Joseph Campbell: Mythos (The Complete Series)
Athena // Unrated // $99.99 // September 18, 2012
Review by Nick Hartel | posted September 11, 2012
Highly Recommended
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To the average fan of film or literature, the name Joseph Campbell should ring a bell. While likely most widely known for using "Star Wars" as metaphor for the traditional "hero's journey," Campbell's 60-plus year career as a scholar has provided the world with countless books, essays, and programs on the idea of mythology, the similarities and differences of mythology cross-culturally, as well as the role of religion as a separate entity and closely tied factor in these topics. "Mythos: The Complete Series" is a curious, but wholly fascinating collection of Campbell's work, told by the man himself across three separate sets of themed lectures that cover: The Shaping of Our Mythic Tradition, The Shaping of Eastern Tradition, and The Shaping of Western Tradition. Each topic consists of four to five, nearly one-hour lectures given by Campbell just a few years prior to his death in 1987. While the idea of watching a grand total of 15-hours of "academic lecturing" may sound absolutely baffling, "Mythos" is a testament to Campbell's intellectual prowess and ability to explain complex concepts to the average viewer; in short, he's as close as I've seen anyone come to being the literary equivalent of Carl Sagan.

"Mythos I" is an all-encompassing primer to the idea of myth and its emergence in ancient societies. Campbell relates core ideas necessary to understanding the components of myth to the psychological studies and theories of Carl Jung. It's in these early episodes that viewers get a taste for Campbell's style; he's not flashy, choosing mostly to sit on the edge of a desk and lecture, but he's never boring. It's a lecture he knows from start to finish, but there's a tremendous humanity to his voice as he pauses to recall specific examples and in some cases, spin an anecdote from the occasional chuckle from the audience (yes, Campbell is as a dry, clever wit to him). Overall, "Mythos I" is the most essential of the three sets of programs and should definitely be viewed first. It can even be viewed as a more encompassing look at one scholar's ideas of sociology through the lens of mythology as the lectures, by and large, cover broad social topics including formation of religion, gender and social roles, and societal evolution.

"Mythos II" and "Mythos III" are focused on Eastern and Western traditions and mythologies respectively and while Campbell's lectures do follow a chronological flow, those strictly interested in Western influences including but not limited to the Holy Grail as a key component in myth, Arthurian legends and more modern influences, could conceivably skip "Mythos II." That said, "Mythos II" is just as fascinating, focusing on Asian religions with an emphasis on higher consciousness. Literature and film fans will see fundamental ideas that appear in classic "heroic tales" as well as Campbell's later work on the "hero's journey." Overall, Campbell's specific work on "Mythos" is phenomenal and the presentation of these lectures takes a few extra steps to keep viewers engaged including supplementing Campbell's words at times with reference images and providing a clear image of any diagrams projected on a nearby screen Campbell utilizes during his talks. The only jarring and outright disappointing aspect of "Mythos" is Susan Sarandon's role as a host. If it were merely limited to introducing and concluding each lecture, it would be forgivable and welcome solely for a general context, but Sarandon shows up at times in the middle, redundantly summarizing Campbell's themes and introducing what follows, that is frankly, clear enough on its own. Simply put, her stiff presentation (at times she looks like she's reading off cue cards) shatters the illusion that the viewer is sitting out in the crowd, listening to a master share his knowledge. It should not in anyway though, keep you from experiencing this wonderful series of lectures.


The Video

The 1.33:1 original aspect ratio transfer is in every way, shape, and form a VHS transfer. Fine detail is nearly non-existent and color levels resemble natural shades as well as VHS is able to. There are some minor but noticeable hallmarks of the video source material, but by and large, given the age of the program and the background behind it, things could have looked much, much worse.

The Audio

The Dolby Digital English Mono soundtrack for "Mythos I" and "Mythos II" are generally clear tracks, with a low level of audible hiss. It's obviously not a dynamic track at all and is merely passable for the style of program. "Mythos III" is presented with an English Stereo soundtrack that has just a small amount of expanded life and clarity, but does nothing to shatter the illusion these are filmed lectures. English SDH subtitles are included for "Mythos III."

The Extras

The lone extra is 12-page printed viewer's guide that is noteworthy for having a previously unpublished Campbell essay within its pages.

Final Thoughts

"Mythos: The Complete Series" is a must-own title. On a presentation level, it won't wow you much, but over the course of its 15-hour runtime, Joseph Campbell imparts a wealth of information on both Western and Eastern traditions after providing viewers with an extensive background presentation on the nature of myth and tradition itself. It can be dry at times, but taken casually (meaning, try not to watch more than one lecture a day), Campbell's teachings sink in forever. Highly Recommended.

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