Odysseus: Voyage to the Underworld (2008)

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For those of us of a certain age and nationality – British, mid 30s to early 50s – there’s a beloved kids show called “Jackanory”, which was basically a celeb sat in a comfy armchair reading a story, often accompanied with brief animations or re-enactments. When comedian / actor Tony Robinson took over in the mid 80s, he got rid of the armchair and all the nonsense, adapting classic stories himself and filming them on location. Perhaps the most famous of all his shows was “The Odyssey”, as he roamed over ruins on Mediterranean islands, telling enthralled kids one of the greatest stories ever.

 

Fun fact – scientists have, using an eclipse in the story that happened in real life, dated the return of Odysseus to Ithaca at 16th April 1178 BCE, which I’m only telling you because I love that they bothered to do it.

 

So, since childhood, the Odyssey has been one of my favourite stories, and I’ve enjoyed several adaptations of it (“Ulysses 31”, an animated series, remains one of my favourites). When I found out that the SyFy Channel had done an adaptation of it, I was super-pleased, even knowing how long the odds were of it being any good. Because it’s such a long story (there’s the whole thing with the “suitors” in Ithaca, and Odysseus’ son Telemachus trying to raise a crew for a ship to go searching, and the many many tall tales of his adventures Odysseus tells…it’s got a lot of ground to cover) I guessed it would just be a small section of the epic, and I was right, but enough of me pretending I’m clever! Let’s get on with the review!

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Much like the “Maniac Cop” sequels and “Earth’s Final Hours”, we’ve got an opportunity to see a typecast bad guy as the hero – this time, Arnold Vosloo (“The Mummy”) is Odysseus and he clearly relishes the chance. The story is set right at the end of “The Odyssey”, substituting his 7-year solo imprisonment on the island of Ogygia for his crew being shipwrecked on the Isle of Mists, just past where they meet the Sirens. I wonder if the boat effect was done last after they’d run out of money, because the movie was too short, but it’s absolutely shockingly bad – getting the night effect is achieved by a blanket with tiny holes in it (for real) and you never see the cast and water in the same shot.

 

Anyway, his crew have to fight seemingly invincible flying creatures, sort of like goblins with wings, but are rescued by one of the Sirens, who seems to be a good person, just wanting their help to get off the island. So, while Odysseus and his crew have their doubts, they plan an escape, and tell stories of their adventures to Homer, the young crew member who’s taken it on himself to record their adventures. Odysseus has a few dream-conversations with Athena, one of the friendly gods, and realises all is not as it seems, too.

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One part of the movie which seems like a cheap cop-out but isn’t, is the second-hand relating of stories (the Cyclops, the stones raining down on them, and so on). In the original story, these are flashbacks too, so good on the scriptwriter for figuring out a way to both save money and be true to the source. It would have been nice to have a bit more of their journey and a bit less wandering about the island, but beggars (people who watch the SyFy Channel) can’t be choosers.

 

The acting is very strong – as well as Vosloo, there’s Steve Bacic as Eurylochus and JR Bourne as Perimedes, one of whom is more cerebral, the other more physical. Randal Edwards as Homer is fine, as is Michael Antonakos as Christos (the only remotely Greek person in this movie). Stefanie von Pfetten as Persephone is really good too, keeping on the right side of being convincing while still leaving room for doubt.

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I don’t think there’s tons of point in driving holes through the historical logic of a movie based on a legend – ultimately, all it is is a story, and can be used however. But…Homer wasn’t part of Odysseus’ crew, and there’s quite a bit of doubt both about if he existed at all, and if he did, when he was alive. The smart money seems to be on him being a name for a movement of performance poets who would tell the tale in public – which also makes me wonder why the movie has the framing device of old Homer writing the story (because he never wrote it down, as far as we can tell). Given Homer has been with the crew for a couple of years by this point, they’d have probably told him all their stories already too.

 

It’s fun, if incredibly slight – not a lot really happens for way too much of the movie. While I’m glad they left some stuff out (like how he and his son have 12 maids put to death for helping out Penelope’s suitors, and how Odysseus kills all the suitors too, leaving the city he’s supposed to be in charge of with very few living adult men, bearing in mind he’s the only person to make it back from the Trojan War alive), they could have done with having a bit more left in. Or, now I come to think about it, in a movie called “Odysseus: Voyage To The Underworld”, maybe have him go to the underworld? Okay, it’s listed on IMDB as “Odysseus: Island Of Mists”, even if that’s not the name I got it under.

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Not bad, certainly, as it would be difficult to completely mess up this story, but not quite good enough.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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One thought on “Odysseus: Voyage to the Underworld (2008)

  1. Pingback: The ISCFC vs. The SyFy Channel |

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