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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Odyssey (1997)



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The Odyssey, a high budget made-for-TV adaptation of Homer's epic adventure, is, by television standards, a monumental achievement. By theatrical standards, the special effects are ambitious but not overwhelming. Yet it's hard to deny that it captures the sweeping spirit of Homer's original poem with color and verve.

Armand Assante plays Odysseus, flawed hero of the Trojan War. When victory is won, he defies the gods with the sin of pride. Poseidon is angered and punishes him with the curse that he will never return home to his family and heritage. So he and his men are doomed to wander the Mediterranean Sea, bumping into powerful and deadly creatures that hamper his journey. Most of the episodes of Homer's poem are incorporated in some fashion. But one of the great ironies of the poem is that these adventures are told in flashback, Odysseus relating them to Telemachus, his son, after the fact. With what we know about Odysseus' character -- smart but devious -- it's entirely possible that his "real" adventures in the Mediterranean were fabricated in whole or in part. This television production adopts a more conventional storytelling style and has the adventures occur on scene such that there is no such doubt. Not necessarily a flaw in the show, but an interesting point to note.

The acting is variable. Assante makes a fine Odysseus, Greta Scacchi a decent Penelope, and Isabella Rossellini an alluringly regal Athena. But Vanessa Williams' Calypso rings stale, and there's not much to say about the portrayal of most of Odysseus' shipmates, either. Rounding out the stellar cast is Geraldine Chaplin as Eurycleia, Jeroen Krabbe as King Alcinous, Christoper Lee as Tiresias, Bernadette Peters as Circe, and Eric Roberts as Eurymachus.

It's a sprawling, fantastic adventure that should please most -- and certainly fans of fantasy and mythology.