Ruminations on Clashing Myths and Movies

Quick note: Halloween quickly approaches, my favorite time of year. To celebrate, I will be participating in Coffin Hop next week. This is an event sponsored by writers of horror and dark fiction. To be honest, I don’t totally understand how a blog hop works, but I will be (hopefully) posting a piece of flash fiction, announcing publication of a short story e-book, and giving away some books. You’ll also be able to explore the work of other talented horror and genre writers. So stop by (a few times) and help me celebrate Halloween. 🙂

And now, back to my irregularly scheduled program…

A couple of days ago, in need of some light action-adventure, I watched Clash of the Titans (2010). I was saving this movie on my DVR for this very purpose. I had forgotten that I’d already seen the movie.

It seems odd that I would forget a movie that I had probably seen within the last year.  Especially when it’s full of monsters and magic and men in short skirts – like just the sort of thing I should like.  So why did it take a full ten minutes of film time for me to realize I’d seen it before?

Aside from the obvious reason (I had another birthday last week – dang things just keep piling up), I suspect I forgot the movie because it is, well, completely forgettable. And I don’t just mean the acting. It would be delusionally optimistic to expect good acting in a movie featuring giant god figures, sea monsters, scorpions as big as Greyhound busses, and humanoids that appear to be made of wood. I don’t watch such movies for the acting. Nor do I expect brilliant plotting, so that can’t be the problem, either.

But I do expect the plot to be coherent, and that is where the disappointment begins.

The story of Perseus from Greek mythology is convoluted and full of interesting characters. It is a quest story, in which Perseus completes a series of strange and dangerous tasks, slaying the sea monster and winning the hand Andromeda along the way. The story presents a moviemaker with lots of appealing material to work with.

Unfortunately, these moviemakers didn’t make coherent use of it.

Let’s start with the sea monster. In the following clip, Zeus delivers what has become the movie’s most immortal line.

*

Pretty scary, eh? As CGA monsters go, this one is pretty good. Except that a Kraken is a Norse sea monster from the cold waters of the Norwegian Sea. And a Kraken is a giant squid. No clawed hands attached.

It’s hard to imagine why the moviemakers didn’t use the Greek name Cetos (or Ketos) for the monster. That would totally end-around the squid confusion. I suspect it’s because they didn’t know how to pronounce Cetos. (Note: In Ovid, the sea monster is called the “Draco,” which means “dragon” in Latin. There is a Draco in this movie, but he’s human. And he’s working with Perseus to defeat the Kraken. Irony abounds.)

While we are on the subject of misplaced creatures, take another look at the film clip. What’s that stirring in the background behind the Almighty Zeus? Why, it’s a bald eagle, best known as an American national symbol. Because is found only in North America! Don’t the Mediterranean Islands have eagles of their own?

And then there’s the addition of the bark-faced people during the battle with the giant scorpions. I can let the scorpions ride. At least scorpions do live in Greece. But those bark-faced people turn out to be Djinn. Which, last time I checked, were part of Persian mythology. What exactly does the inclusion of a Persian Djinn person to Perseus’s troupe add to the story? I mean, besides another character available to die at the right time? If that’s all they needed, why not use something Greek, like a centaur or minotaur?

These foreign creatures were not the only instances where the moviemakers needlessly altered the mythology. At the start of Perseus’s quest, he is told he must go to Norn Mountain to seek answers from Stygian witches. These witches are indeed from Greek mythology. (They are called the Graeae, but I can hardly blame the moviemakers for changing their name to “Stygian witches.” I’m not sure even the Greeks know how to pronounce Graeae.)

But Norn Mountain? Norn? Really? Maybe I just didn’t hear that right.

Enough nitpicking. None of these deviations actually ruined the movie for me. I’m easily entertained. Monsters and magic and men in short skirts, remember? No, for me, the deathblow for this film’s credibility was the fiasco that passes as a love story between Perseus and Io. This deviation is so wrong and awkward that I can’t even find a good analogy to express myself.

You see, it would be awfully hard for Io to have adventures with Perseus when she spends most of her time disguised as a cow. (No, really – read it here. )

Why on earth did the moviemakers choose to throw Io into the mix when they had a perfectly good love interest in Andromeda? If They wanted a strong female character to join Perseus’s quest party, how about some random Amazon? How about making her an equal with the other warriors in his crew, rather than a weak love interest? If the addition of Io is a deflection of the “rescue the maiden” story, why not instead make Andromeda a strong enough character to withstand accusations of sexism?

What were this movie’s writers thinking?!

<*Pant, pant.*>

Clearly I’m making too much of this (especially since the movie was released two years ago). Bad movies have been made before. Mythology has been abused before. It’s just…WHY?  The story was practically written for them. Why did they have to make it worse?

Will no one ever make a decent movie using Greek mythology?

(Feel free to make suggestions in the comments, if you know of a good Greek mythology movie that I’ve missed.)

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About Marie Loughin

I love reading, writing, and editing speculative fiction of all sorts. My current focus is on writing contemporary fantasy, where I get to play god with characters from myth and legend. My Norse-based urban fantasy, Valknut: The Binding, is available at Kindle Books and other e-book retailers. You can find me at my blog (marieloughin.com) and on Twitter (@mmloughin).
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18 Responses to Ruminations on Clashing Myths and Movies

  1. juliabarrett says:

    Mixing their metaphors, eh? This is why I skipped it altogether – though when I was younger I saw the original. Rrrrrrrlease the Krrrrrrraken! Great line even if it’s meaningless. It does, however, aptly describe my dog.

  2. I don’t think I’ve seen the original. I watched the trailer, though, and it does at least mention more true-to-myth features, despite its Kraken and (I think) giant scorpions.

  3. Jaye says:

    I’m with you on this one. It’s not as if Greek mythology is a big secret or difficult to research. A quick scan through Bulfinch’s would provide enough monsters, weird beasts and characters to fill a thousand movies.

    I actually forgave the Kraken in the original Clash of the Titans because I got to see Harry Hamlin’s naked butt.

    The movies that really drive me nuts are those about King Arthur–Dark Age Britain! No cavalry, no knights in armor on chargers, no jousting tournaments. Give me a freakin’ break.

  4. She said butt. Huh huh huh huh. 😉

    Greek mythology is exciting without outside help. I’m open to some liberal interpretation when bringing it to the screen, but not a mingling of mythologies.

    Hey, all you budding filmmakers out there! If you want to make a movie based on Norse mythology, have at it! Steal from Wagner if you have no imagination. But don’t try to disguise it as Greek.

    So Jaye, what Arthur movies work for you?

    • Jaye says:

      Truth is, I haven’t seen an Arthur movie that did work for me. There must be at least one out there, but whenever I see the posters and trailers featuring medieval trappings, I turn away. King Arthur was post-Roman and definitely pre-feudal. He was not the King of England because there was NO England during that period. The vikings weren’t even around. Arthur’s biggest problems were with the Angles and the Saxons. So makers of Camelot? Pfft.

      You must watch the original Clash of the Titans. It’s much much better than the remake.

  5. Hmm, if you don’t do the tournaments or the kingship thing, what conflict would you center the plot around? (Re Arthur.)

    Maybe in Camelot they *did* have tournaments and a king. Maybe they were simply ahead of their time…

  6. Ken Preston says:

    It’s all about entertainment, and getting bums on seats. Hollywood doesn’t care who knows what about which mythologies and legends, about Krakens and sea monsters and giant squids. They are out to maximise their return.
    The only people who care about these details are, like yourself, the ones who have an interest in the source material, or the details themselves.
    I mean, you know, I’m with you all the way here. I’ve done my fair share of ranting myself at times. But then I don’t much watch this type of film anymore. The older I get, the less patience I have with them.
    *Grrrr, said the grumpy old man.*

  7. Paul D. Dail says:

    I loved the original… as a kid. There is still a sense of nostalgia when I see it, but these days I recognize the flaws in the mythology. I think Ken said it well… it’s about entertainment value. Which is the only reason I wanted to see the remake, to see how they’ve redone the cool effects.

    Oh, and in addition to Harry Hamlin’s butt, you can’t miss Burgess Meredith and Sir Laurence Olivier as Zeus.

    Enjoy the Coffin Hop. I think it will be even better this year. To make the most out of it, you want to try to visit as many people as possible. The law of averages will say that while this may be the last time you’ll communicate with many of them, you’ll find a few gems who you will add to your list of blogging/writing friends.

    Paul D. Dail

    • I should keep an eye out for the original. I love cheesy special effects.

      I’ve already enjoyed my interactions with the folks involved in the Coffin Hop. They are a laid back, cheerful bunch. Especially considering the whole horror interest. I do plan to try to visit as many blogs as I can.

  8. This movie sounds awful, Marie! I suspect your intellect and ability to think and question probably put you outside of the target demographic. One of my Biggest Pet Peeves (and you know I have bunches of ’em) is the “weak love interest” or sudden, inexplicable and awkward attraction between two characters, as if even the actors are like, “WTF?” I love your idea of making the woman be an equal to the men, rather than just throwing her in as a hackneyed love interest.

    See you at the Coffin Hop!

    -aniko

    • I can turn my brain off with the best of ’em. But I do have limits.

      In fairness to the movie’s version of Io, she does have some powers and knowledge that are useful. But still.

      • “I can turn my brain off with the best of ’em.” –> this makes me smile. Your brain “off” is probably still pretty formidable. Someday, we’ll have to get together and watch some mindless movies, I think that would be fun!

        -aniko

  9. RobynC says:

    I believe you are giving them faAar too much credit. I don’t think anyone involved put any thought into the origin of where their “monsters” came from; I suspect the truth is more like a CGI “Virtual Catalog” of “Available Monsters” and they went through it like a kid with the Sears’ Wishbook (boy, I loved that thing…) and said “ooOOoh… we need THOSE, and THAT and That and THAT ONE!! What, we only needed three? I don’t care, ADD ANOTHER SCENE!! Not in the budget??! ok, throw it in the background then, cuz it looks awesome and they’re on sale this week.”

    “Research” like that is reserved for Documentaries and anything on the History Channel. 😛 Sadly.

    Julia: You have a GIANT SQUID for a DOG??? that’s SchamAZING!!!

    The Original was campy-epic at the time… but even then my brain railed against the liberties taken with the mythology cuz I knew more than the filmakers wanted me to even then… and special effects have improved to where it would be almost painful to watch now… Harry Hamilin’s butt aside, (snicker) I think my favorite part is when Zeus Cheats at the gameboard and stands Harry back up so he can save the day. 🙂 The Kracken was awesome looking.. not very squid like…. as I recall it was more like Mer- version of Godzilla….

    I haven’t seen the new one. Thinking now…. I may not. 😛

    • You just might be on to something, Robyn. I probably could have forgiven this movie if the actors (and writers) had had a little more fun with it and made it campy. It was almost like they knew it was bad and couldn’t put their hearts into it.

  10. I look forward to it, Aniko!

  11. Char Newcomb says:

    Just scratched this one from my to-watch list…. Great post, Marie.

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