By Stacey Harrison, Karl Paloucek
No disrespect to the Kraken or Medusa, but with all the wonderful Greek myths that have yet to be filmed (or have only starred Lou Ferrigno), why oh why did Hollywood spend time remaking Clash of the Titans, which was perfectly awesome back in 1981?
Perhaps that’s an argument for another day, one that inevitably will have to take into account the fact that Hollywood truly has run out of new ideas. Or, in this case, the ability to sift through ancient ones. But we’re in the solution business here, so instead of just highlighting the problem, here are 5 Greek stories ripe for the big-screen treatment, along with how we envision Hollywood messing them up.
The Myth: Aristophanes’ — ahem — seminal farce mixes sex and politics in the most literal of ways. Tired of the decades-old Peloponnesian War, Lysistrata recruits her fellow Athenian women to withhold sex from their husbands until they end the fighting. And, boy, does it work. Peace is achieved and Athenians and Spartans alike celebrate with a toga party.
The Hollywood Treatment: Lizzie would be set in modern-day SoCal, with Brett Ratner directing Scarlett Johansson, Amanda Bynes, Josh Hartnett and Lil Bow Wow. Instead of war between city-states, the issue would be illegal street racing. They might get Queen Latifah, just so they could put a scene in the trailer of her saying to her husband (probably Martin Lawrence), “If you don’t make peace, then you won’t get a piece.” To which he would reply, “Daaaaaaaamn.”
The Myth: During his life, wicked king Sisyphus, founder of Corinth, was a treacherous character who would lie in wait for travelers coming to his land, waylay and murder them. But his greatest transgression was his arrogance in snitching to Asopus, the river god, that Zeus had had his way with his daughter Aegina. Zeus sent Thanatos (Death) to claim Sisyphus for the underworld, but Sisyphus tricked death into chaining himself. When Death eventually was freed, Hermes finally came to drag Sisyphus to his final, Zeus-contrived punishment – to forever push a boulder up a hill only to have it fall back down again once he’d nearly reached the top.
The Hollywood Treatment: Disney’s Sissyfoot tells the story of a young Greek boy with a reputation for tripping people and being a tattletale. When he accidentally trips his preschool crush, the goddess Li’l Aegina and she tells on him to her mean old father, Asop, who lives down by the river, Sissyfoot gets a taste of his own medicine. Pursued by Asop (who wants to teach Sissyfoot a lesson), Sissyfoot flees to the woods. That night, as Li’l Aegina goes to sleep, she talks to her toys about feeling bad for telling on her school chum. When they assure her that they’ll help her to find Sissyfoot and make things right again, the whole group — including wacky, ever-scheming dolls Electry and Oresty — go out the window on a grand adventure to save him. When they find him, Sissyfoot is a captive of her father’s and is being forced to help construct a stone hut atop a hill, but he can’t manage to push up that first stone — until Li’l Aegina and all of her friends arrive to help him. Together, they learn that the power of friendship is enough to overcome even eternal damnation.
The myth: Jason may have had some high-flying adventures with the Argonauts, but his home life was a bitch. Medea, niece of The Odyssey‘s Circe, used her magic to help her new love Jason snatch the Golden Fleece. She even cut her brother into pieces so Jason could get away, and then went on to do other nice things for him, such as conspire to have his throne-stealing half-brother killed by his own daughters. Sounds like the kind of gal you’d want to settle down with, right? She and Jason have a couple of kids, but once Jason decides to marry another woman, Medea turns her vengeance upon him. She kills the other woman and, just to show Jason she’s really cheesed off, murders the children she had with him. Some have latched on to Medea as a proto-feminist figure, albeit a problematic one, what with the infanticide and all.
The Hollywood Treatment: We were all prepared to say they’d probably cast some generic leading lady just for box-office appeal. Someone like Sandra Bullock. But given certain Nazi-tattoo-themed recent events, Bullock seems like the perfect choice, actually. So scratch her off the list. Nicole Kidman, who for some reason keeps getting headline work, would be Medea to Nicolas Cage’s Jason. The studio would tap a foreign director who made a big splash with a genuinely thought-provoking film, only to water down his vision — his because they wouldn’t be smart enough to pick a woman — so much that it would be indistinguishable from any other lame big-budget costume epic.
Oh, and the kids — played by a set of twins from some Nickelodeon show — would live.
The Myth: Based on Sophocles’ telling of the story of the soldier Philoctetes, whom the fates decreed would be the key to the Greeks’ victory in the Trojan Wars. Possessor of the bow of Heracles, Philoctetes received a snake bite on his foot that became infected and stank. Because of the stench, he was left stranded by Odysseus and his crew on the isle of Lemnos, where he nursed his wound as well as his bitterness. Odysseus returned 10 years later with Neoptolemus to try to trick Philoctetes into fulfilling the prophecy and returning to the wars, but the honorable Neoptolemus couldn’t completely go through with the subterfuge and agreed to take Philoctetes back to Greece, despite the consequences that would await him there. But as they set sail, Heracles appeared to them and told Philoctetes to go on to Troy, where he would find healing and glory.
The Hollywood Treatment: Michael Sheen stars as the mighty warrior Philos, whose name means “chosen one.”* Years ago, he was the greatest warrior to ever rock the Parthenon and was leading his people to victory against the Trojans. Then he made a mistake — shagging with the beautiful slave queen (Amanda Seyfried) coveted by cruel-faced Odysseus (Benicio Del Toro). One fateful night during a sweat-drenched rave aboard the ships bringing the armies of Greece back home from the wars, Odysseus and his band of thugs knocks out Philos and sets him adrift toward the Isle of Lemnos, a savage place filled with monstrous CGI creatures. There, Philos hones his skills as a survivalist and warrior to a Nine Inch Nails soundtrack until Neo (Andy Samberg, in his first Academy Award-attempting dramatic role) messenger of the gods, arrives to tell him that it’s time to kick some Trojan butt.
*(OK, we know it’s actually “love,” but work with us, folks.)
The myth: The god of wine and fertility gave us really cool terms like “Dionysian” and “bacchanalia” (from his Roman name Bacchus), but has rarely been dramatized. Too bad, because his origin story is a doozy. Zeus hooked up with a mortal woman, Semele, proceeding to kill her after she demanded to see the god of (key word here) lightning in his true form. But Zeus took the unborn child from her ashes and sewed it up into his thigh until he could be born. In his most famous tale, Euripides’ The Bacchae, a grown Dionysus comes to Thebes to defend the memory of his mother, and all sorts of hedonistic hell breaks loose.
The Hollywood Treatment: We got a peek at some Dionysian (see what I did there?) mayhem on last season’s run of True Blood, but I doubt studios would go down that road. That leaves us with a Bedazzled-like tale of a boorish god making trouble for an uptight yuppie. Danny DeVito, are you busy? Who are we kidding, of course you are. All right, then, Jack Black. And playing the role of uptight nerd who needs a little help cutting loose? Michael Cera!
Photos: Clash of the Titans (2010): © 2009 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures. Credit: Jay Maidment; Madea Goes to Jail: © MMIX Lions Gate Entertainment. Troy: © 2004 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved. Credit: Murray Close; The Wolfman: © 2008 Universal Studios. Credit: Frank Ockenfels / Universal Pictures; Year One: © 2009 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. Credit: Suzanne Hanover; SMPSP