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It’s All About Mythology

Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 11:08 by Helen O'Hara in Empire States
It’s All About Mythology

They say there are no new stories, and lately Hollywood's been proving it by going back to the really old stuff recently, the mythology and near-legend - which seems to me like a very good thing. The old stories have, after all, survived the millennia because they're good, because they have great, larger than life characters, and because they speak to us all on an almost instinctual level.

Consider the field: a few years back we had the double Ancient Greek whammy of Troy and Alexander, belatedly followed by 300; this year we're going Norse-tastic with Beowulf and the news that Thor's going into production (and who knows, we might see Gerard Butler and Stellan Skarsgaard in the long-shelved Beowulf and Graendal at last); and we've got some English mythology headed our way in The Dark Is Rising and Stardust (well, the latter's more folk tales, but let's not split hairs). Even Irish mythology is finally getting a look in, with 2004's Tristan & Isolde and the upcoming Hellboy 2.

But the films have so far skimped on all the best bits. Troy works wonderfully as a silent movie (it's only the dialogue, sound effects and music that let it down) but I wish they'd left the gods in, just for giggles. The Dark Is Rising seems set to introduce (gasp) Americans into the most English story ever written. 300 was terribly dishy but a tiny bit silly. Tristan & Isolde was much better than I expected, but I couldn't get past the fact that (the very good) Sophia Myles is the least Irish-looking white girl I've ever seen. And Beowulf has gone with that odd motion capture style that I'm still not convinced by.

But all the same, I'm in hog heaven with all of this. I'll freely admit to being both history geek and fantasy lover, so the fact that we've stopped remaking ‘70s TV shows and started remaking Homer and Herodotus is freakin' awesome. But what stories aren't being done that should be done?

I'd nominate the Táin Bó Cúailnge, otherwise known, if you're not so hot on your Gaelic, as The Cattle Raid of Cooley, full of mass murder, single combat, marital as well as martial strife and cow theft. Failing that, how about one of the other great Celtic romances - Deirdre of the Sorrows, perhaps (true love, evil King, murder, war and suicide), or Diarmid and Grainne (see above)? At the very least, you could do something, y'know, for kids, like Pat O'Shea's The Hounds of the Morrigan (gods, goddesses, witches, chases, sweets and kite-flying) or Finn McCool and the Small Men of Deeds (heroes, dwarves, adventure)?

If you prefer films you can spell, it's been at least three years since we last tackled King Arthur, so how about Bernard Cornwell's Arthur trilogy: The Winter King, Enemy of God and Excalibur? They're a bit like 2004's King Arthur, in reimaging Arthur as he might really have been without all the magic stuff, but they're, y'know, good.

Or maybe you want a do-over on the Iliad? Do you lust after the Odyssey? Would you prefer us all to move on and get with the 21st century?

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1 britesparc
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 12:41
You're a woman after my own heart, Helen - although clearly far more clued up on the classics than me :-) I studied the Iliad and the Odyssey at uni, and I think a LOTR-style take - serious but magical - would be amazing. Quite how you'd do the Gods in a way that seemed both realistic but fantastical, I'm not entirely sure, but it could work spectacularly. Plus, the Iliad is the most violent story this side of American Psycho, so it would be wonderfully visceral, too.

As for other myths, the whole Cúchulainn/Ulster Cycle stuff is pretty cool.

2 gegsuranus
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 14:16
For me there has never been a successful Graeco-Roman mythological epic adapatation. Ben Hur, Gladiator etc., are fantastic, but they are either historically or biblically based. Troy was crap, and Clash of the Titans is fun, but when I go to bed at night and dream of my perfect Greek Myth film adaptation, that is not it. The problem is of course the Gods. Either they're ignored or they come off all wrong. They are absolutely essential, for what is a Greek myth all about if not the story of how a human being gets screwed over by a bunch of incestuous, angry, sex-crazed, temperamental, power-wielding, patricidal maniacs, whom he/she also has to worship. Now I don't know about anyone else, but that's my kind of entertainment. Maybe Tarantino should direct his own version of a Greek myth.

3 britesparc
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 14:45
Exactly: pretty much the major theme of the Iliad is how the Gods find it really funny setting half of humankind off against the other half, they're all laughing and trying to get one up over each other, but on the battlefield thousands of men are dying in their thousands, in extremely graphic fashion (Homer, whoever he was, seemed to like describing organs falling out of bodies).

I'm totally behind the Tarantino Greek Myths, too; Empire, it is your duty to get Quentin on the case, asap!

4 giddig
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 14:50
Ulysses 31 please. What do you mean cartoon versions don't count?!

5 Blunderbuss
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 14:53
Aren't there plans afoot to remake Clash of the Titans on a bigger budget (and hopefully without the dodgy male and female leads this time)? If that flies (along with the likes of 300) then I can see all the studios rolling out their Greek and Roman mythologies..

That is until it all goes tits up and they cast Adam Sandler as Zeus and Ben Stiller as Apollo in a mis-guided attempt to do an Olympus themed comedy....

6 Beckymonster
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 15:39
I would love to have seen a version of the Odyssey with Sean Bean as Odysseus (which he played in Troy)... which could explain why it sucked. Apart from the fact that they completely frakked around with the story. Sean Bean's character did NOT die! He dies (LotR) bloody good movie. He doesn't (Troy) crap film.

Personally, I love Clash of the Titans. The acting might be a bit ropey, but the Harryhausen sfx are beyond compare. No amount of CGI is going to beat out those.

I agree with the Irish myths... though I would give my left arm to see Ulysees 31 done as a film... minus the annoying robot of course;)

7 gegsuranus
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 15:52
"Personally, I love Clash of the Titans. The acting might be a bit ropey, but the Harryhausen sfx are beyond compare. No amount of CGI is going to beat out those."
Like you say the sfx are brilliant, but if the acting and script aren't good it's not gonna deliver on the plot and characters. I would actually like to see Sean Bean in the Odyssey despite the very poor Troy. For me the film was never going to work when seen through Achilles' eyes, unless they got an actor of outstanding quality, because on paper all Achilles is, is a bit of a thug. Whereas if they followed it through Odysseus it would have probably made even greater sense to go from the Illiad to the Odyssey.

8 Timon
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 15:54
Becky, I've repeatedly read your post and I have no idea what you're talking about.

I for one would love to see Sean Bean as Odysseus. Bit of a historical epic fan and I reckon this would be great. Ditto with Cornwall's Arthur trilogy.

Can't wait for Neil Marshall to tackle The Ninth Legion.

9 the ageless stranger
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 15:58
SLAINE from 2000ad!!!

Celtic-themed, and it's got a huge guy with an axe named Brainbiter (the axe, not the guy) , what more do you need?

10 clownfoot
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 16:32
Bruce Campbell, chainsaw, boomstick, deadites and Zeus. It can only be the script for Evil Dead 5. Who says there are no new/original stories left H?

11 Helen OHara
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 17:00
Clownie, you are nothing if not consistent.

But if we're widening it out to sci-fi myth and reinterpretation, anyone else share my fixation with what Dan Simmons did with The Iliad in Ilium and Olympos? Now those Greek gods would work, and the heroes were utterly perfect.

12 JagLover
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 17:03
I also would love there to be more movies based on old legends/historical events.

However, "historical epics tell us more about the time in which they were made than the time in which they are set". Anachronisms abound and too often our hero/heroine is a 21st century man/woman dressed differently. 300 may have been fantastical but it was brave enough to have our 'heros' be Spartans rather than 21st century man.

If we could have more movies (perhaps more intelligent ones though) along those lines I would be happy

13 mjscarface
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 17:26
Let's have God of War for pete's sake. It may play around with the mythology, but my word it would make for a cracking film.

14 dunkah
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 17:32
Take your pick from the tales of The Mabinogion or the research of Wilson and Blackett into King Arthur. Both equally rich in source material for a half decent Arthur (The king not the drunk) movie depending on whether you want to go for a more mystical approach or a grittier realistic approach.

Also I think a film based on the true story of the murder of Bridget Cleary in the latter part of the 19th century would be a corker. To have a film where we can see the effect that the clash of thousands of years of Irish folklore culture against the growth of modern civilization had on the people that found themselves caught up in this period of transistion would be most welcome. I can see it in my head as being somewhere along the lines of Heavenly Creatures but with a more fantastical and mythological edge to it.

15 impqueen
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 17:36
Troy, King Arthur and Tristan & Isolde made me weep...I think Iphigenia (1977) is a stunning film and one of the few successful adaptations of Greek Myth.

I've wanted The War Lord Chronicles made into a Trilogy of films for a ridiculous amount of time now simply because I want to see a deranged/awol Merlin who isn't Nicol Williamson plus Derfel deserves a film but you just know they’d screw it up…

16 Bennio_g
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 18:10
I would love there to a film biop of King Alfred. He kicked seven kinds of Viking ass!

17 eamonn_finn2
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 18:24
I don't remember Tristan & Isolde as part of Irish mythology let alone Hellboy 2!

18 Adrian
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 18:26
an argment could be made also - and a strong one might i add - that Wonder Woman has mythological potential. especially if it tuns out (if it does actually turn out at-all at this rate) to be an origin film... i mean there's a lot of ancient greek mythology around that princess. Though they're bound to have her as american as apple pie. (just how American IS apple pie anyway?). But agreed. more mythology and legends and.. well.. .sword-and-sandalrey is needed. I'm wishing Arnie hadn't hung up his acting (for want of a better word) mitts, cause let's face it... no one else can be Conan. Aparently, he'd signed on to do 5 of those btw. sure woulda beat Twins and Kindergarden Cop...and... er... Junior.

19 gegsuranus
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 19:39
Tristan and Isolde is part of the Arthurian canon.
Having watched John Boorman's Excalibur and a bit of the recent King Arthur movie, I think a new film is highly warranted. Excalibur is a beautifully shot movie, but over 20 years old. The little I saw of King Arthur looked like it had great production values, but it lacked any distinguishing characteristics by making the legend historical as opposed to mythical. I think if you are going to make a film based on myth and legend, make it as magical and otherworldly as possible. These stories are usually based in some sort of faith and religion so it should pick up on that element. Or maybe I just like watching people do magic.

20 gegsuranus
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 19:42
I would love to see Wonder Woman focus a bit on Greek mythology. However, since Joss Whedon is no longer writing/directing I now have only bitter thoughts towards the movie.

21 Helen OHara
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 20:26
Eamonn, I've read Tristan and Isolde in both Arthurian collections and Irish ones; it's also sometimes referred to as one of the three great Celtic love stories, along with Deirdre and Diarmid. As for Hellboy 2, it's not the man himself who belongs in Irish legend, obviously, but rumour has it that the plot has to do with the Tuatha de Danaan, and certainly part of it is going to be filmed at the Giant's Causeway.

22 JagLover
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 22:13

The problem with the recent King Arthur movie is that it was neither historical nor mythical. They score one point for trying to make it realistic by making the knights of the round table Samartian (which is at least possible), but then squander any hopes of historical realism by placing the action at Hadrian's wall and then have all that nonsense with the church. As if the early christian church was the medieval one, inquisition and all.
A King Arthur that is both true to what could have been and the myth could be a very good movie indeed.

23 Tony Soprano
Posted on Thursday August 16, 2007, 22:40
i would love a remake of either Clash of the titans or Jason and the arganouts because i am young and i can't watch them because i am use to effects from king kong and lord of the rings and the effects of clash or jason are dated and make me lose focus of the film there great stories and would be great with todays cgi.i agree that troy was silly but i have to say that the sword fight between achiles and hector is impressive and Alexander well i don't know how Stone managed to ruin a great man like alexander but he managed it i hope Baz Lurhman comes back to aleaxander and does his version with Dicapro surely he couldn't make a warse alexander than Stone

24 Benji_Eclipse
Posted on Friday August 17, 2007, 01:16
Why are all these film-makers trying to be so "realistic" with epic fantasy? removing the magic from King Arthur or Troy takes away the sense of wonder. Peter Jackson aimed for a different kind of realism, whereby he created a totally different world, with weight and depth, that we could believe in. This is the kind of treatment needed for things like the odyssey and the mabinogion - an epic fantasy with weight and depth, not gritty realism

25 livewire
Posted on Friday August 17, 2007, 09:02
one word, CUCHULAINN, that all i'm saying. digging through the tales associated with this guy gives a major backcatalogue of heroic deeds, violent combat, and the odd wench or 2. Bring it on.

26 shool
Posted on Friday August 17, 2007, 10:24
Looking at it from a totally different angle, why not look at the Egyptian empires age, using Wilbur Smiths' "River God" or something similar. Would make a great time to show the decline of a mighty nation.

27 Tony Soprano
Posted on Friday August 17, 2007, 10:27
I agree why hasn't there been a big film about the Egyptian empire i would love to see that just think with the cgi going about today we could see Memphis or Alexandra in it's prime or Thebes

28 gegsuranus
Posted on Friday August 17, 2007, 12:05
When of my all time favourite films is The Ten Commandments. Yul Brynner is the man! The Ten Commandments is biblical though, and I'm not as familiar with Egyptian mythology as Greek and Roman. Do the myths feature any tales of humans and gods, or is it mostly gods?

29 Adrian
Posted on Friday August 17, 2007, 13:15
Yeah... the Egyptians had some pretty good stuff, but anything made'd just wind up being another Mummy movie. Actually; on myths and legend movies... one huge guilty pleasure of mine is Arnie's Hercules movie. it's the most unintentionally hilarious film ever, and the best of it is, you know the big oak'd just agree.

30 ninja bunny
Posted on Friday August 17, 2007, 14:18
Just reading through your blog and noticed your comment about Sophia Myles being the least Irish looking girl you've ever seen. What exactly do you expect an Irish girl to look like? Believe it or not not all of us are ginger nuts. Just most of us.

31 Helen OHara
Posted on Friday August 17, 2007, 14:49
Ninja, I'm Irish so I'm not coming from any particularly unrealistic or stereotypical view here. But Sophia Myles looks incredibly Anglo-Saxon, very English rose-y to me, and it honestly leapt out at me from the film. While there are naturally blonde Irish girls, most of them presumably trace their ancestry back to the Viking raids or Anglo-Saxon conquest, and I don't therefore imagine that there were many around at the time the film's set.

32 Barry
Posted on Friday August 17, 2007, 19:27
Cad faoi Cúchullain?!

Think about that last scene, just after tying himself to the post, and he dies... Brilliant. He's my favourite... Clann Lir (Children of Lir) is a brilliant child's fairy tale.

I like the Diarmaid and Gráinne story as well.
But yea... Loving your idea for An Táín.

Helen did you ever see the Knights of Tír na nÓg on RTE 2?! Y'see, one must be careful what one wishes for! It was AWFUL! Also, will you ever be gracing the four courts with your presence or are you a movie person for good!?

33 BethN21286
Posted on Friday August 17, 2007, 23:50
Do you lust after the Odyssey??

Hell yes we do, Sean Bean as Odysseus was the only part of Troy that didn't make me cringe so hard my face hurt.

34 gegsuranus
Posted on Friday August 17, 2007, 23:56
Knights of Tir na nog reminds me of Hercules the Legendary Journeys with kevin sorbo. Good times!?

35 Dave25
Posted on Saturday August 18, 2007, 13:39
Finally someone else who agrees Bernard Cornwalls Warlord Chronicles need making into films!

36 Tony Soprano
Posted on Sunday August 19, 2007, 02:49
They should do a proper film about Achillies

37 Eregian
Posted on Monday August 20, 2007, 12:44
Egyptian stuff has been done with The Mummy. This one's better than The Temple of Doom. But I'm missing the point.

I would love to see a non-silly big budget Hercules movie. The non-silly bit pointing to the series of the late nineties. Though Bruce Campbell was fun as always.

Same goes for an Atlantis movie. The current theory is that it was located at the Greek island of Santorini. The vulcanic eruption gave the island the peculiar look it has now and the resulting tsunami destroyed the Minoan empire on the island of Crete.

38 Tony Soprano
Posted on Monday August 20, 2007, 13:23
No we ment a film about the egyptians in there prime like Ramses the 2nd i am sure wee have seen enough mummy films

39 Eregian
Posted on Monday August 20, 2007, 15:44
I figured, but you got a taste of how Egypt would look like being CGI-ed.

40 Tony Soprano
Posted on Monday August 20, 2007, 16:39
yeah but no effort was put into it everyone knows egypt in it's prime was glorious

41 Eregian
Posted on Monday August 20, 2007, 17:46
I thought it looked pretty amazing back in 1998 (or was it '99). Not too subtle, but it did look like Egypt according to my knowledge. A real historical movie would of course do the setting more justice.

42 Charlii
Posted on Tuesday August 21, 2007, 20:03
If we're talking classic mythology Homer's Odyssey would make a great film, of course only if hollywood allowed for the gods/creatures etc to remain in the plot - otherwise it would be a guy on a boat of hmm say nearly 10 years.

Being someone who has read the classics and loves film i felt that Troy lacked the element of the gods, there could have been some great scenes when Troy was sacked with towering deities kicking over buildings and arguing - it is after all their petty behaviours which fuled some of the great myths. The nearest we got to a creature of mythology in Troy was Achillies mother Thetis who was a sea nymph but it wasn't obvious though to those who don't know.

Some people argue that we should get on with the here and now but its because mythological stories are so great that they have lasted so long. Plus it can be pointed out that loads of authors have taken elements from which have lead to modern day books and film adaptations. Jk Rowlings Harry Potter is a great example of this and look how sucessfull it's become!

43 Tony Soprano
Posted on Wednesday August 22, 2007, 05:10
Troy wasn't a great film but i do love the sword fight between Hector and Achilies

44 bobsuncorp
Posted on Saturday August 25, 2007, 02:54
As a big fan of Bernard Cornwalls books (I constantly pray for a remake of the Sharpe stories with a cgi cast of thousands on the battlefield instead of 20 guys and shaky background) I would love to see the Arthur trilogy turned into film, but unfortunately don't see it happening because once the Christian pressure groups hear about the content it will be strangled at birth. This is because Cornwall is brutally honest about the birth and propgation of Christianity over Paganism in Britain in the early days, with the Christians appearing hypocritical, self serving and corrupt. Also, frankly the stories would probably not translate too well into screen as so much is based on the characters belief in magics and supernatural elements that are never actually present. A 3 day trek through mist to find magic items for example. Oh and in the books Lancelot is a cowardly pretty boy whose mother spoils him so much she pays for lots of (fake) songs to be written and sung about his brave battles.

45 Keyser_Sose666
Posted on Saturday September 8, 2007, 22:51
O Brother, Where Art Thou is the only Odyssey film I'll ever need :D

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