‘Forgive me for what you are about to see’ speaks the wise Odysseus, King Of Ithaca, master of the epithet, and nary a wiser more prophetic line didst the Homeric hero spake. I’m always torn when I see film adaptations of the greatest work of literature ever written. On one hand, it’s my favourite story of all time – one which has influenced me personally more than any other book – so I’m always going to watch, plus it’s great seeing others attempting to bring the story to the screen. On the other hand, it’s simply too large, too dense a story, with too many characters, places, and requirements for special effects to adequately bring to screen without hundreds of millions of dollars. Throw in the fact that, while it’s a standalone story, you can’t really do it justice without also telling the story of the Illiad too – the history and build up to The Trojan War, Odysseus and his life in Ithaca before the war, the final stages of the war itself and The Fall Of Troy, all before Odysseus sets off on his journey home. In other words, it’s simply too big a story and world to fit into a low budget, 110 minute movie. Props for trying though.
I’ve said it before – I dream of a world where some company with all of the necessary funding, tools, and resources, and dedication and desire, creates the definitive version of The Trojan Trilogy. I used to think this had to be a big screen adaptation, an extended Universe comprising of multiple films for The Illiad, The Odyssey, And The Aeneid, crossing over where necessary. The more I think of it now, and given the fact that we’re in The Golden Age Of Television, it’s the small screen which seems more suited. Look at long-running big budget shows such as Game Of Thrones, The Walking Dead, even Vikings. They create a visionary world with multiple locations and massive cast telling an sprawling ongoing story. That’s what The Trilogy of books demands, and that’s what is always missing from The Odyssey in particular. Not only is there War; not only are there multiple monsters and creatures to deal with in the visual effects department; not only is there a huge cast of characters who warrant attention – it’s the sheer length of time involved in the story too. In order for the viewer to truly grasp the scope of Odysseus’ journey, we need to see him age – we need to understand the losses he suffers, the mental and physical torture he endures, but we need to see the same for those around him and for Penelope and Telemachus. A series filmed over and progressing through multiple seasons and years would give a much better impression and understanding of that passage of time, and the emotional impact for the audience when they see Odysseus finally make it home after a few years of watching, would be greatly heightened.
Recently The BBC attempted their own version of The Illiad, called Troy: Fall Of A City. While many idiots online vented because they cast a dark skinned actor in the crucial role of Achilles, my main concern with it was that they focused too much on the love triangle between Paris, Helen, and Menelaus, which of course triggers the whole mess. There’s also too much soap opera intrigue and sorry attempt at GOT pandering, and not enough focus on the supernatural/God elements, but it was a faithful attempt at telling the larger story. Unfortunately, it was a ratings mess and will likely discourage anyone else from attempting such an adaptation. I still think though – you get the right people involved, the right script, and have the right dedication, and you’ll have a hit on your hands.
Which finally leads us back to this 2017 film adaptation of The Odyssey. I’m fine with taking liberties from the source material. Homer of course was merely adapting from all the stories he had heard throughout his life, but while I feel his adaptation is the best version of the stories we have, we should try to be as faithful to his adaptation as we can. In a single sub 2 hour movie, we have to take many liberties. The story still follows Odysseus as he leaves Ithaca, fights in Troy and unleashes his wooden horse ploy, and finally attempts his journey home. Unlike in Homer’s version where he leaves with multiple ships and hundreds of men in tow, here he seems to leave in a ship barely large enough to stretch out in and with less than five crew. One of his crew is a Trojan Princess/warrior/priestess/witch called Circe who has nothing to do with the actual Circe from Homer’s Odyssey. She curses Odysseus, and for some reason they are followed home by a Kraken. Presumably these fabrications were added because some people may have heard the names ‘Kraken’ and ‘Circe’ from Clash Of The Titans, Pirates Of The Caribbean, and GOT. Rather than Homer’s sprawling journey, here Odysseus merely lands on an island (called by The Sirens) where the meet an amalgamation of the Homeric Circe, Calypso, and Sirens who bewitch the crew into forgetting their lives. After a few scenes they escape, but must make it through ‘the paths of the dead’ (in lieu of the actual Underworld) where they meet both a Minotaur and a Cyclops before escaping and making it back to Ithaca.
It’s not so much the removal of stuff from the story which bothers me, rather than the inclusion. Why add this fake Circe? Why create ‘the paths of the dead’ which seems to be little more than three corridors which takes all of five minutes to traverse? Why throw in a Kraken? At least we jump back and forth to see how Penelope is getting on with her suitors. Within a few minutes you know that the film is going to be… limited. The acting is mostly static or laughable, the dialogue is that same stilted nonsense almost any adaptation of this sort of story does – why can’t you get a decent writer in there – look at how people in GOT talk – do something like that! The battle and fight scenes are comical and badly directed, with people who don’t really know how to swing a sword performing as some of the most famous warriors in history and maybe two extras lurking in the background to give (no) sense of depth. I could go in depth with criticism of the performances – the bullish, hilariously over the top Agamemnon and the ‘why does she keep raising her eyebrows’ Calypso. What would be the point? The lead performers – Dylan Vox (a predominant porn actor) as Odysseus, Lara Heller as Circe, and Kelly B Jones as Penelope are better, and are watchable, but are little more than mannequins to hang a series of tropes and bad dialogue on. Actually, looking at the cast I see Paris and Helen listed but I don’t remember them being there at all. Oh yeah, Priam has a magic sword too.
So… it’s not great. Is it worth watching, for fans of the story, for fans of this semi-fantasy, semi-action genre? Not really. It’s a cheap knock-off with not a lot to recommend it, but as a Homer super fan it’s still something that interested me. I’m always keen to see a director’s take on the story in the hope that one day we’ll get a good one. As it stands, that Armand Assante version is still the best, and while I got a few chuckles out of this and kept watching to see what other changes to the story the crew would bring, it’s not something I can see many going out of their way to see.