Sunday, November 13, 2011

Extreme sword-and-sandal flicks suck

Myths have never truly been high art. Their age may lend a semblance of class to these stories of old but, in all honesty, they're just nice stories. And that's why they've survived for so long. Oral histories and blind poets spread these stories because they were cool. The stories are a witness to a long dead society, and by being passed on that society is still made full. Its character lives on despite the ruined columns and empty temples. Being mostly passed on through oral histories, these stories lend itself to alteration. No two collections of myths seem to have the exact same story. Yet, while the stories lend themselves to change, it's a bastardization to revamp these stories to fit the extreme attitudes of today.

Just one more insult in a subgenre of mediocrity.

The sword-and-sandal genre was largely forgotten until 2000's Gladiator. A brilliant and epic film, Gladiator is, to me, one of the great movies of the last decade. Gladiator is the kind of movie that lends itself to a type of grandeur rarely seen in today's cinema. It does not ask for this reverence, it instead earns it. Gladiator is one of the few films I can consider new classics (Shawshank Redemption can be another example). These are films that, ten years from now, we'll see them running on TCM (the pinnacle of film channels) instead of reruns on Spike.

Are you not entertained?

Less successful attempts at the genre include Alexander and Troy, two 2004 movies that tried to ape Gladiator's greatness yet missed out on its class. While they may be entertaining in their own right, they do nothing to benefit their genre or their audiences. Instead you get Brad Pitt with a ridiculous accent and Colin Farrell lost in a mess of a movie. After such overbloated failures the genre grew stagnant. There were no more attempts at strapping sandals on overpaid actors. That was until two years later when Zack Snyder took a Frank Miller graphic novel and tricked it out in a glorious fashion.

Glory and gory.

The transgressive sword-and-sandal subgenre first really emerged with the God of War video game series. With the idea still new and fresh, Kratos' bloody revenge on Greek mythology made for an excellent video game experience. A visceral hack-and-slash game that both recognized its shallowness and overcame it. A little after God of War rocked the Playstation 2, 300 premiered in theaters. Taking the idea of mythological epics to new heights, 300 took the fictional part of historical-fiction in an extreme direction.

Step one: Cast Vincent Regan (See Troy, 300 and Clash of the Titans).

And while critics were not huge fans of the film, testosterone fueled frat boys ate it up, if only for them to now have an idea for group Halloween costumes that let them wear a cape. While charming in its style, which has become somewhat of a cliche now, 300 because an archtype. Its slow-mo fight scenes and desire to prove its masculinity has been both spoofed and imitated since it came into theaters. But while 300 was a somewhat fresh take on Greek myth, it has since become stale.

Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery.

The art of mixing overacting, overblown special effects and thrashing guitar soundtracks have birthed Clash of the Titans and Immortals (Immortals was released last Friday on 11/11/11). Greek myth has lasted thousands of years to be made into a loud, cacophonous mess. The myths themselves are nothing but window-dressing for hollow messes. This isn't a debate about which Kraken was better rendered, the 1981 version or the 2010 version. Instead this is a question of overdoing the Kraken because you have a giant special effects budget and you just know the monster could use more teeth.

Need a Kraken? Why not Zoidberg?

So hopefully this extreme genre dies out. Because while it may of once been exciting, nothing gets boring faster than the extreme. It's just become its own cliche. It even has it's own television show with Starz's Spartacus series. Void of any real meaning, which is the complete opposite of the original myths, the movies are nothing more than quickly made popcorn flicks with tacked on 3-D to raise ticket prices. My judgement against Immortals is even more personal, considering the fact that Theseus was my favorite Greek hero. But then again, maybe I should just be happy that Immortals dethroned Puss in Boots in the box office.

Dreamworks isn't even trying anymore.

1 comment:

  1. Theseus was your favorite Greek hero? Good choice. Slay that minotaur!