Acorn Media // 1988 // 344 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino // January 25th, 2013
All stories are humanity's story.
There's a general formula for a good adventure story: a plot structure that pits our hero against great challenges, plunges him into darkness, and holds a mirror up to his own personal failings before he overcomes all of that and saves the day/rescues the princess/wins the championship -- you get where I'm going. There are the same archetypes, plot twists, and tropes found in just about every hero's tale, from Rambo and Luke Skywalker to Jesus and Buddha. There's a reason for this, and only a scholar like Joseph Campbell can explain it.
In the late '80s, Campbell, a longtime writer and scholar in the fields of mythology and religion, sat down with PBS journalist Bill Moyers for a mini-series about myths. The Power of Myth encapsulates much of Campbell's teachings into six fascinating episodes. The gist of it: myths are universal. The hero's tale, the symbolism of animals, the creation of gods and deities are in every civilization...and in a way, they're all correct and appropriate for the society that creates them. It can get pretty heady, but Campbell's teacherly style and Moyer's journalistic skepticism keeps things accessible.
The most engaging aspect, from a cinema fan's perspective, comes in the first episode with Campbell's presentation of The Hero with a Thousand Faces (a book he originally published in 1949). It's the singular myth, Campbell argues, that recurs in almost every heroic tale -- most famously in George Lucas' Star Wars. The more you hear him talk about the story structure, the more it fits in to just about every decent action/adventure film you've seen. The whole philosophy is carried over to the set's third disc, which features a lengthy interview with George Lucas about Campbell's hero myth.
As the series progresses, Campbell and Moyers dive in to different cultures and religions. They examine various myths in-depth and soon the dots between various times and places begin to connect. For anyone interested in classic story structure, this is a must see.
The Power of Myth: 25th Anniversary Edition comes with two discs of episodes and a third packed with supplements. Filmed on video, the series isn't much to look at in full frame. The audio is generally pretty good -- as it should be, since the bulk of the episodes involve two guys sitting down in a studio.
The third disc's supplements include a hefty 105 minutes of extra Campbell interviews from Bill Moyer's Journal as well as that half-hour interview with Lucas. There's also a nice viewer's guide booklet that let's readers dive deeper into the subject matter. Overall, a very educational, well-rounded set.
The Power of Myth may, on the surface, look like a dry PBS talk show, but the charisma and passion found in Joseph Campbell grabs you right away. His ideas, his explanations of the hero myth, and his keen storytelling abilities turn this into a classic series worth seeing.
Review content copyright © 2013 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 344 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Viewer's Guide
* Photo Gallery