History Channel // 2009 // 470 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // March 18th, 2010
The origins of ancient mythology revealed.
I was one of those kids...you know, the ones who played Dungeons & Dragons. While it may have had somewhat negative connotations in junior and senior high school (the precise time when you don't need to fuel anyone's mocking mechanism); I enjoyed being able to hang out with my friends; exercise my imagination and learn about cool creatures, places and adventures that sprung right from my imagination. Little did I know that when I hit senior high and sat in the back of my English class, that nerdy knowledge would actually help me answer all those questions that made jocks scratch their heads. My teacher Mrs. Newman and I would regularly talk about Shakespeare and mythology at every opportunity, and in hindsight, I can see that she was impressed by my knowledge of some of the same literature that was energizing for her as well. It didn't hurt my honors English degree either, when years later in university, I was acing exams or memorizing mythological content like it was second nature. I have always been fascinated with mythology and still regard it as one of my favorite forms of storytelling.
Civilization is largely based on stories and how we share and communicate them. Starting as tales told around campfires and passed along from generation to generation, humans have retold history and explained the unexplainable for centuries. From the works of Shakespeare and great poets, to modern fiction, and even comic books; mankind has a hunger, not only to tell great stories, but also to read them and hear them from others. Some of the greatest stories that still resonate to this day are the mythologies of ancient civilizations. Without science to help them explain the mysteries and wonders of the known world and the universe beyond, they needed to anchor the unknown in terms they could easily rationalize and comprehend.
Likely the most familiar myths are those that were created by the ancient Greeks and Romans. It doesn't take long to realize that aside from having different names for their characters and gods, the two cultures seemed to believe in the same pantheon of deities. As pantheistic societies that believed in many gods rather than just one, the Greeks assigned names and personalities to each of their gods and goddesses, and each deity was deemed to have supreme power and be solely responsible for a specific realm. While it really just dips its toe in the edge of the pool of vast mythological literature, the History Channel series Clash of the Gods does a fine job of relating some of these classic stories for a modern audience. Hmmm, isn't there a Louis Leterrier-helmed remake of Clash of the Titans coming to theaters soon? The timing of this release is probably just a coincidence...ahem.
All 10 episodes of the first season of Clash of the Gods are included, spread across two discs, as follows:
The king of the gods, Zeus was destined to be eaten alive by his father Kronos, until the young god led his siblings in a revolt that ultimately set them atop Mount Olympus.
A hero of legendary strength and courage, Hercules was subjected to a series of 12 impossible tasks or labors as a penance for committing murder.
The ruler of the underworld, Hades controls the land of the dead and the afterlife. Not the kind of guy you want to get stuck sitting next to on a transatlantic flight.
The offspring of the union of a queen and a bull, the minotaur is conceived to punish a greedy king for blasphemies against the gods.
Once a woman of great beauty and a virginal servant in the temple of Athena, Medusa is ravaged by the god Poseidon and though innocent of crime, is cursed by Athena with a stone-cold stare and wavy, scaly hair.
* "Odysseus: Curse of the Sea"
One of the greatest heroes of Greek or any mythology, and the main character of Homer's epic poem The Odyssey; Odysseus was called into service in a war against the Trojans. Hidden inside a giant wooden horse, Odysseus also led the covert attack on Troy and helped burn it to the ground. After the war he pretty much got lost at sea, for a really long time.
* "Odysseus: Warrior's Revenge"
Still lost, Odysseus encounters cyclopes, giant cannibals and meets a guy who can help him find his way home. Long story short, he makes it home to take his place as king of Ithica.
Seen as the oldest story in the English language, the story of Beowulf is the Norse myth of a great hero who comes to the aid of the Danish king against not one, but three monsters.
* "Tolkien's Monsters"
Thanks to Peter Jackson, there are likely few people left on the planet who aren't familiar with the stories of Middle Earth, hobbits, elves, dwarves and rings. Setting out to create a mythology for his own people, Englishman J.R.R. Tolkien ultimately created what is easily one of the greatest creations in all of literature.
Not to be outdone by the gods of the Greeks, the Norse people developed their own pantheon of gods and the greatest of their heroes was Thor, the god of thunder.
Clash of the Gods really just scratches the surface of the great wealth of mythological traditions tackled in Season One. While there is no word on future episodes, at least as of the date of this review, there is enough content from traditions and cultures around the world that this series could continue on for several seasons. The series does an excellent job of blending two approaches: narrative storytelling and reenactments, and on-screen commentaries by a host of authors and historians who reappear from episode to episode. As the tales unfold, the viewer also learns of the actual historical events and context that inspired the myths, receiving a decent helping of education with every dose of entertainment.
As a quick aside, it's a bit of a crime there's no mention of any of the actors who played the many roles of the gods and other characters depicted in the series. I'm a film geek and like to know the names of actors so I can find out what other projects they've done, and I was disappointed that the cast of each episode receives no mention or recognition of any kind. The only credit given is to narrator Stan Bernard, who has voiced other History Channel productions and series such as MysteryQuest.
Clash of the Gods looks fantastic on Blu-ray, but with one caveat: all the dramatic reenactments include an odd filter to the image that is clearly intended to reflect the age of the stories or possibly to create the effect that the stories are painted on canvas. While it's an interesting effect at first, it gets a bit old after a while; leaving most viewers likely wishing the whole production boasted a clear, hi-def image, rather than the stylized approach. Even though this is largely a documentarian production, anchored by narration and an understated score, there does seem to be opportunities where a 5.1 mix would have really bumped the experience up a notch, but DTS 2.0 is all you get. There are no extra features of any kind included with this release, but given the fact that it is already a documentary, I'm hard-pressed to think of anything that could or should have been added, aside from possibly an interactive timeline or encyclopedia that features a more complete look at the mythologies that are touched upon in the series.
Will you leave Clash of the Gods with a new depth and breadth of knowledge about the many mythological traditions of the ancient world? Nope. But will you leave with a newly kindled interest in reading more about these characters and the historical traditional that created them? You just might.
Review content copyright © 2010 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* DTS 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 470 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Wikipedia: Clash of the Gods