Hits and myths

April 02, 2010

What most of us don't remember from high school about the birthplace of Western civilization - aka ancient Greece - has been filled in by Hollywood, often to hilarious effect. For the most part, the big screen's interpretation of the land of Sophocles, Socrates and Alexander the Great has mostly been about gods, myths, sea battles and English accents. Following are a few standouts of a weird tradition:

Hercules Unchained: A milestone in the sword-and-sandal craze of the late '50s, early '60s, this Italian production starred Montana-born bodybuilder Steve Reeves in his second appearance as the demigod and strongman (the first was "Hercules"). The story was basically an amalgam of various myths and Greek drama.

Jason And The Argonauts: Ray Harryhausen's magic brought the inanimate to life, let monsters walk the Earth and gave flight to Harpies in this Don Chaffey-directed adventure fantasy (with a score by Bernard Herrmann), which followed Jason and his posse as they pursued the Golden Fleece. En route, they're attacked by an enormous bronze statue, are helped by a giant merman and battle a sword-wielding skeleton army - all of which predated computer graphics and were brought to life via Harryhausen's stop-motion animation.

The Odyssey: Emmy-winning adaptation of the epic poem, directed by respected Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky ("Runaway Train") and starring Armand Assante, Greta Scacchi and Isabella Rossellini. It doesn't exactly stick to Homer, but it doesn't burlesque him, either.

Troy: Based on "The Iliad" but given a naturalistic spin by director Wolfgang Petersen ("Das Boot"), "Troy" starred Brad Pitt as Achilles, Eric Bana as Hector, Orlando Bloom as Paris and Diane Kruger as Helen.

300: Zack Snyder's pugnacious epic starred Gerard Butler and Lena Headey and recounted the legendary stand by the 300 Spartan warriors under King Leonidas who, in 480 B.C., battled 100,000 Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae. It was ancient Greece's version of the Charge of the Light Brigade and, as such, possesses a certain timeless appeal.

- John Anderson, McClatchy-Tribune

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