Not The Perseus You’re Looking For

Over at Salon, Martha Nichols asks, why can’t Hollywood make good mythic movies?

Watching the trailer for “Clash of the Titans,” I know as surely as the Oracle of Delphi that this movie will be foul. A remake of the 1981 film — fantasy classic to some, pure hokum to others — it will swoop upon us April 2.

Here’s what I wonder: Why has no halfway decent director made a film about the Greek gods and their attendant nymphs and heroes? I don’t mean contemporary retellings like “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.” I mean a movie that re-creates the Greek gods on their own terms.

Think about what James Cameron or Peter Jackson could do with this material — the original stuff from Hesiod and Ovid and Apollodorus, which is so much better than toga-clad extras and grunts fighting giant scorpions.

We could expand this question: why can’t Hollywood make good movies? (which are our myths)

Like Martha Nichols, I’m a huge fan of mythology and like all mythology buffs, I was weened on that particular sub genre known as Greek Mythology.[1] This is where a lot of our culture comes form and some of the greatest, most dramatic stories are told there. But they remain only on paper. The thin shadows of these tales that get made into films are a disappointment, because they lack the scale, the grandeur and the sheer weirdness of the source material. The reaosn is simple: money.

Hollywood movies cost tens of millions of dollars to make.[2] And being concerned with the bottom line before anything else (if anything else, sometimes), producers want a sure thing. That means shaving off the sharp points that might cut or sting and hacking off anything that might offend the small minded bigotries of Real Americans.[3] So: no art for you. All that incestuous, bloody tragedy, that lascivious intent and dark, squirming beauty that makes the myths live is omitted. Instead, we get soldiers killing monsters and saving the (always white, usually blond) princess. Sweet dreams and good night. Don’t think too hard about what it might mean, it’s just shadows on the cave wall.

Which is a shame because if you were to make a straight up, bloody myth, with gods and goddesses scheming and plotting for petty reasons and thwarting the dreams of man, you could make millions.[4] There’s a reason these stories have persisted for three thousand years: they speak to our hearts and tell us about ourselves. Whenever you watch a  movie and feel it’s lacking something but can’t tell what– this is what! It lacks the tragic beauty of myth.

1. Fun fact: the Greek myths aren’t all Greek. They come from a wide range of cultural source material, some of it Egyptian, some of it Persian, all filtered through a loose conglomeration of Greek authors who lived centuries apart and came from different Hellenic cultures, even. Greece isn’t a huge place but it was by no means a monocutlure. it was more like the crossroads where a dozen different cultures (Spartan, Mycenaean, Thracian, Athenian, etc.) all met and swapped their best stories. It was the original crossover comics, the first mash ups. You think adding zombies to Jane Austen novels was fun? How about a movie where the Athenians fight the zombie armies of Hades? You don’t really even have to stretch the myth too far to fit it in.

2. These days, the big tent pole action pictures start their budgets at 100 mil. Avatar cost 500 mil. Half a billion dollars. There are countries in Europe with GDP smaller than one movie. This is why the story that movie tells is so bland and predictable. In order to recoup that much cash, there was no room to take chances.

3. We used to call them yokels. Now, they’re the GOPs base and their Queen, Sarah Pallin, is jealous and petty, like any good would-be goddess.

4. And as Nichols points out, making the cast more multicultural would actually be closer to the source material, so your world market comes built in.

2 thoughts on “Not The Perseus You’re Looking For”

  1. Hiya Keith, and happy Birthday! 😀 I was pointed this way bt Bryan at WhyNow. So blame him! 😉

    My theory on Hollywood (apart from that it’s run by bean-counters whose heads would explode at any original idea that didn’t involve extorting even more money from people), is they don’t want to upset their fundie backers and assorted wingnuts. I blogged about Disney/ABC some years ago after some serious research and discovered their tyeins (sic) to some crackpot fundies. :)

    Anyway… That’s one theory. There are others. 😉

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