Tag: mythology (page 1 of 2)

From the Vault: Everything Old Is New Again

A post from last year: updated to reflect the fact that my memories of both Man of Steel and Star Trek: Into Darkness have soured considerably.


Courtesy Relativity Media

I’ve been blogging for years. I’m not sure if you’d call what I’ve done or have been doing successful or not, when it comes to blogging and other areas of my life, but what I keep coming back to is the fact that old stories still have something to tell us. I have no problem, on a fundamental level, with something getting a reboot or a re-imagining, as long as the core of the story remains intact and the talented people telling the story are either plying close to that core or going in an entirely new direction with it.

The problem, as I see it, is that it is far too easy to stick to the old story points and simply apply modern thinking to them, rather than take a tale’s themes or characters or message in a new direction. What really bothers me about the practice is how lazy it seems. If you want to use an old tale or property to tell a story, go for it; all that I would ask is that you do something new with it. Another example would be the difference between Immortals and the Clash of the Titans retread: while Immortals had a little trouble staying on-point with its storytelling, its visual imagination and portrayal of ancient Greece felt unique and striking, while the new Titans felt drab and lackluster on pretty much all fronts. I mean, sure, it was still fun to see Sam Worthington fight giant scorpions, and Liam Neeson was born to play gods, but the thrust of the story felt weak because there was nothing new about it.

As scarce as new ideas tend to be, it’s no wonder that older stories often come up for a rehash now and again. As I’ve said, I’m all about old stories getting told in new ways. The emphasis here is on ‘new’ – a good storyteller should try to do something that hasn’t been done before, or mix things together that haven’t been mixed. Any idiot with a keyboard can bash out a story about a superhero or vampires or old myths – the question is, what makes your story about a superhero or vampires or old myths stand out? What will make people want to read it? Why, at the end of the day, do you have to write it?

Flash Fiction: Gods and Robbers

Courtesy Wallpaperswide.com

Chuck’s weekly demand this time is to include four random items. Can you spot them all?


They dragged him into the office by his arms. His legs felt weak; there was no way they could support his weight with them yanking him along. He was tossed onto the carpet like a sack of garbage. He found himself looking at the skull of what some might have considered a large lizard, but he recognized as a small dragon. It had been re-purposed to serve as the base of an umbrella stand.

“We found him, Father,” said one of the twins.

“He thought to hide from you among the mortal officers of the law.” The other twin tossed the badge onto the expansive desk that blocked most of his view. He struggled to look up, fighting down waves of pain. He got a kick in the kidneys for his trouble.

“Castor, Pollux, I’m surprised at you.” The voice from behind the desk was deep, grandfatherly, almost kind; yet in it was the rumble, the muted flash, the sense one gets when a storm is blowing in. “This is my guest, not some common churl. Get him in a chair, for Gaea’s sake. And clean up his face. I won’t have him ruining my carpet.”

The twins obeyed, hauling him into one of the chairs facing the desk. A wet rag all but smashed into his face, and as the blood was wiped away, he tried to will his bleeding to stop. Whatever charm they’d used to stunt his powers, it seemed to have faded, as his head cleared immediately. He blinked, and looked up to face the man he’d been dragged to see.

Behind the chess board on the desk sat what appeared to be an elderly man with broad shoulders and the solid build of someone who’d spent a lifetime perfecting his physical form. His suit was tailored, hand-made, and clearly costly. His white hair was long, and his beard was somewhat fluffy. Had the suit been red, one might mistake him for Santa Claus.

“Now, Prometheus. What would possess you to put on the airs of a policeman? In the game of ‘Cops and Robbers’, would I not be the cop?”

“It let me get close to one of Chronos’ servants. I was trying to help…”

Pollux backhanded Prometheus. “No lies before the mighty Zeus!”

“Pollux, please! Castor, look after your brother.” Zeus reached down and plucked the bishop from his side of the board, examining it. “Prometheus, you and I have had our differences. I’m still not certain how you escaped your prison in the first place. But we both know that my word is law. And that law cannot be countermanded, not by the cleverness of any being, mortal or Titan.”

“I could be back on that mountain now, if you willed it.”

“Perhaps.”

“Then why am I here?”

Zeus smiled, and replaced the chess piece. “I’m curious more than I am angry. How did you escape, and why?”

“The how doesn’t matter. The why does. I told you: I can help you fight Chronos and the other Titans. Time is against us. You should hear what I have to say.”
Zeus raised an eyebrow. Thunder rolled in the distance. “Have a care, Titan. I am not so curious that I am willing to permit you to command me. Begin at the beginning. How did you escape?”

“I made a deal with the eagle.”

Zeus laughed. “A deal? What could you possibly offer it that was not the liver of an immortal?”

“I told it about America. I told it that it was a sacred animal there. It, too, could be truly immortal, and not simply tasked with devouring me. I said, ‘If you free me, I will take you there, and you will be adored and loved.’ It took a few days… and a few livers… but it believed me.”

Promet heus tried not to blanch at the memories. Centuries, millenia had gone by, and every day, atop that lonely mountain that killed any mortal that attempted its summit, the eagle tore him open and made him feel every snapping sinew and every bite at his innards until death came like a merciful, dreamless, abyssal sleep. He’d long stopped cursing his fate each time he awoke, and it was only through the tiny fraction of power he’d had left that he was able to learn of the far-off land the eagle wished to see.

“Where is it now?”

“A zoo, in Chicago.”

“Hah! Duplicity worthy of any of my children. Even as a fugitive you do not disappoint.”

Prometheus nodded. “I am happy to have amused you, my Lord.”

Zeus waved his hand. “Pshaw. I have Wingus and Dingus here to kowtow to me. You, however, never bowed. You defied me, and not from jealousy or fear or anger. You defied me to do what you felt was right. Defiance had to be punished, but I always respected what you did.”

Prometheus blinked. The admission felt earnest, but oddly timed. It slowly dawned on Prometheus that he was right, and Zeus knew it. Chronos and the other Titans were growing stronger, and time was getting shorter. Slowly, so as not to antagonize the twins, Prometheus reached into his pocket, produced the sealed envelope, and handed it to Zeus.

“This is why I escaped.”

Zeus looked at it. On it was written a single word. Hera.

After a moment, the King of the Gods opened the envelope. He read the letter within. Twice. When he looked up at the twins, his eyes were alight with the fire of the sky, the lightning that was his herald and his wrath.

“Leave us. Prometheus and I must speak alone.”

The twins bowed and retreated. Zeus set down the letter, glared at Prometheus for a long moment, and reached across the chess board to reset it. He moved his white king’s pawn forward two squares, gesturing at Prometheus.

“Tell me how this treachery began.”

Prometheus, in spite of the pain, smiled. He moved his queen’s pawn forward.

Everything Old Is New Again

Courtesy Relativity Media

I’ve been blogging for years. I’m not sure if you’d call what I’ve done or have been doing successful or not, when it comes to blogging and other areas of my life, but what I keep coming back to is the fact that old stories still have something to tell us. I have no problem, on a fundamental level, with something getting a reboot or a re-imagining, as long as the core of the story remains intact and the talented people telling the story are either plying close to that core or going in an entirely new direction with it.

It’s why I can’t bring myself to full-on hate or even mildly dislike the new Star Trek films. The settings and characters I and many others grew up with are being taken in a new direction. The storytelling stumbles here and there, and I’m not quite convinced that that Abrams and his crew can, in fact, give us something entirely new out of these old and familiar trappings, but I am cautiously optimistic. In fact, if I were to put Into Darkness and Man of Steel side by side, I’d say that Abrams and company are doing more right by the Starfleet folks than the current bunch at the helm of the DC film universe are doing in terms of breathing new life into their given amphitheater. At least Into Darkness didn’t rehash any of its narrative within the film and infused its characters with humanity and charm within the writing, rather than relying on the actors to do that stuff.

The problem, as I see it, is that it is far too easy to stick to the old story points and simply apply modern thinking to them, rather than take a tale’s themes or characters or message in a new direction. What really bothers me about the practice is how lazy it seems. If you want to use an old tale or property to tell a story, go for it; all that I would ask is that you do something new with it. Another example would be the difference between Immortals and the Clash of the Titans retread: while Immortals had a little trouble staying on-point with its storytelling, its visual imagination and portrayal of ancient Greece felt unique and striking, while the new Titans felt drab and lackluster on pretty much all fronts. I mean, sure, it was still fun to see Sam Worthington fight giant scorpions, and Liam Neeson was born to play gods, but the thrust of the story felt weak because there was nothing new about it.

As scarce as new ideas tend to be, it’s no wonder that older stories often come up for a rehash now and again. As I’ve said, I’m all about old stories getting told in new ways. The emphasis here is on ‘new’ – a good storyteller should try to do something that hasn’t been done before, or mix things together that haven’t been mixed. Any idiot with a keyboard can bash out a story about a superhero or vampires or old myths – the question is, what makes your story about a superhero or vampires or old myths stand out? What will make people want to read it? Why, at the end of the day, do you have to write it?

The New Mythology

Joseph Campbell

Some of our stories are hundreds or even thousands of years old. Every once in a while, a book or TV series will claim it has an ‘all-new’ story, but in reality most of the plot points and character turns have probably been told before. This is likely not a conscious decision of the writer, and it in no way dilutes the deeper truth the story strives towards, but it cannot be denied that the roots of most stories run very deep into our past.

Mankind has been telling stories since before language was something you wrote. Around fires and in caves, they relayed tales of great hunts, related how rivals were overthrown, and wondered about dreams and the world beyond what they knew. People wanted to learn about the triumphs and tragedies of others, and sharing these experiences enhanced them, gave them weight, and made them timeless. While more than a few of these simple, primal stories may have had some details forgotten, threads of them can be seen here and now, in the 21st century.

Themes and patterns such as the hero’s journey and good men struggling against their own natures as much as they do a rival or the elements persist because they still have something to teach us. Just as the ancient civilizations of the world found inspiration in their gods and champions, so too do we find it in big screen heroes and, occasionally, the actors who portray them. Myths have always been stories larger than life, speaking in broad terms to draw in as many minds as possible, and at the core of many you will find one of those timeless threads. The hero may be looking for his own identity in the face of a world that wants to redefine or obscure it. A good man is betrayed by a friend because of jealousy or greed. Tragedy causes someone to dedicate themselves to the pursuit of justice. None of these ideas are new, but the fact that they continue to captivate us means they are not without merit.

Our new myths connects us to the old, entertaining and educating and provoking us to think just as they have for thousands of years. Your message is still important, even if someone else has conveyed it before. What’s new about that message is how you convey it. Stories may share common elements but your voice is unique. Let it be heard. The new mythology needs new myth-makers, new storytellers to keep our stories going further into the future. Are you going to be one of them?

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Bunraku

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

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Bunraku is a preposterous title for a film, and also slightly pretentious. It refers not to a character or a location, but rather a type of Japanese shadow play, a theatrical production using puppets that tells broad stories based on archetype and fable. It’d be like naming Flash Gordon “Raygun Gothic Adventure with Queen.” Or Taken “Liam Neeson Driven Suspense Action”. Or GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra “Giant Letdown.” On the other hand, nobody can accuse Bunraku of being less than what it promises in the title, and if someone is disappointed by the film, it should not be on the basis of said promise. And if you’re an ignorant Westerner who doesn’t know what bunraku is, the opening sequence gives you a demonstration while the narrator sets the scene.

Courtesy Picturesque Films

In the not too distant future, mankind has waged war to the point that people have finally taken notice of how atrocious, unnecessary and dehumanizing modern warfare actually is (the actual warfare, that is, not the first-person shooter). Guns are universally outlawed in the wake of some sort of war-driven cataclysm and folks now have to get by settling their disputes with edged weapons and bare fists. The most powerful man east of the Atlantic with these methods is Nicholai the Woodcutter and his nine numbered assassins. Into Nicholai’s favorite casino comes a nameless Drifter who’s quick and deadly with his hands, while his favorite restaurant’s owner has a nephew who’s a driven but compassionate and well-spoken samurai. Can you guess how these two strangers are going to get along? If you guessed “they team up to take down Nicholai and the colorful array of supporting trained killers”, try not to break your arm patting yourself on the back.

Bunraku is a film that seems to have no time whatsoever for things like character or plot development. What it plays on is themes, mood and metaphor. That said, the character work that does happen isn’t all that bad. Josh Hartnett continues to demonstrate the sort of chops that earned Clint Eastwood his immortal spurs, while his samurai friend is played with surprising conviction (if a bit of melodrama) by Gackt. If you can tear your eyes away from these fine specimens of driven and handsome young men, you’ll find Woody Harrelson in an understated mentor role while Kevin McKidd give us a villain arguably more memorable than his imposing boss, played by none other than Ron Perlman. The other actors, including Demi Moore, don’t have much more than bit roles but we’re honestly not here for introspection as much as we are for spectacle of seeing Slevin & an extremely attractive musician take on Hellboy & Poseidon.

Courtesy Picturesque Films
Lucius Vorenus got himself an excellent tailor.

Unlike your typical Hollywood big-budget explosionfest, Bunraku‘s style comes from its unique setting, composition and pacing. The best thing about it is how stylistically striking the whole production is. Some of the longer shots are truly impressive in their construction, while transitions and even entire scenes are works of art in and of themselves. It’s the sort of film where ‘eye candy’ extends past the attractive cast and bright orange explosive special effects. It’s also something of a low-key musical, with a pervasive but atmospheric score adding tension and pace to the many fights, which have the energy and passion of large production dance numbers without everybody breaking into song. With this sort of energy and drive coupled with a unique aesthetic somewhere between a Western and an Akira Kurosawa film, here’s always something cool to look at, which means Bunraku will not leave you bored.

It may, however, leave you somewhat empty. As I said, there’s very little depth to the characters or plot. Playing as it does on broad themes and the sort of metaphorical storytelling reserved for fairy tales and the like, Bunraku isn’t going to set the world on fire with its story. And as impressive as the sets, shots and fights are, many viewers may draw parallels between Sin City or Kill Bill. For better or worse, Bunraku does have a much more diverse color palate than Frank Miller’s work and not as much verbosity or as many oblique references as Tarantino’s. It’s a kissing cousin to these other works at most, and it goes about its simple but stylish little tale with admirable gusto, unfettered by Miller’s monochromatic cynicism or Tarantino’s obsession with grindhouse flicks and Uma Thurman’s toes.

Courtesy Picturesque Films
You wish your bartender was this cool.

If anything, it reminds me most of indie darling and Game of the Year, Bastion. The bright colors, vibrant combat, initially simple characters and even the smooth tones of the world-wise narrator immediately bring that experience to mind, in a very positive way. While Bunraku lacks the ultimate emotional depth of that game, it does keep your eyes occupied and imagination delighted for its running time, and on its visual panache and enthusiastic presentation alone I’m going to give it a recommendation. It’s not groundbreaking or anything but it’s at least trying to go about storytelling in a slightly different way, even if the archetypes and themes are older than dirt, but I’d rather have an older fable told well than a pandering remake or sequel of a recent work take up my time. Although, in the latter case, you can replace the words “take up” with the more accurate and expedient “waste”. I’m glad I spent some time with Bunraku, and if you’re looking in your Netflix Instant queue for a production with a great deal of panache, a bit of whimsy, some grown-up themes and unapologetic devotion to unique framing devices, I think you will be too.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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