I was watching Tarsem Singh’s Immortals the other day, because I have a lingering love of all things Greek mythology-related and also I hate myself. It’s a bad movie. Don’t subject yourself to it. I know Singh’s The Fall is great, and Henry Cavill’s bod is better, but seriously: Immortals is pretty + dumb + really weird hats, only minus any fun that description implies.
Since I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to the movie after the first half hour or so, I started thinking: Why hasn’t anyone managed to make a good Greek mythology movie? Seriously. There are so many of them, and they all suck, except for the small handful that are just OK. Let’s take a look:
Look, I have no problem—in theory—with making an “historically accurate” version of The Iliad that strips out all heavenly interference. You have to fiddle with large sections of the original text, but whatever. I am rarely precious about source material. My problem with Troy isn’t that it “ruins” Greek mythology, but that it fucking sucks and it wasted pitch-perfect Odysseus casting (Sean Bean) on a shitty movie. Brad Pitt’s ten times better in kooky supporting character roles (Twelve Monkeys, Fight Club) than he is as a leading man, only he looks like Brad Pitt, so Hollywood won’t let it fucking go. Let’s just acknowledge this.
“I know how we can compensate for wooden acting. Weird hats!”
“Nonsensical character development? Weird hats!”
“Lackluster script? Weird hats!”
Clash of the Titans
I forgot every single thing about this movie approximately five minutes after I saw it. Occasionally I’ll have nightmares about Ralph Fiennes’ Ted Nugent hair, but that’s about it. I never saw Wrath of the Titans, but Sam Worthington had a mulletfro in it, so it can’t be good.
NBC’s The Odyssey
NBC did a The Odyssey miniseries starring Armand “LAWWWWWWW” Assante in 1997, and I have very fond memories of it—again, baby mythology nerd—despite the fact that, if I watched it again today, I would realize that 13-year-old me had horrible taste. Then again, how can a show that brought Vanessa Williams and Christopher Lee together possibly be bad?
300 and 300: Rise of an Empire
I’m not going to talk shit on 300, because I haven’t seen it, but I will say that of the scattered bits and pieces I’ve caught, nothing convinced me this is a movie I would like. I saw the sequel for purely Eva Green reasons. Eva and her whackadoodle costumes and her whackadoodle sex scene and her whackadoodle everything delivered. Nothing else did, including Gerard Butler replacement Sullivan Stapleton, who somehow managed to out-bland Sam Worthington.
AKA 2014’s Hercules, starring The Rock, a completely separate movie from 2014’s The Legend of Hercules, starring the dying embers of Kellan Lutz’s post-Twilight career. I didn’t see the latter film—something tells me I didn’t miss out on an underappreciated classic—but I did subject myself to the former, and the fact that it was directed by Brett Ratner is really all you need to know about it. Somehow it made Dwayne fucking Johnson as the strongest man in history boring, which might be a bigger sin than X-Men: The Last Stand.
Admittedly, I haven’t seen the Percy Jackson movies, but I don’t know a single person who likes them, including Percy Jackson fans.
There are some halfway decent Greek mythology movies, but even those I wouldn’t wholeheartedly endorse as being great. For example:
Meg is good. Hades is good. Everything else is second-tier Disney mayo. Try, without the aid of YouTube, to hum a song from this one. I dare you.
The original Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts
These two are the most classic examples of Greek mythology movies, and for good reason. That reason is Ray Harryhausen, who provided the groundbreaking special effects that stand up remarkably well even today. Take out the Harryhausen, though, and Clash is camp-good and Jason is just boring. The most interesting part, skeleton war aside, is the end, when Jason has gotten the Golden Fleece and the girl, and Zeus is all “Jason will have all these other magnificent adventures, surely.” In the unfilmed sequel, our boy J ditches Medea for a younger woman, only to have his ex murder his new wife and father-in-law before she offs two of her and Jason’s kids before riding off in a chariot pulled by flying dragons, YOLO. Then he dies sad and alone because his one-time benefactress Hera has a thing about cheating husbands. Cue fanfare!
I don’t mean to dismiss Clash’s camp or the achievements of Harryhausen, who deserves every bit of praise he gets. Clash and Jason are both good, but they’re good-with-an-asterisk. Greek mythology is awesome. Larger-than-life characters, epic battles, hubris, passion, universal stories. You’d think there would be at least one movie that we could point to, without reservation, and say “This is a great movie.” One. Instead we get either watered-down studio crap ( Hercules the Clash remake) or directors with unique vision trying to mix up the original stories and whiffing horrendously (Immortals, Troy).
In the latter camp, there has been one movie that’s gotten it right, and that’s the Coen brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou.
It’s set in the Depression-era South, but it is a very thinly disguised The Odyssey homage, so it counts. That’s one. But I’m a fantasy nerd, dammit. I want sword and sandals.
Maybe Hercules in New York is good?