A Viking warrior rode his horse through the forest and over the rocky hills. As the sun set, he pulled up and shouted to the heavens “I Am Thor!”
His horse turned around and said “That’th because you forgot your thaddle, thilly!”
The History Channel cranks out a lot of filler material to round out the programming week, much of which can be generously described as cheesy. It seemed pretty clear from the description that “Clash of the Gods” would be one of these filler programs, so my expectations were low. And yet it still managed to be a major disappointment.
History producers have perfected a cheap but acceptable CGI look for many of their programs. I find it garish, but viewers seem to enjoy it. “Clash of the Gods,” however, appears to have been beaten with the short end of the budget stick because the effects are terrible, a trip back down memory lane to the earliest days of the network. In the episode about Tolkien’s Middle Earth mythos, Gollum looks like a Sleestak who got popped into the microwave for a quick dry cleaning.
Contributing to the low-budget look is the choice of actors. Nobody expects to see Oscar winners or super models in History programs, but when you’re trying to cast for historical or mythological figures, you need to come somebody who at least resembles the part. The actor chosen to play Thor looks like he was discovered at an audition for a Capital One commercial, and the actors who play Tolkein’s hobbits are “People of Wal-Mart” look-alikes for the film franchise actors, which is to say not at all alike, and wearing really creepy clothes.
Each episode (45 min) introduces a particular character from mythology with most of the attention lavished on Greek characters like Zeus, Hercules, Medusa, etc. Each program mixes recreation footage (I’ll forgive them for not having authentic documentary material) with interviews with experts on folklore and mythology who have, amazingly, managed to find gainful employment.
I’m not much for the Greek gods so I skipped right to the best … god… ever: The Mighty Thor! Now comic book fans know that the painful TV movie “The Incredible Hulk Returns” featured (if that’s the word) the sorriest incarnation of Thor imaginable. I think his hammer barely dented a car once. But this episode lets Eric Kramer off the hook as worst Thor. I give the actor credit. It’s not his fault that he doesn’t vaguely resemble any rendition of Thor ever produced in myth or on the comic book page and he is game enough to don a wedding gown (Thor was a complex guy) but this was just a sad experience for everyone involved.
They do cover the basic information about Norse mythology but the producers are so afraid of alienating audiences that they avoid as much terminology as possible. Thor’s hammer is never even named. Here’s a firm rule. If you go through an entire episode about Thor and do not use the word “Mjolnir” you are epic fail. You are not worthy. There’s a nice little bit about Ragnarok at the end, but the effect for the Midgard Serpent is so bad, it’s hard to appreciate it.
The other episodes don’t fare much better though the one on Hercules is a bit more interesting than the others (disclosure: I only watched 5 of the 10 episodes.) I should say something nice. Stan Bernard’s narration is very good.
There are three discs in the set, each with three or four episodes.
DISC ONE: “Zeus,” “Hercules,” “Hades”, “Minotaur”
DISC TWO: “Medusa,” “Odysseus: Curse of the Sea,” “Odysseus: Warrior’s Revenge”
DISC THREE: “Beowulf,” “Tolkien’s Monsters,” “Thor”
The episodes are presented in 1.78:1. The interlaced transfer is mediocre, but acceptable.
The episodes are presented in Dolby Digital Stereo. Audio is unremarkable but all narration and interviews are clearly audible. No subtitles are provided.
You have to be pretty desperate for your mythology fix to resort to “Clash of the Gods” unless you’re looking for camp value. The information provided isn’t much more detailed than what you can find on Wikipedia and neither the acting nor the production values will add anything to the experience. Now if there was a real “Clash of the Gods” series pitting the deitiess against each other “Jurassic Fight Club” style, I would tune in. But this one is just depressing.