Case Number 18534: Small Claims Court

CLASH OF THE GODS

History Channel // 2009 // 470 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // March 18th, 2010

The Charge

The origins of ancient mythology revealed.

The Case

Even by their recent standards, History Channel's newest series is wonderfully shameless. Clash of the Gods is clearly meant to cash in on the theatrical release of the Clash of the Titans remake, right down to the suspiciously similar title that's surely designed to confuse DVD buyers in a hurry. You want all the Medusa, Zeus, and Hades you can handle? Then you'll love this DVD, because as a thorough retelling of several Greek (and a few non-Greek) myths, it's actually pretty good. As for actual historical content, however, that's a much dicier proposition.

Here are the ten episodes compiled on three discs:

Disc One
* "Zeus"
The king of Greece's pantheon of gods is the most important figure in Greek mythology.

* "Hercules"
The story of the most famous half-man/half-god in Greek mythology.

* "Hades"
Greek mythology's version of the afterlife has some surprising similarities to other religions.

* "Minotaur"
The possible true story behind the Greek myth of a half-man/half bull flesh-eating monster.

Disc Two
* "Medusa"
How a story of a beautiful woman turned into a hideous monster became one of the most famous in Greek mythology.

* "Odysseus: Curse of the Sea"
The first half of Homer's Odyssey tells of how the Trojan War's greatest hero struggles to find his way home with his ships and crew.

* "Odysseus: Warrior's Revenge"
The second half of the Odyssey describes how Odysseus, the only survivor of his entire expedition, finally makes it back to his kingdom, only to have one last trial to face.

Disc Three
* "Beowulf"
Considered the first story written in English, the epic poem Beowulf tells of a Danish hero who battles a fearsome monster.

* "Tolkien's Monsters"
The inspirations that J.R.R. Tolkien used in writing The Lord of the Rings.

* "Thor"
The Viking god of thunder was the centerpiece of worship in Norse culture.

If you're looking for reenactments of many of these myths, you'll get them here. Using a mixture of actors, costumes, sets, and CGI, each myth is retold in detail. These range from the evocative to the silly, but for the most part, as far as visualizations go, they get the job done. You'll actually understand each myth in depth and there are some parts of the myths that are not as well-known that are related. True, you could just as easily get much of this information from a copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology, but there's an undeniable thrill to seeing Hercules wrestling Cerberus or Theseus battling the Minotaur, no matter how occasionally cheesy the visuals look.

The actual historical content, however, is much less compelling. Sometimes it feels shoehorned in, as if all of the cool monsters and swordplay has to be interrupted to make room for some compulsory learning. The story of Medusa, for instance, does have a connection to the way that women were viewed in Greek society. Medusa, as some may know, was a virginal priestess who was raped by Poseidon, God of the Sea, but as was common in Greek society at the time, she, not Poseidon, was considered the guilty party and was therefore turned into a monster. This is an interesting way to put the myth into proper historical context, but unfortunately, it's pretty much the only historical tidbit in the entire episode. Indeed, seeing historians struggling to tie in many of these myths into historical research is, on occasion, downright painful. Most of the time, what results is a whole of pointless speculation. We see an archaeological dig, a historian explains its significance, and then the narrator asks, "Could this be similar to the type of building (or boat) (or city) (or weapon) described in the myth?" Calling most of these examples a stretch would be an insult to stretches everywhere. The nadir is reached in the episode on Beowulf, where the only historical bits include shots of hills in Denmark as the narrator asks, "Could these be the burial mounds of the real Beowulf?" Well, yeah -- but then again, they could just be random piles of dirt.

Of course, that lack of historical content won't matter to viewers who want to see these myths visualized. Even if the visuals aren't consistent, the sight of many of these myths being reenacted will appeal to ten-year-old boys of all ages and genders. As historical television, however, these shows are only intermittently compelling. They're decent introductions to the myths if you've never heard them, but for real historical context, you'll have to look elsewhere.

Technical specs are typical History-non-anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer with Dolby stereo mix, both acceptable. There are no extras.

The Verdict

Guilty of cool presentation but iffy research.

Review content copyright © 2010 Victor Valdivia; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile
Studio: History Channel
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 470 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* None

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1484577/combined