Here are my nominations for the Two Worst Pagan Movies of 2011, one of which arrived rather late in the year, while the other was released just a scant few days after New Year’s last January- delightfully rendering it acceptable fodder for another round of dogging.
There appears to be a tendency, in making Classical Mythology films, to treat the Mythology as a jumping-off point for basically a gigantic Super-Hero movie- as, for instance, the 2010 remake of the 1980s’ Clash of the Titans, soon to be revisited as Clash of the Titans II: Wrath of the Titans. There is a certain reasonableness to this, as in many ways, Perseus, say, probably counts as among the first Super-Heroes. Then there is a tendency to interpret “Pagan” in terms of “barbaric”: again, reasonable enough, one supposes, in certain circumstances, as Back-in-the-Day Pagans could apparently be kind of violent upon occasion. The thing is, this tendency leads to sessions of severely over-the-top Violence-Porn. In a Good Pagan movie such as Centurion, this can interestingly add up to a powerful “anti-War/ anti-Violence” message (Centurion is as anti-War in its way as Apocalypse Now or All Quiet on the Western Front- but in the Pagan context of Roman legions in Britain). In a Bad Pagan movie, such as 2010′s Valhalla Rising, which doesn’t really have much point to it beyond grotesque violence and gore, one is just left with the queasy after-impression of a very unpleasant film.
Both of these tendencies came together in an unfortunate way in 2011′s Immortals, which (among other things, as many Jugglers have pointed out) does not actually have very much “Immortals” in it (and They kind of function as Celestial Super-Heroes when They do show up). Otherwise this movie, ostensibly set in Classical Greece, with figures such as Theseus and the Olympic Deities, does not conform to any region or age of Greece recognizable, and tends to get lost in Mickey Rourke’s performance as the psychotic King Hyperion. The film keeps trying to “up” itself by ramping up the psycho-level of Rourke’s character, and while Mr. Rourke can play psycho as well as anyone working these days, it just turns kind of campy and stupid and obnoxiously disagreeable after awhile- and when the Gods (the “Immortals” promised in the title) do show, it is in a superficial and over-the-top manner; not enough to save this sour mess of a dank flick.
On the other hand, Immortals does have a lead actor (Mr. Henry Cavill, slated to become the newest Superman in 2013), who does a fine job of delivering a leading performance as Theseus- something sorely lacking from my personal choice of Worst Pagan Movie of the Year.
The central image of Nicolas Cage’s Season of the Witch (released early in January) is of a clunky iron cage, on top of a lumbering wagon and carried (on a twisted sort of Quest-Journey) along perilously narrow Alpine trails,to a distant abbey- where the monks can “examine” a suspected Witch. The unwieldy vehicle with its transient prison makes an admirable metaphor for this movie, with its increasingly ridiculous plot and lead-weight of a lead performance.
Despite an effective opening that neatly demonstrates (in like four minutes) the Burning Times as Religious Criminality against women, the movie is ridiculously anti-Witch in its viewpoint, to a degree that finally endorses the Catholic Church and Fundamentalist Christianity’s assertion that the merest association with Witchcraft allows the Forces of Satan loose in one’s life. (The Suspected Witch- a kind of Terrorist to Christendom- is the prisoner carried in the cage; her- literally, as we come to find out- diabolical Powers are so great, a small armed band led by two ex-Crusaders, are necessary to transport her.) One could read this as a fascinating parable about Life in the Age of Terror (with its presumed challenges to the Civil Liberties of Witches; in fact, this formed the basis for the Burning Times persecutions, that the perils to Christianity from Devil-Worshipping Witches were so extreme, normal legal precautions and protections needed to be put aside and things such as “enhanced interrogation techniques”- torture- employed.)
As I say, one could read it this way: or one could end the movie by basically making it The Exorcist In the Dark Ages- which is what this movie does.
What saves the movie from being truly offensive is that it is so campily bad, and a huge degree of responsibility for that goes to Mr. Cage’s dead-eyed and wooden performance. Looking as if he could just barely be bothered to get out of bed and onto the set, he sinks this movie in every scene.
If you want a GOOD example of a movie depicting fanatical medieval Christians moving against a suspected society of Witches (who look kind of like land-worshipping Pagans, by the way): check out Black Death. Unlike Season of the Witch, it is worthwhile.