Oct 28
MYTHS AND EPICS IN FILMS by Isabel Sebullen  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Fri, Oct 28, 2011

Part 1

I am fond of reading mythology and epic stories. I admire the way writers bring to life different characters either in books and films. It makes me forget about time, about life and other things that may cloud my imagination. A proof of my love for myths and epics is manifested in a way that even my pets are named after gods and goddesses in the Greek mythology. I love to watch films based on classic myth and legend.

A lot of authors said that mythology is truth, a subjective truth. It is truth about people, culture and community. Either it is believed to be true or not, myths and epic films are still powerful movies that earn millions and millions of dollars every year.

An epic is one of the oldest of film genres and had its peak in the early 1960s. Among notable epic films at the time were Cabiria (a three-hour silent film about the Punic wars), Cleopatra (1963), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) and Doctor Zhivago (1965).

An epic is one of the genres of films that emphasizes human drama in the grandest and most ambitious manner. This helps in differentiating them with other genres such as adventure and period films. An epic is also one of the most expensive films to produce. Epic films are synonymous to big budgeted films and powerful cast of superstars in Hollywood.


1. Historical Epics– Historical epic films are films that take place in the past; often it focuses on people that change the course of history. Rome, Greece and Egypt are countries known for epic films they produced. Films considered as historical epics are Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Cleopatra, Gladiator, Gandhi, Joan of Arc, Troy, and Spartacus.

2. War Epics – These are films used to recreate landmark war battles. Notable films under war epics are The Bridge on the River Kwai (1958) El Cid (1961), Schindler’s List (1993), Braveheart (1995) and The Patriot (2000).

3. Science Fiction Fantasy EpicsThe Star Wars Films: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983), The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) are examples of science fiction epics which were done in the 1960s, known as the era of the science fiction. Other examples are Planets of the Apes, The Time Machine, Blade Runner and the Fifth Element.

4. Romantic Epics – Romance films based on political events or conflicts were taken as background of the story. The Unforgettable Gone with the Wind (1939), The English Patient (1996), Titanic (1997), Tristan and Isolde (2006) and Australia (2008) are examples of romance epic.

5. Religious Epics – Films that involved Jesus and other religious figures are considered religious epics. Among these films were Ben-Hur (1959), Quo Vadis (1951) and The Ten Commandments (1956).


1. Clash of the Titans – This film symbolizes camp classic of mythology. The story tells the story of Perseus and Medusa. In ancient times, the Gods, led by Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, rule the world. The Gods divided the Universe between themselves; Zeus took the skies, Poseidon took the seas, and Hades, tricked by Zeus, was left with the underworld. The Gods created the mortals, whose faith in the gods assured their immortality. The story starts when a fisherman named Spyros finds a casket, bearing a baby (alive) clasping the arms of his dead mother. Spyros and his wife, Marmara, raise the baby as their own and name him “Perseus”. Years later, Perseus witnesses soldiers destroying the statue of Zeus. The action infuriates the gods who unleash Furies to pursue mortal sinners. The Clash of the Titans tells of rivalry among gods and chivalries of half-God-half-mortal like Perseus. The remake of the movie in 2010 earned a lot of money because of the aid of modern technology that made scenes more real and fantastic.

2. Excalibur (1981) – Is a cult classic film which is also dramatic and violent. It’s another version of retelling King Arthur and his knights. King Arthur has been portrayed in movies several times, yet it still attracts movie goers. John Boorman directed this movie based on Thomas Malory’s novel Le Morte d’Arthur. The film is a visually a stunning and compelling epic. Although the quest for the Grail is the least effective part of the film, the cinematography is really good. What made the supposed-to-be fairy tale in bad taste is the scene with a knight having sex in full body armor.

3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream – This movie is a combination of classical mythology and Celtic folklore, written by William Shakespeare. A Midsummer Night’s Dream remained to be one of the most remembered films of all times. Shakespeare’s intertwined love begin to get complicated from the start—Demetrius and Lysander both want Hermia but she only has eyes for Lysander, and her father wants Demetrius for a son-in-law. Another character, Helena loves Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander plan to flee from the city under cover of darkness but are pursued by an enraged Demetrius (who is himself pursued by an enraptured Helena). Then in the forest, the king and queen of the fairies interfere with the love affair.

4. Mists of Avalon – Is a film I have watched several times, but still a film I will never get tired watching. It is based on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s popular King Arthur epic with a feminist twist. It’s another adaptation with different actors and actresses playing the part. The epic is focused on the lives of Gwenhwyfar, Viviane, Morgause, Igraine and other women taken as support to the male characters. The Mists of Avalon is a contrast to other retellings of the Arthurian tales. In this movie, Morgaine is cast as a strong woman who has unique gifts and responsibilities at a time of enormous political and spiritual upheaval as she is called upon to defend her indigenous matriarchal heritage against impossible odds. The Mists of Avalon serves as a watershed for feminist interpretation of male-centered myth by highlighting women’s experiences that change even the claim to gender-power.

5. Odyssey – The movie is based strongly on mythological themes. The story is not based on the Odyssey of Homer. It is based on the story of Jupiter, the equivalent of Zeus in Roman mythology. The same concept was used in presenting the films. In another movie version “A Space Odyssey, the human named Dave used superpower to get out of the ship, instead of a cave, a scene in earlier Odyssey movie.

6. The Phantom – The Phantom is not based on mythology, but the main character, the Phantom used the skull oath, the same used by gods to form allegiance with superior gods. The Phantom is so much like Achilles who swears to live a glorious life with fame and glory rather than a long and useless life. The concept of fighting to earn honor is very much like of most mythological characters.

7. Silence of the Lambs – It is one of those mystery serial killer stories, wherein the heroine has the task of finding the real culprit. However, there is a scene related to mythology, the scene where the serial killer cuts off the light when Clarice Starling enters the house, thus she cannot see while the killer uses night vision goggle. In the Greek mythology, Theseus was also in complete darkness when he entered the labyrinth to kill the minotaur. The minotaur has the complete control since he knows the place. The same thing is being applied to the scene. Theseus was able to win over his foe with the help of Ariadne, while Jodie was able to succeed in her mission due to the help of Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

8. The Magnificent Seven – The Magnificent Seven starts with a man trying to pay for a burial of an Indian. No one in the small country town will let him do it because they do not know him. This subplot has direct reference to myth where the movie is based. The main plot is about seven gunmen who feel that their lives are empty and take on the job of protecting a small Mexican village from bandits, for a much smaller fee than usual. In the end, they do save the village, but four of them are killed. Two of the three remaining, Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner, do not feel that their lives are any less empty. This emptiness directly correlates to the curse in the original myth. Unlike the other movies, which contained elements and themes of mythology, this movie is based on a play from the fifth century BC in Athens called The Seven against Thebes, by Aeschylus. Eteocles and Polynieces, the sons of Oedipus, are fighting over Thebes, their inheritance. Eteocles forms an army of allies to attack, while Polynieces selects his six best men to guard six of the seven gates of Thebes, while he guards the seventh himself. It is then that he finds out that his brother is approaching his gate, but he does not swap places with another soldier to avoid continuing the family blood curse. They are both killed. In a play by Sophocles, called Antigone, the body of Polynieces is not buried and a curse falls upon Thebes. These characters of the Magnificent Seven are entirely different from the myth, but the plot offers similarities.

9. The Lion King – The Lion King is another movie that borrows its concept from the Oedipus myth. Although there is a little twist, since Simba did not kill his father, but his uncle Scar, it is still murder in the family, like what happened to the family of Oedipus. The theme of the family blood curse is also is prevalent. The concepts used in plot may be similar, yet writers used another treatment to make it different.

(Continued Next Week)

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