliad, Menelaus and Agamemnon died during the Trojan war (as it is shown in the movie) when they actually both come back to Greece? I don’t say that the ones watching these movies just believe everything Hollywood puts before their eyes, no. But I am aware that Troy is way more accessible than the Iliad; that sometimes, even though you know it is a fiction, when it seems based on real facts, you tend to believe that they did some research (all right, the Ephors were way too caricatured to be real, but still).
So there it is, my pamphlet on hollywood and mythologies. Watch with care, study history, and never forget these are just stories and variations of older stories. In Antiquity already divergences existed, that’s why I agree it’s not all bad, as long as you make a good movie out of it!