Friday, 1 October 2010

Film review: The Odyssey

After sitting through the Hallmark version of Jason and the Argonauts (review here) I wasn’t expecting too much from their version of the Odyssey. I was wrong. It’s bad-ass and, in my opinion, the best adaption of a Greek legend (or history) ever.

An older cast, led by the excellent Armand Assante, give it their all and the performances show it. You really feel for Penelope the single mother, Telemachus the fatherless son and Anticleia the desperate matriarch. The raw emotion evoked by Odysseus' long-awaited meeting with his heir chokes the viewer and there is more feeling in that one scene than in the entire duration of the CGI-fest that is the new Clash of the Titans. The core cast are buoyed up by heavyweights like Christopher Lee, Isabella Rossellini and Eric Roberts, all of whom do an admirable job. The depiction of the gods is always problematic in such films, and their presence is wisely kept to a minimum here (with Mercury being the most annoying).

To say the mini-series was shot on location is an injustice. Some of the landscapes are astounding and in a the leage of a Tarsem Singh production. The prominentry where Odysseus begins his feud with Poseidon is breathtaking, but even this pales against Circe's island with its sculpted salt steppes. The costumes and sets are equally rewarding, with a level of gritty realism only adding to their beauty. The CGI is fairly good, but noticeable. This is more a symptom of the production's age than anything else. The depiction of Scylla is done with a mixture of techniques, with the live-action segments actually being some of the best. Her neighbour Chrybdis is also extremely convincing in a kind of Sarlacc-pit-of-the-ocean way.

The tale moves quickly from the outset and the seige of Troy is shown to give the motivation for Odysseus' later travels. Although compressed to little more than a quarter of an hour, this segment delivers all that it needs to and evokes the passage of time well. As the series progresses the episodic nature of the epic poem is retained and the "filler scenes" on the ship are kept to a satisfying minimum.

I have one last back-handed complement. This mini-series is beautiful and the person who compressed the print for my DVD release should be shot. Horrific artifacts clutter the screen and, on occasions, red lines appear at the edges of the frame. If I see a better copy, I will buy it without thinking twice. If I see a gun, I will buy it and shoot the culprit.

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