Tomorrow we have the release of Brett Ratnor’s Hercules, the latest of many cinematic outings for the mythological strong man. But there are so many films based on Greek (and Roman) mythology already that it means so many great stories from around the world are yet to be told on the big screen. Therefore, I decided to give myself a little bit of a challenge by not including either in this list. Hopefully I’ve found at least one that you haven’t really heard about before.
First we’re off to Norway with one of their epic tales of heroes. It’s about Sigurd, or Siegfried to give him his Germanic name, and features a powerful re-forged family sword, a cursed magic ring that brings evil and death on the wearer (hang on, this sounds familiar), treasure, revenge, gods in disguise and some good, old-fashioned dragon killing and bathing in its blood. There’s also a decent helping of doomed romance as Sigurd releases the Valkyrie Brynhildr from her fiery prison and they pledge themselves to each other, but are torn apart when a plotting queen causes Sigurd to forget his love. I won’t mention the ultimate ending, but let’s be honest–when in these epic sagas do things turn out all sunshine and rainbows?
Now we’re headed down under to the mythology of the native Aboriginals. The Dreamtime is more of a framework or a metaphysical place that exists across all time and space, as well as the name given to the various stories passed down through spoken tradition. The plot within this framework could be a personal quest of an Aboriginal person making an expedition to sacred sites and hearing the stories born from those places.
3) Izanagi and Izanami
One of the key aspects of any mythology is the story of creation. In Shintoism, Izanagi and Izanami were charged with creating the world. Izanami gave birth to the Islands of Japan and many deities and spirits who were to live there. When Izanami dies giving birth to a god of fire, Izanagi follows her to the underworld. He lights a torch and sees that the once beautiful Izanami is now a foul, rotting creature of evil, causing him to flee and seal off the underworld with a boulder. He then cleanses himself of his trip to the underworld, creating the deities of the sun, moon and storms in the process. It feels obvious to say this could be animation, but something in the style of traditional Japanese artwork could be really special.
2) The Book of the Dead
I always had a bit of a soft spot for Ancient Egypt when I was a kid, and the images that always stuck with me were the ones to do with death and the afterlife. There are two ways this could be done as a film: either a telling of the story of Osiris and how he became the god of the underworld, or the journey through the underworld taken by someone who has died, a kind of Egyptian Dante’s Inferno, culminating in the person’s heart being weighed against a feather on the scales of judgment. If the heart weighs the same as the feather, they may pass into the afterlife, but if their sins are too great, they will be devoured by the crocodile-headed Ammit.
Lastly, another heroic tale, this time from Ireland. The nephew of a king and son of a sky god, Cuchulain was a bit of a badass from a young age, killing a giant watchdog at the age of 12 with only a club and ball. Later he trained under a warrior goddess and went on to be widely renowned in battle. The story has some fantastic elements, including Morrigan, the shape-shifting goddess of war and strife whom Cuchulain manages to piss off. Cuchulain meets his end in combat, of course, but refusing to die on his back, he demands to be tied to a standing stone so that he may continue to fight and die on his feet. Essentially, it would be an Irish Braveheart but with less horrific historical inaccuracies. And overall less rubbish. But probably still with Brendan Gleeson in a supporting role.