All art involves distortion and recreation. Myths and legends take this to a high degree, with multiple versions of the same story that often vary wildly in details. So it is justified to come up with a new take on an old tale. Is it also justifiable to treat myths as a grab bag of names and plots for your latest project? Nobody complains when Wagner does it. But lots of people complained on Twitter when the BBC’s latest Saturday night blockbuster Atlantis did.
You don’t have to be Mary Beard to spot the Classical clangers. Pythagorus in Atlantis? Hercules as a chubby coward? He seemed to be inspired not by a hero who became a god so much as by a combination of Jack Falstaff and Les Dawson.
Actually Hercules might have worked quite well if he’d had the gags or the dialogue to pull it off. But the script was so wooden an enterprising Greek could probably have built a horse out of it. The actors did their best but failed to make a silk purse from the sow’s ear with which they were obliged to work. There were numerous slips that really ought to have been picked up on. Minos’ daughter (I assume she is Ariadne? I don’t remember a name being given to her) gives Jason a magic thread which doesn’t get untangled. Presumably we are expected just to know that the Labyrinth is difficult to get out of. A magic thread that guarded against loose ends in the script room might have been more useful.
But despite all this I did enjoy it. The appropriation of characters from any myth the makers found lying around was only annoying initially – I soon got used to it. The special effects were nothing special but they did do the most important thing by making you believe the world the action was set in. And although the story telling was heavy handed, it was a good story. I think it would have been much better if it had been a fair bit longer so the plot could have unfolded a bit more. As it was we got most of the set up from “The Oracle”, which was a bit unsatisfying.
But I will be tuning in next week. In Atlantis the whole is somehow better than the sum of its parts. It should get better as we get to know the characters better. I am looking forward to seeing what they do with Pythagorus. Not many action adventures pack a maths genius. I hope he isn’t treated simply as a sort of proto-computer geek who needs to be rescued by the decorative lead. It is probably too much to hope that they sacrifice the script writers to Poseidon but it looks like it will be entertaining.
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