I've always been interested in mythology, and so when The History Channel's latest Blu-ray release, Clash of the Gods, arrived at DVDTalk, I jumped at the chance to review it. Maybe I shouldn't have moved so quickly. While it does retell some of the more interesting stories from (mainly) Greek and Roman mythology, the hour long show is padded way too much and the special effects are anything but special.
Aside from a couple of episodes, each show looks at a Greek myth and tells the interesting story of an ancient god, hero, or monster. They cover Hades and the afterlife, the trials of Odysseus, and the half-man half beast Minotaur. There are also episodes on the Norse god Thor, Beowulf, and the monsters from The Lord of the Rings.
The show does a good job or telling the tale while also getting expert opinions on the meaning and reasons for the myth. In the episode on Medusa, for instance, they relate how Medusa started out being a very lovely priestess of Athena. Since Athena was a virgin, all of her priestesses had to be pure too. While this priestess was able to resist the advances of all of the men she encountered, the same couldn't be said when it came to a god. Poseidon took a fancy to the gorgeous girl and raped her in the
Interspersed with the telling of the legend are various professors and author who are experts on the legend, giving their interpretation of how the myth arose and why it was important to the Greeks. They hypothesis, for example, that Medusa's appearance was inspired by what people look like after they've been dead for a few days.
While the stories themselves are interesting and the commentary by the scholars is often good, the show is severely marred by the deep-voiced narrator, whose purple prose-filled comments are terribly over the top, some terrible graphics and cinematography, and most of all, being incredibly repetitive.
First the narration: yes, I can see the need for someone to tie this all together, but does every myth have to be the most important, the most horrific, or most influential (sometimes all three) in the ancient world? The writing is really bad for the narration and they would have done much better cutting out all of the hyperbole and letting the stories speak for themselves.
Based on the cover, I thought the legends were going to be illustrated by CGI renditions of the monsters and greater than life characters. I mean even the newest incarnation of Doctor Who has passable CGI animation, surely The History Channel can cough up the cash for some rudimentary special effects. Not so apparently. The graphic for the monsters are horrible. Basically they used Terry Gilliam-style animation for most of their creatures, 'cutting out' an image (via computer of course) and moving the arms and legs to create motion. These flat, 2D renditions were almost humorous and not impressive in the least. The Hundred Handers (aka the Hundred-handed Ones) were shown with a whole 8 arms which waved up and down attached to a motionless torso and unmoving face. For the gods and heroes themselves, they dressed actors up (nothing wrong with that) and inexplicably painted their faces. Even babies had face paint as did important characters that were just human. I assume that's because the creators assumed that anyone watching wouldn't be able to tell two people apart without some dramatic difference. They did have some cheap CGI animation in the Thor episode for the Midgard Serpent. It didn't look great, but it was much better than anything else in the series.
There's a lot of evidence that the writers had a very low opinion of their audience. This is one of the most repetitive shows I've ever seen. They could have easily cut it down to half and hour and still not have had to cut any of the content. They repeat the same information over and over and over. Even my 13 year old son asked why they mentioned that Zeus was king of the gods so many times. Before each commercial break they'd tell you what you'd just heard, and what was coming up. Then after the break they tell you once more what had happened so far and what was going to happen, just in case you couldn't remember that, say Zeus was king of the gods after two minutes worth of commercials. Come on. Give your audience credit for having some intelligence.
The Blu-ray Disc:
These ten episodes come on two Blu-ray discs enclosed in a single width standard case.
The 1.78:1 looked okay for the most part, thought they did their best to make it look crappy. Most of the 'reenactments' and animations had a haze overlaid over the image as if they were filmed behind a dirty lens. This is an old trick to make the special effect look better. If you can't afford great SFX, have your movie take place at night, or in the rain, so that the defects will be harder to see. Unfortunately they couldn't make all of Hercules 12 tasks take place at night or in the rain, so they just gave us a 'stylized' image looks like crap. The disc did a good job of reproducing this, but it still looks unimpressive on a screen.
The DTS 2.0 uncompressed soundtrack was fine, but the show could have been much better with full surround sound. These days many TV viewers have 5.1 (or more) systems and there's no reason why a show with action scenes such as, oh, maybe gods clashing, shouldn't come with a 5.1 audio.
Another disappointment. There are no extras.
I had high hopes for this show, but it falls very short. How can you go wrong with something as interesting and exciting as ancient mythology? By assuming your audience is full of dunces and repeating everything over and over and over. I could forgive the wretched special effects and the purple-prose narration, but not that. If you're really interested in ancient mythology, this might be worth a rental.