Fantasy-driven Greek tragedy unravels in this Syfy Channel show
Greek mythology is such a rich source of inspiration for Western culture that I was excited when I heard about this first season of Olympus. That excitement faded after the first few episodes. Broadcast on the Syfy cable channel in the United States, the British/Canadian co-production is from creator Nick Willing, one of the driving forces behind popular Syfy mini-series such as Tin Man, Alice, and Neverland. The sprawling epic plays hard and fast with familiar Greek myths using its largely unknown cast and a horde of cheap green-screen VFX. That untapped story potential isn’t fully realized in this uneven, dark telling of a hero’s journey from gullible boy to becoming a god of Olympus.
Olympus begins fairly normally as it starts with an innocent, young man trying to prove himself in the world. The series hits you over the head he’s the central character in this mythic quest. This unnamed man simply goes by ‘Hero’ as there is a curse placed on saying his name out loud. Tom York plays the young man. Along the way he meets the Oracle of Gaia (Sonya Cassidy), a powerful prophet led by visions of an impending apocalypse for her beloved Athens. Olympus is set in the Athens of 2015 B.C. under the reign of king Aegeus (Graham Shiels). The king is wed to the powerful sorceress Medea (Sonita Henry), a manipulative woman seeking the power of the Lexicon. She schemes for the power of the Lexicon with her son, Lycos.
What is the Lexicon? In the rather complicated mythology of this series, the first-born son of Aegeus is destined to have the Lexicon inside his body, a power that can admit a mortal into the realm of the gods, Olympus. Thus giving him the ultimate ability to make someone a god. Hero’s journey quickly becomes far more perilous when it’s discovered he carries the Lexicon. That sets him off with his companions on this epic adventure, Oracle and Daedalus (Matt Frewer) the genius inventor. They will fight for their lives against spirits, gods, rival city-states and a scheming military.
A hot mess of confused mythology and odd character development…
A hot mess of confused mythology and odd character development…
Olympus tells a strange story over its thirteen episodes in season one. A hot mess of confused mythology and odd character development, it contains some of the most compressed storytelling seen in recent memory on television. It chews through plot at a rapid pace, covering more ground in season one than many shows will cover in three or four longer seasons. That doesn’t allow these fairly shallow characters much room to breathe or develop at a proper pace. The writers bite off more than they could chew, attempting an overly ambitious story that turns dark too quickly.
Some characters are better written than others. Medea gets to have the most fun, scheming her way around Aegeus’s palace as she attempts to steal the Lexicon from Hero. Sadly, the worst actor is clearly lead Tom York. He doesn’t have the presence necessary in this role, lacking chemistry with his female co-stars. It is laughable that this young boy barely out of his teen years would command the power of a god. York does not have the natural charisma of a star actor and looks lost at times against more veteran actors like Matt Frewer.
One can’t escape the sheer digital reality of Olympus. The show has been set in over fifty different CGI backgrounds, mixing historical reality with Greek fantasy. Almost everything is set against very noticeable green-screen effects with dodgy CGI monsters. There is a ridiculous meeting with Gaia that looks more like a hologram than anything else. The flimsy production values only become more pronounced as the series finishes out season one and Hero gets closer and closer to reaching his goal of Olympus. I guess it won’t matter, as most viewers will have already checked out deep into the season.
Olympus begins with enough mysterious intrigue and action that things seem like they could get better, but the show does not really work. What starts out as a simple fantasy adventure set in a mythological Athens becomes a dark, tortured journey not worth taking. What could have been an epic Greek tragedy with humor, romance and dark adventure gets lost somewhere along the way under poor acting, poor casting and shoddy production values.
Shout Factory presents the first season of Olympus in its best possible light, which still isn’t saying much for a new production. The thirteen episodes of season one are spread over three BD-50s. The Blu-ray presentation looks nearly identical to the Syfy broadcast. There are obvious limitations to the digital green-screens used in creating the ancient fantasy world of Olympus, producing slightly milky black levels and softer fine detail. The 1.78:1 video is encoded in AVC at an adequate 19.25 Mbps.
Olympus has some minor compression artifacts, mostly banding and noise in the darker shadow gradients. There are some unusual contrast issues, alternating from perfect contrast to blown-out highlights. That is likely a result of the numerous effect shots and their digital backgrounds. The picture itself is fairly sharp but lacking the razor-sharp detail levels of better digital video. Shout Factory appears to have left the transfer completely alone, giving us the uncut show masters in adequate 1080P resolution.
Olympus wasn’t particularly eye candy on television with its half-baked digital aesthetic. The CGI backgrounds vary from serviceable to laughable in production quality. This is definitely not Game of Thrones in production values. All that being said, this Blu-ray gives the show a decent video upgrade with mild improvements in detail and shadow delineation over its original cable broadcast.
The best technical element of Olympus is clearly its surround mix and audio design. This 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack offers decent immersion, nice LFE at times, and a fairly nice score from Rich Walters. Surround cues and panning are well done in this balanced lossless audio, nicely mixed with solid dynamic range. Quiet dialogue is easily intelligible and a few clever audio moments are included that make for rich listening.
Optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font.
Shout Factory gives us a smattering of behind-the-scenes featurettes, though much of the footage and interview soundbites are repeated if you watch everything. Series creator Nick Willing is all over them. I have no idea what show he was watching but his overly serious answers make it seem like Olympus is groundbreaking television.
The Series (03:47 in HD) – The cast and crew give brief interview answers about the show’s plot.
Creating the World of Olympus (03:28 in HD) – Production designer David Houghton goes over the extensive VFX needed to make Olympus. Over 50 digital environments and settings were needed for the entire show.
The Characters of Olympus (04:07 in HD) – The cast briefly discuss their characters’ motivations.
The Mythology of Olympus (09:41 in HD) – An extended recap of the show’s basic mythological setting and how its characters fit in with the gods. This is a repetitive look into the show that repeats much of the prior info we’ve already gotten in other featurettes.
The Epic of Olympus (11:48 in HD) – This featurette includes more direct behind-the-scenes footage from the set and has a couple of new soundbites from the cast.
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.