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Clash of the Gods: Complete Season 1(TV) (2009)
In Greek mythology, ancient Greece's most powerful god wages an epic struggle against his father for control of the universe. It's the ultimate power struggle as the Olympians challenge the Titans in mythology's greatest showdown. This is a pivotal battle that experts believe may have been ancient code for a real world event--one of the greatest natural disasters the Earth ever experienced.
For more about Clash of the Gods: Complete Season 1 and the Clash of the Gods: Complete Season 1 Blu-ray release, see Clash of the Gods: Complete Season 1 Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on March 26, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Clash of the Gods: Complete Season 1 Blu-ray Review
The worlds of myth and folklore come alive in this visually spectacular History Channel series.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, March 26, 2010
In our sometimes overwhelmingly technological world, it can often seem we're too intelligent, too rational, too evolved to have to bother with the Divine. And yet the world of ancient myth and folklore continues to reach out and touch us in rather surprising ways, often erupting into popular culture, whether it's literary allusions, outright adaptations of myths from the fanciful Disney Hercules to the relatively more source-based Beowulf, or just passing phrases like "if looks could kill" which have entered the public vernacular while perhaps being divorced from their original mythological context. History Channel attempts to set the record straight, as it were, with Clash of the Gods, a consistently interesting and extremely well produced series that attempts to help elucidate both original myth stories as well as their cultural context, and at times their real-life counterparts and inspirations. This is one of the most visually impressive History Channel series in recent memory, helping to bring these ancient tales fully to life in a series that depends more on dramatic reenactments of lore than on the usual History Channel "talking head syndrome." This two disc Blu-ray set offers compelling analyses of nine mythological heroes and/or stories, aiming for, in the series' own tag line, "the truth behind the myth."
Zeus starts off the series appropriately with the "Chief Executive" of the Gods in an episode that helps give the dysfunctional family history of the Titans and the Olympians. Comparisons to both Judaism and Christianity come into play as Zeus' childhood is examined. Cronus, Zeus' father, had the unseemly habit of eating his immortal children, but Zeus was spirited away for safety, a trope that shows up, of course, in Judaism's Moses story, as well as the story of Jesus. Zeus' own siblings, whom he freed from Cronus' stomach, turn out not to be especially grateful, and a whole new era of internecine intrigue begins with Zeus having to put down a coup attempt or two. Zeus' famous temper is blamed for any number of natural disasters which befall our earthly realm, including a devastating flood which echoes the Noah story.
Hercules is posited as the greatest action hero who ever lived, but this episode wisely foregoes the family friendly aspects of the Disney animated adaptation, or the sword and sandal shenanigans of the Italian opuses of the 1950's and 1960's to give a full blooded examination of a hero who is both gifted and horribly tragic. It may come as a surprise to many people not that acquainted with the Hercules myth to find out that the hero slaughters his wife and children (albeit under a nefarious spell), something for which he attempts to atone for the rest of his life. Thus we are introduced to the 12 labors of Hercules, seemingly impossible tasks for even a half-God to achieve.
Hades, like the Jews' own JHVH, sports an "unspeakable" name, though for the Greeks the reason is probably more one of fear than of awe. This episode starts with the abduction of Persephone, leading to one of the better punch lines in the series, when one of the scholarly experts on hand avers that whenever a lovely maiden is in a field plucking flowers in a Greek myth, bad things are about to happen. Interestingly, Hades, God of the underworld, is lord over all the dead, no matter whether they were saint or sinner in their earthly existence. This fact gives a rather interesting insight to the Greeks' views on morality and behavior, or at the very least their distaste for thinking about death. Quite a bit of the middle segment of this episode repeats information (and actual footage) from the Zeus episode, as Hades and Zeus are brothers. In fact, it was a Godly game of drawing lots which gave Zeus Olympus and Hades the Underworld. I'd ask for a rematch. This episode also deals with the tangential myths of Sisyphus as well as Orpheus and Eurydice.
The Minotaur episode gives us the lowdown on the rather sordid Greek fascination with bestiality and human sacrifice. This closest thing to a Hallowe'en horror story in the mythological canon features, of course, a horrid half-Bull, half-Man monster, trapped in a labyrinth who eats the unfortunate humans who are deposited in his lair as a sacrifice. This literal Chamber of Death is traced back to the Greeks' own penchant for sacrificial rites. The episode closes with Athenian Prince Theseus showing up to save the day.
Medusa might be seen as a sort of distaff version of the Minotaur, though in a way her transformation into a murderous demon is actually quite tragic. Few may know about her "backstory" as a rape victim at the hands of Poseidon, leading to the completely unjust curse which Athena places on her. Medusa morphs from the most beautiful woman in Greece to the hideous monster whose gaze turns everyone she sees to stone, leading to life of exile and torment. This episode actually opens up the positive aspects of the Medusa story, revealing that the name Medusa actually means "guardian." Perseus' pursuit and killing of Medusa closes out this episode.
Odysseus merits two episodes of the series, giving an unusually in depth look at Homer's epochal hero. The first episode, "Curse of the Sea," gives Odysseus' history, including his valiant triumphs in the Trojan War, a conflict which kept him away from his home of Ithaca for a decade. Once the War ends, he expects a relatively quick journey from Troy back to Ithaca, something which of course doesn't happen. This first episode spends quite a bit of time on the Cyclops story and helps define Odysseus as mythology's greatest mortal hero. The seconds episode, "Warrior's Revenge," picks up with Odysseus' tryst with Circe and his subsequent journey to the Underworld to hob-nob with Tiresias. Eventually reaching home some 20 years after his departure, he finds out his wife Penelope has managed to stave off her suitors by never finishing weaving a burial shroud, spending each evening undoing the work of the day before. Crafty family.
We finally leave the world of Greece for the Norse myths in Beowulf. The mythological setting of Denmark doesn't really change all that much when you get right down to it, as once again we're confronted with a gigantic ogre, Grendel, whom Beowulf must vanquish. The episode goes on to detail Beowulf's other triumphs against monsters, including Grendel's own mother (who is never named), a descendant of Cain. The Beowulf legend is the oldest story in the English language and makes a fitting addition to this first season of Clash of the Gods.
One of the most interesting episodes in the series, and one which might pique the interest of those not usually interested in classical mythology, is Tolkein's Monsters, which details the great Lord of the Rings author's attempts to forge a new mythology created from Norse and English influences. The episode goes into great detail showing Tolkein's many influences, including everything from the Bible to World War I. This episode rightly posits Tolkein's achievement as the most ambitious heroic journey since The Odyssey. The "monsters" moniker may seem a bit of an overkill, at least as far some of the lovable Hobbits are concerned, but even with that caveat, this is a fascinating and fact filled episode which helps illuminate Tolkein's truly protean achievement.
The first season comes to a close with the Norse God of Thunder, Thor. Thor was, as this episode illuminates, the idol of the Vikings and Barbarians, and also their last vestige of their pagan faith to resist the encroaching influence of Christendom. Thor battles his own gigantic monster, in this case The Midgard Serpent, a snake so humongous it can wrap itself around our planet, certainly a compelling image for evil. This episode also details the fury of Thor's Hammer, as well as the cataclysmic battle of Ragnarok.
Clash of the Gods is off to an impeccably strong start with this first season's episodes. Masterfully split between some really interesting visuals and both informative narration as well as interstitial talking head segments, this is a series that helps to bring myths alive for a modern audience without any dumbing down or quasi-modernizing within the myths themselves. Hopefully future seasons will start to investigate even more recondite cultures' contributions to our planet's folklore. These stories have attained their immortal influence for a reason, and Clash of the Gods proves that they still resonate within the darkest recesses of our subconscious.
Clash of the Gods: Complete Season 1 Blu-ray, Video Quality
Clash of the Gods is easily one of the most visually specacular series yet to air on The History Channel, and this AVC encoded 1080i 1.78:1 Blu-ray does an admirable job supporting that visual acuity. There is one very important warning I must give to videophiles like myself, one which may actually seem a bit silly: virtually all of the "Godly reenactments" feature images superimposed over faded rocks or parchment (it's hard to tell exactly what is in the background), and for the first few moments of Zeus when I saw this effect I had the horrible feeling that something was horribly wrong with my flatscreen. That perhaps ridiculous worry aside, this is a stupendously detailed Blu-ray, though viewers should expect quite a bit of post-production blanching and treatment of the historical reenactment segments, leaving those sequences often extremely grainy and almost devoid of color. The contemporary interview segments all look sharp as a tack. The best news is, despite this being 1080i, there's nary an instance of artifacting that I noticed. Contrast and black levels are strong, and the colors, while sometimes muted, are beautifully rendered, with several very inviting shades of blue and red especially cropping up throughout the series.
Clash of the Gods: Complete Season 1 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The good news is History Channel has stepped up to the plate and given us a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack. The bad news is they've given us a 2.0 soundtrack. This seems especially strange when this is, as is History's wont, a very "busy" soundmix, full of thundering LFE, lots of foley effects and other "whiz bang" treatments interplaying with the calmer narration and onscreen talking heads. Everything that is here is clear as a bell, with the voiceover always front and center and easy to hear. Wading through all of these episodes one after another, the omnipresent low frequency effects got to be a bit tiresome after a while, but they're all very well handled by this DTS-HD track, with absolutely no distortion. In fact fidelity throughout all frequency ranges is spot on, and the only real complaint is no surround activity.
Clash of the Gods: Complete Season 1 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements are offered on either of the two BD's in this set.
Clash of the Gods: Complete Season 1 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The History Channel has really done itself proud with Clash of the Gods. Intelligently written and spectacularly produced, this has set a new standard for what cable's history archive can achieve. If you have even a passing interest in myth and folklore, I can't recommend this series highly enough. If you are, like I am, a myth fan, this is must see television.
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