Hey! Directors! Leave those myths alone!
The fact is, we do need an education – an education on how to make great films based on international legends – and we’re not getting it. Why, I don’t know. Mythology is one of the most incredible untapped resources for filmmakers, and for some reason in Hollywood, it’s either a) avoided as subject matter or b) diluted or changed to the point of becoming unrecognisable … or worse: blasphemy. The nonsense between the gods in Thor. The ridiculous conflict between Hades and Zeus in Wrath. The very bad, nearly deity-free interpretation of one the world’s most famous sieges in Troy (2004).
I want to scream, “That didn’t happen!” But that connotes real life. What I really want to say is: “That didn’t happen – in the actual myths!”
I have a suggestion to Hollywood. Adhere to the source material more. It’s brilliant, and there’s a host of stories to draw from. Why not stick to them? Myths are generally witty and offer moral content. We could use added doses of both in the movies.
With that in mind, I’d like to propose a number of international mythological pantheons and collections that would definitely fit the cinematic spectrum. In this day and age of computer-generated imagery, nearly anything can be brought to the screen. Let’s see some of the following ideas in full force.
OK, we’ve done Wrath and Clash of the Titans – the latter in both 1981 and 2010 iterations. We’ve had Jason and the Argonauts (1963). And we’ve had the execrable Troy. We’ve even had Agamemnon (incorrectly) battle a minotaur in Time Bandits (1981). But what about the death of Agamemnon by his wife Clytemnestra’s hands, and the subsequent revenge by her son Orestes? Or the story of Oedipus and the sphinx? Or Bellerophon taming Pegasus? Or Theseus deserting Ariadne? Hmmm? There’s a boatload of stuff out there, and Greek mythology is among the richest. Plus, the myths speak for themselves – you don’t need to tweak ’em.
Gosh, this is good stuff. From Ymir to Ragnarok, Norse mythology brings it. And unlike the Greek pantheon, the gods are mortal. They can die. They also feel guilt and betray each other miserably. All of this leads to the destruction of Asgard and of most of the deities. So why not do a whole movie or series of flicks dealing with this? You’ve got some great stories: Thor and Loki teaming up (yes, they do that) against the Jotuns … and Thor dressing up as a female bride to trick one of them. You’ve got the meeting of Odin and Loki and their ultimate falling out. You’ve got Tyr getting his hand bitten off by the wolf Fenris. Oh, and how about Thor being duped into wrestling with Old Age? You can’t get much more moral than that.
Damn, this source material is wonderful. OK, Stargate (1994) posited that the Ra was an alien, but mythologists know better. He’s the father of the gods and associated with the sun. But he’s not the only deity in this pantheon. What about Osiris and Isis, whose romance and fate to rule the land of the dead are fascinating? Or their son Horus, who battles and defeats his father’s murderer, the evil Set? C’mon, Hollywood. These stories are made for the movies.
This is a collection that I’ve always thought to be particularly cinematic, especially the legends of the great hero Cuchulainn and his defence of Ulster. He fights his son without knowing it, for Pete’s sake! That’s the story of legend. You’ve also got tales of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the ancient Irish pantheon – some of whose members are alluded to in the very disappointing flick Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008). The real stories, however, are much more interesting. Nuada of the Silver Hand. Balor of the Evil Eye. And the sons of Tuirenn, who go on a doomed series of quests for Lugh … whose father they killed. Man, these stories are great. Put them on the screen.
I’ve always felt like Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata (1989) didn’t do the full spectrum of Indian mythology justice, as much as it tried. There’s a host of gods and monsters waiting to be cinematised here, including some sexy stuff that might bring in eyeballs. Shiva’s sometimes racy encounters with demons, for one. Then there’s the Churning of the Ocean. And you’ve got the story of Krishna, which could be a whole series of movies. Get in on this one Hollywood. It’s fantastic.
Oh, there’s erotic content here, for sure. Onmyoji 2 (2003) brought in the gods for a bit here and there, but the real myths are much cooler. How about the exploits of the brother-and-sister team Izanagi and Izanami, the legendary parents of Japan? Or the way Amaterasu, the sun goddess, is brought out of her cave by a suggestive dance performed by one of the other deities? Hot stuff. Might make a good movie.
One of my formative experiences during childhood was seeing the Monkey King break out of his crucible during a performance of Peking Opera shown on TV. Fun as all git-out, and it has been turned into movies across the pond (2014’s The Monkey King, for one). But there’s a wealth of stories here, including some creation myths, like the tale of P’an Ku, and these could make for great filmmaking in Hollywood. Let’s see more of it.
Native American mythology
One of the issues with creating movies out of Native American mythology is that there are a host of beautiful stories passed down from different tribes – often containing similar or the same characters – and it might be difficult to boil down the most cinematic ones. I’ve always been partial to the tale of Raven creating Real People, though, and I think this would be a lovely, humorous flick. Talking animals. Hollywood’s already gone there. Why can’t it do so again?
I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot more pantheons. I’m open to suggestions. I hope Hollywood directors are, too.