Chris Waites, Megan Goldammer, Alyson Beckham, and Claudia Gonzalez
Dr. Joan Kennedy
April 26, 2012
Literature in Film
Filmmakers have looked to the world of literature for many years as a source of new film projects. Literature can provide film studios with a nearly endless supply of projects as new material is written every day, while still being able to rely on remaking works that have already been made into films. The biggest obstacle in adapting literature to the big screen is figuring out which of the material should be left out, kept true, and embellished as to expand the likely viewing audience. The filmmakers have the daunting task of choosing which material will be included in the final cut of the films. In doing so, this transforms the original work into the screen version.
One particular film that shows inaccuracies from the original written work is The Odyssey. After watching The Odyssey, it becomes obvious that there are many differences between the epic poem written by Homer and the 1997 movie. It seems that the movie was created and written the way it was in order to give the audience sufficient background information about the epic poem. The movie is a compilation of both The Iliad and The Odyssey. As a result, this causes tremendous differences between the Odyssey film and the poem. The differences range from the simple fact that The Odyssey (epic poem) only mentions the Trojan War briefly, to completely rearranging the chronology of Odysseus’s return to Ithaca ("Map of Odysseus' Journey").
The changes seen in the movie are obvious at the beginning with the birth of Telemachus, a scenario that is not mentioned in the epic. The movie then shows Odysseus getting ready to depart to fight for his country in Troy. As he is getting ready to leave Ithaca, he tells his wife, Penelope, that if he does not return before Telemachus has gotten his first beard hair that she should take another man for a husband. After Odysseus leaves for Ithaca, Penelope is left to raise their son alone for as long as Odysseus is gone. Although she worries about Odysseus’s well-being, she has faith in his strength and courage and is certain he will return. The viewer then encounters another inaccuracy in the film. While Odysseus is away, Penelope relies on Odysseus’s mother, Anticlea, for help with raising Telemachus (The Odyssey). This part is not included in The Odyssey. Anticlea is only introduced to the reader when Odysseus visits the underworld (Lawall and Mack 226-530).
The movie then switches over to Odysseus and his adventure. One inaccuracy that is encountered is the detail given to the Trojan horse. Unlike the poem, the movie mentions how the Trojan horse is used by Odysseus and his men to penetrate the great walls of Troy. This part is mentioned only briefly in The Odyssey (epic poem) because it is explained in Homer’s prequel, The Iliad. After the movie shows the scene of the Greeks defeating the Trojans, it focuses on Odysseus’s many problems trying to get home. As he is travelling through the sea, Athena appears to him as herself with absolutely no disguise, a situation that is not the same in the poem. In the poem, when Athena reveals herself to Odysseus, she is fully disguised so he does not recognize her (Lawall and Mack 226-530). Another difference involves a second god, Poseidon. Although Poseidon is disguised in an ocean wave, he speaks directly to Odysseus. Though the numerous gods played a great role in Greek life, they never spoke directly to people. Instead, they would come in contact with them by the use of a disguise. The purpose of this was to avoid being recognized by people. Another difference with Odysseus’s encounter with Poseidon is that the god of the sea directly tells Odysseus that he will not return to Ithaca (The Odyssey). According to the poem, Poseidon speaks to the other gods of his wish to not allow Odysseus’s return home. Poseidon’s wish is impeded by Zeus at the request of the Athena (Lawall and Mack 226-530).
Odysseus and his men arrive at the island of Polyphemus, Poseidon’s son. The slight difference shown in the film is how Odysseus escapes after impaling the Cyclops’s eye. They walk out nonchalantly instead of riding on the backs of sheep as mentioned in the poem. The next stop on their journey in the film is the island of Circes. Odysseus’s men are turned into a variety of animals. According to the poem, his men are turned into pigs. In order to have his men returned to their original state, Odysseus must sleep with Circes and stay on her island for many years. When Odysseus asks to be released, Circes informs him that the only way they can leave is by going to the underworld and talking to Tiresias (Lawall and Mack 226-530). His visit to the underworld is, for the most part, the same in the film as it is in the poem. The differences are how he chooses to use the ram and the prophecy Tiresias gives Odysseus. First, Odysseus carries a ram the whole way until he sees Tiresias. The difference in the film is that he disposes of the ram in a boiling river of magma instead of using its blood to communicate with the ghosts he encounters, as he does in the poem (The Odyssey).
Odysseus’s arrival to Calypso’s island provided in the film is very similar to the one from the poem. Calypso is forced to release Odysseus so he can return home. She provides him a boat and necessary supplies for his voyage to Ithaca. The next scene in the film is his arrival in his hometown. Not unlike the rest of the film, this scene also shows inaccuracies from the poem. First, Odysseus is initially recognized by his swineherd. In addition, Telemachus and Euryklea also recognize Odysseus. In their meeting, Odysseus and Telemachus plan for revenge against the suitors; therefore, the end of the film is almost identical to that of the epic poem. However, there are a few minute changes that are made from the poem. In the film, the maids who fraternize with the suitors are killed using arrows instead of being hung. Lastly, the blood bath is not stopped by Zeus and Athena but carried on until Odysseus has gotten revenge, even on the maids (The Odyssey).
The biggest problem found throughout the movie is that the chronology is completely altered. According to the University of Pennsylvania Department of Classical Studies the order is as follows: Troy, Cicones, Lotus Eaters, Cyclopes, King Aoelus, KingAoelus (again), Laistrygonians, Circe, the underworld, Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, Helios, Calypso, Phaeacians, and Ithaca. The events that are shown in the film are not the same as those of the poem. In addition, certain scenes that are depicted in the poem are not included in the film, such as the second arrival of Odysseus to the island of Aoelus after his men decide to open the bag that contained all the winds that was given to Odysseus. Instead of being blown back to the island of Aoelus, they are blown to the Island of Circes ("Map of Odysseus's Journey").
Conversely, there are a few similarities between the film and the epic poem. The characters continue to depend on the gods, as was normal of a Greek citizen. In both the film and the poem, the gods play a great role in the lives of the characters. Although characters are allowed to live freely, the gods’ will is what ultimately what determines the characters’ fates. In addition, another similarity is Odysseus’s struggle to return home. Both the film and the poem demonstrate great difficulties that Odysseus must overcome in order to return home. Among these similarities are the opportunities to spend the rest of his life with either Calypso or Circes, women that any normal Greek man would have loved to be with because of their beauty (Lawall and Mack 225-530).
In addition to The Odyssey, the Bible is also subject to change in order to make a more compelling film so that it is more relatable to the audience. The movie Evan Almighty, starring Steve Carell as the main character, Evan Baxter, tells the biblical story of Noah and the flood in a modernistic point of view. The message of faith in the flood story is depicted through the similarities and differences between both the Bible and the movie. Baxter is a reporter who just retired from the news because he was recently elected to the United States Congress under his campaign slogan “change the world” (Evan Almighty). Before moving to Washington, Evan prays to God: “I am now in a position of great power, and I know that with great power comes great responsibility. Please help me change the world” (Evan Almighty). At the same time, his wife prays for the move and transition to bring their family closer together.
Evan and his wife begin their journey to Washington with their three sons, Dylan, Jordan, and Ryan. Similarly, Noah from the Bible also had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth (The Holy Bible, Genesis 6.10). When God hears Evan’s prayer, He decides that the way for him to change the world is to build an ark. In the Bible, God chooses Noah to build an ark because he is “perfect in his generations, and [he] walked with God” (The Holy Bible, Genesis 6.9). In the movie, God chooses Evan to build the ark because the way to change the world is “one act of random kindness at a time” (Evan Almighty). In the next few days of Evan’s life, it is made clear to him that God wants him to build an ark through His many clues referencing Genesis 6:14: “Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.” God then tells Evan that he must build this ark “and if anyone asks, tell them a flood is coming” (Evan Almighty).
After much resistance, Evan, with help from his family, assemble an ark the same size as Noah’s: “three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits” (The Holy Bible, Genesis 6.15). Similar to the Bible, two of each animal are brought upon the ark to save their lives, but, contrary to the Bible, it is God who summons them upon the ark instead of Noah. In Genesis 6:13, God sends the flood to destroy all mankind because “the earth is filled with violence” and because “it repenteth [Him] that [He] made them” (The Holy Bible, Genesis 6.7). When the flood comes in the movie, it is not from the sky, but from a broken dam that had been poorly constructed in preparation for the building of a sub-division in a public park. When the dam burst, Evan managed to get all of the community on the ark and mankind still remained, while as, in Genesis 7:23 “every living substance was destroyed” except for Noah and the ones that accompanied him in the ark.
In the movie, it is with the help of God in saving the community through the flood that He gave Evan the opportunity to bring his family closer together and answer his wife’s prayer. In the Bible, God wanted Noah to make his own means of preservation as a final trial of his faith and obedience. The moral of the movie and the story of Noah are to teach all of us that only by putting one’s faith into action can we be saved.
Lastly, action movies are a genre of film where the filmmakers seem to exaggerate a great deal to appeal to their target audience: men. The movie 300 tells the story of Leonidas, the Grecian king who leads three hundred of his fellow Spartans into battle against the enormous force of the Persian army. In the beginning of the movie, the viewers see the messenger that comes up and asks the Spartan king, Leonidas,” for air and water” (Strauss). Leonidas of course denies the Persians the right to use the air and water, and this is what started the war. A lot of other major things that happened in this battle were also depicted in the movie. In one part of the movie, the Spartans were told that they were going to “fight in the shade” (Strauss). As the battle ensues the Spartans are attacked by a sky full of arrows, shot from the Persians. Another similarity occurs with the Immortals whom the Persians sent to fight against the Spartans. They were described in both the movie and in the tale as very intense fighters and extremely intimidating. The movie is also accurate in regards to the Spartans’ fighting techniques; they would always stand shield to shield to fight their opponents. This was made very clear to the viewer as they were shown how the techniques played out. Another similarity that the movie and the tale shared was the reference to the Spartan who became a huge traitor, Ephailtes. He was trying to prove himself to Leonidas that he was a faithful Spartan, and he would fight alongside him in this battle against the Persians. When denied by Leonidas due to his physical deformities, he turned on the Spartans. He aided the Persians by telling them where to attack and cut them off, which led the Persians to victory. Both in the movie and in the tale, they stress this betrayal (300, DVD).
Many differences exist between the movie and the tale as well. In the movie it shows the storylines of several different relationships between the soldiers. The first main relationship that the viewers see is that of Leonidas and his wife. They have a child and they seem to have very close relationship behind the scenes, but in front of the soldiers they seem very distant. Another key relationship that one notices is one of the soldiers and his father; both of them are going to fight in the war. Towards the end of the movie, the son dies and the father avenges his death (300, DVD).
Those responsible for making movies have many reasons for taking liberty with classic works of literature. The logistics and financial burden involved in adapting these literary works is a huge obstacle in getting these stories on the big screen. It could take a cast and crew of thousands and possibly hundreds of millions of dollars to do a full adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey. For this reason, it is in the best interest of the film studios to highlight the most interesting and exciting parts of these stories to keep the audiences’ attention and to prevent the run time to exceed many costly hours. In addition, one should also point out that it is not the studios’ responsibility to accurately produce these movies. They are in business to make money, not educate the masses in world literature. It is up to individuals to do that for themselves.
Evan Almighty. Dir. Tom Shadyac. Perf. Steve Carell. Universal Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment, 2007. DVD.
Genesis. The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Text Center/University of Virginia
Library. Web. 15 Apr. 2012.
Lawall, Sarah N., and Maynard Mack. The Odyssey. The Norton Anthology of World
Literature. Beginnings to A. D. 100. Ed. Peter J. Simon. 2nd ed. Vol. A. New York: W.W.
Norton & Co., 2002. 3 Vols. 225-530. Print.
"Map of Odysseus' Journey." University of Pennsylvania Department of Classical Studies.
University of Pennsylvania, 2009. Web. 30 Mar. 2012.
The Odyssey. Dir. Andrey Konchalovskiy. Perf. Armand Assante, Greta Scacchi. American
Zoetrope, 1997. Videocassette. YouTube. Google, 20 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2012.
Strauss, Barry. "Greco-Persian Wars: Battle of Thermopylae." History Net: Where History Comes Alive. Web. 19 Apr. 2012. .
300. Dir. Zack Snyder. By Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, and Michael B. Gordon. Prod. Gianni Nunnari, Mark Canton, Bernie Goldmann, and Jeffrey Silver. Perf. Gerard Butler and Lena Headey. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2007. DVD.