“The Battle of Olympus”, released in 1989, is a 2D platforming game made for the Nintendo Entertainment System by Brøderbund. In the game, the player takes control of Orpheus as he sets off to rescue the woman he loves, Helene, from the clutches of Hades, the God of the Underworld.
Though the name of the love interest has changed, the base plot of “The Battle of Olympus” is directly influenced by the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. Though the confrontation with Hades at the end is handled in a far different manner than it was in the original story, Orpheus’ purpose is what brings him to the Underworld in both the myth and the game. However, “The Battle of Olympus” also takes influence from other Greek mythology, as the player must confront such creatures as Medusa, the Hydra, the Cyclops, and the Minotaur, among others, in their quest to enter the Underworld and rescue the lost love of Orpheus. These challenges come to signify the inherit danger that lies in the quest of Orpheus, and helps to signify that true love is worth any cost. Unfortunately, the game ends on a much different note than the story that inspired it, and as Orpheus and Helene spend the time during the credits together, the final message of the tale, that one can not defeat death, is lost.
The Sandman by Neil Gaiman is a multiple-award-winning ten-volume graphic novel series that Doctor Whalen teaches in his Graphic Novel class, which I have never taken but am pleased to know got at least one text right anyway. There are two prevailing threads of narrative in the series: a linear one involving Morpheus/Dream/The Sandman being imprisoned by humans for seventy-two years and then having to rebuild his life and kingdom – only to realize he is not the same person he was – and a much more fragmented series of interconnected short stories that examine how Dream and his siblings Destiny, Death, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium (who was once Delight) have interacted with figures both historical and mythical throughout their existence.
One of these short stories, “Orpheus”, recasts the fabled Greek as the son of Dream and Calliope, Muse of heroic poetry. When Eurydice dies he first begs his father to help. Dream says no, it is not in the natural order, and they become estranged. He then begs his aunt Death (actually the sweetest, kindest, and most cheerful of the family) to allow him to go to Hades. She warns him that he can only do so if he agrees never to die. He agrees. When he fails to save Eurydice, he cannot die to be with her, and he moreover gets torn apart by the crazed followers of Dionysus and has to live the next ten thousand years as a disembodied head. His father arranges for priests to care for him and at once point for an adventuress to rescue him from the French Revolution – it makes sense in context – but does not see him again until the 1990’s, when he is forced to ask Orpheus for help and in return grants him the boon of finally dying.
In the Wachowski brothers’ 1999 film The Matrix, there are several allusions to and story elements derived from Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulation”. Published in France in 1981, this philosophical treatise examines the nature of signs, symbols and other representations that have replaced meaning and reality in human society. He focuses especially on the idea of the simulacrum (simulacra is the plural form), which is defined as a copy without an original. Not only does the nature of Baudrillard’s material relate directly to the story of The Matrix, which takes place in a world where reality as we know it is only a simulation programmed by machines to turn humans into docile batteries in the midst of a ruined future, but there is an unmistakable reference in one of the first scenes of the film. After the protagonist Neo is introduced, he is visited by a group of his friends at his apartment looking to collect one of the pirate programs he created. As an obvious close-up reveals, the programs are stored on discs in a hallowed-out copy of “Simulacra and Simulation”. Other than that, the idea of a false reality to conceal a true one parallels Baudrillard’s observations. Morpheus, upon finding Neo and “waking him up”, also refers to the post-apocalyptic wasteland that humans are sheltered from as “the desert of the real”. Baudrillard makes frequent use of the term “the real” when referring to what the simulacra conceals.
“A movie made for children… perhaps.” – Opening lines from the film.
What Walt Disney and many others saw as an imaginative, ingenious retelling of the Lewis Carroll classic with the 1951 Disney film, Jan Švankmajer saw as a disappointment. Švankmajer saw in the Disney adaption (and others) a fairy tale that didn’t exist in the book. Švankmajer read the story as a demented, dark dream world filled with nightmares. Thus, he set out to make his vision a reality in the late 80’s. Švankmajer is a Russian filmmaker, and the original version of this film was in Russian (and later voiced by an American girl for the state-side release). Jan Švankmajer was well known for his surreal, stop-motion short films, but this was his first feature-length film. His dark, harsh visuals in this film work perfectly for the story and still resonate today.
A decidedly more violent, grotesque take on Alice in Wonderland than either of the Disney versions, Neco z Alenky fills Wonderland with a freakish assortment of characters made of everything from clay to puppets, even meat. Alice is stabbed, sawed into, and even has a wooden stake hammered into her skull at one point by a rat (who then starts a fire in her hair). The story is almost non-existent in the film, it’s much more about the wonderous goings-ons Alice finds herself among. In this sense it is perhaps much closer to the original story than many other adaptations.
In this film, Alice falls asleep in a toy room. It is in this room that the white rabbit comes to life and Alice chases him to Wonderland. However, this white rabbit is a taxidermied rabbit who has to continually eat his own stuffing to stay alive. Alice crawls around the world following the white rabbit like in the original story. Švankmajer uses his love for surrealism, stop-motion, puppets, and miniatures to bring Wonderland to life in a unique way. Alice enters Wonderland through a writing desk. The Queen kills her subjects by literally cutting off their heads with scissors. When Alice drinks the “Drink Me” vile she shrinks down into a (rather creepy) doll. Formaldehyde adorns the various areas of Wonderland. Weirdest of all, Alice is the only human character in the film. Every other character is voiced by the Alice actress (Kristýna Kohoutová), and every time a character does talk, a shot is shown of Alice’s lips saying “said the [insert character name]”, just like it were the book. This movie is bizarre and a truly ingenious take on Lewis Carroll’s story. It embodies part of what the original truly was: a truly haunting exploration of the wonders and fears of a child’s imagination.
“Hadestown” is a folk opera conceived and written by Anais Mitchell, with orchestral arrangements by Michael Chorney and theatrical direction by Ben T. Matchstick for the original live performances. The work was eventually compiled into a much-lauded album that was produced by Todd Sickafoose and released via Righteous Babe Records. I’ve categorized this as “Music” instead of “Theater” as the production hinges on the music and received the most exposure as an album, instead of a theatrical piece.
In terms of major plot points, “Hadestown” follows the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice fairly closely (there are, of course, several versions of the tale, each of which have different details). Just as in the myth, it begins with the wedding of Orpheus and Eurydice, follows Eurydice as she dies and descends into Hades, then Orpheus as he attempts to rescue her, and ends with his failure to do so. Conceptually, however, Mitchell set this retelling in “a post-apocalyptic Depression Era,” and updated some plot elements to match. In her version, Eurydice is not killed by a venomous snake; instead it’s implied that she either starves to death or is tempted by Hades into the underworld because she’s hungry, as she and Orpheus are so poor. The River Styx is transformed into a massive, ever-expanding wall that the souls of the dead continually construct, and, in a more subtle embellishment, Orpheus convinces Hades to release Eurydice because his song reminds him of the moment when he fell in love with Persephone. The language of the lyrics and the orchestrations are also modern, the lyrics containing enough older colloquialisms sprinkled throughout to provide a sense of fantasy.
Personally, I think Mitchell did a fantastic job with her adaptation; perhaps most intriguing is the way she wove in elements of class conflict via the setting she chose. The “post-apocalyptic Depression Era” backdrop also serves to make the love story of Orpheus and Eurydice all the more poignant, as it throws into sharp relief the theme that love is truly the purest and most beautiful thing there is, but by no means the most powerful. Essentially, “Hadestown” is an update of an ancient tale renewed with themes common to American history, making it far more relatable than the original myth while retaining the familiar structure of its source material.
Oh, and before I forget, this update does one thing better than probably any other adaptation out there: Orpheus’ voice. When the album was recorded, Justin Vernon’s voice was recorded singing Orpheus’ parts in harmony with himself, and those tracks were layered together to create a ringing, ethereal quality. It’s a brilliant interpretation of a voice so beautiful it could cause Hades himself to feel empathy, and a great example of how modern technology can add richness to a very, very old tale.
Here’s an example of what his voice sounds like (skip ahead to 1:10 if lovely, sparse instrumental stuff isn’t your thing):
The television miniseries Alice, a combination continuation and re-imagining of the original works of Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson), calls the authority of the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland into question. Alice picks up in the present day, one hundred and fifty years after the events of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. A young woman by the name of Alice Hamilton finds herself flung into Wonderland, only it is not quite the same as readers would remember. Wonderland here is a neo-dystopian cityscape under the corrupt rule of the Queen of Hearts. Characters appear from the original stories, sometimes in very different ways. Time and again residents of Wonderland confuse Alice Hamilton for the original Alice, implying this Wonderland is the same as that in which the events of Alice’s Adventures occurred. Incorporating the original stories as factual events compromises the reliability of the original. Taking the events of Alice to be true alters the reading of Alice’s Adventures. Some different aspects of the new Wonderland could ostensibly be chalked up to the time lapse, while others just do not match up in any way with the original text (ex: the Walrus is not, y’know, a walrus) calling into question the authority of the original text. Traditionally (or habitually) the primary text is sacred, what was written the first time is correct and everything else is derivative or modified and is considered in some way inferior. It is the unique place of a continuation to claim ownership (and so the authority) of the original story while simultaneously challenging it.
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is an imagined situation where men have been chained to the wall of a cave for their entire lives so that none of their limbs can move and they must stare at the wall opposite them. Behind the men is a fire and between the fire and the men is a bridge, where people walk along casting various shadows onto the blank wall where the men must stare. The men cannot see the actual people walking behind them, nor the fire that casts the figures. They only see the shadows and hear the echos cascade around them. They perceive the images that they see as reality when really they are only seeing an illusion of it. If one of the men were allowed to see the things going on behind him, emerge from the cave and see reality as it truly is he would be overwhelmed and believe that the shadows were in fact reality. But eventually he would acclimate and eventually be unable to return to the cave, having been exposed to reality for too long.
This allegory is part of the premise of the Matrix, where the people all live in a virtual reality that they perceive to be true but is really just an illusion. The protagonist emerges from the cave or the matrix and is allowed to see what reality actually is, and sees that the virtual world was all an ignorant lie. Even though actual reality is much more dismal than the virtual world, he prefers to live in what he now knows to be reality, knowing he can never return to the Matrix completely because he knows it is false. The movie is just a modern rendition of Plato’s ancient allegory debating whether what we perceive as reality is true or just an illusion.
In Plato’s Symposium, he critiques Orpheus as ignorant and foolish for trying to trick the gods, which is parallel to the men in chains who are ignorant of what is reality and what is perceived reality. A similar question arises about Orpheus’s beloved who is apparently following him from Hades back to Earth. When he looks back, she disappears which brings us to question whether or not she was really there at all, or was he only watching her shadow dance across the wall as he lay chained and helpless by the gods.
It is not often that an adaptation can integrate a concept from its source material so well into it’s own narrative that said concept becomes just as synonymous with the adaptation as it is with the original work. Such is the case with Matrix. The quote “Follow the White Rabbit” is an obvious allusion to the work of Lewis Carroll, and has become exceedingly famous in the context of the Matrix world. This white rabbit begins both stories and by following said rabbit the main character of both the book and the movie is abruptly thrown into a world that is completely foreign to them.
It is clear that these Alice in Wonderland references are not only intentional by the directors, but also by the characters. Morpheus directly references Alice in Wonderland in the movie by saying; “I imagine right now your feeling a bit like Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole.” Then he says one of the most famous lines of the movie, “You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” It can be argued that Morpheus uses these illusions to Alice in order to ease Neo into a world that is very strange and different from his own by referencing something that is very familiar. Similarly, The directors use this tactic to ease the viewer in as well.
The references do not stop there though:
The red and blue pills are references to the fact that Alice comes across various bottles of liquid and food that say “drink me” or “eat me.”
Neo climbs through a mirror that becomes fluid and transports him to the real world, and Alice does so with the looking glass to get to wonderland.
Neo struggles for breath in the pod when he awakes in the real world, and Alice nearly drowns in her own tears.
Discussion on the nature of reality. “Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?”
Cypher tells Neo he wished he had taken the blue pill, Alice expresses regret at ever entering wonderland.
The character of Switch is possibly a reference to the white rabbit. She wears White and has glasses that are tinged with pink.
– References to chessboards and Cats, both very prominent objects in Alice.
All in all, it seems that Matrix is in a sense a modern retelling of the classic tale. It is perfectly paced; smart action movie that takes the most philosophical elements of Alice’s journey and explores them on an even deeper level.
It all started in 1951 when Walt Disney first released Alice in Wonderland as a feature length film. Since then, there have been countless rereleases of the film on the big screen. Most recently in 2010, director Tim Burton brought his vision to life. Burton’s version took the film in an entirely new direction. Burton’s film included live-action, animation, and 3D and Imax experiences. It takes place years after Alice’s first visit whens he returns at 19 to slay the Jabberwocky.
This adaptation of the film was interesting to those familiar with the typical Alice storyline. Alice, at 19, is back in a place called “Underland” to slay the Jabberwocky. She encounters many of the typical characters including The Hatter (Depp), the Red Queen (Bonham Carter), and all the proper tea party attendants. This version of Wonderland has been waiting for Alice to come and save their world. This story is less about the adventures through a foreign, magical land and more about a young girl standing up for herself and embracing the role of hero. The film, which won an Academy Award and Teen Choice Award, among many other wins and nominations, revised the common perception of Alice. As Tim Burton often does, he took a common story, twisted it, and produced a darker, more experimental work. I chose this version because it’s a telling of a classic story through inventive eyes. It’s obviously a telling of Alice’s story, though not the one everyone expects.