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Monday, July 10, 2017

Theseus And The Minotaur (2017)

Starring Marco Munoz, Joshua Kennedy, Jamie Trevino, Gus Kennedy, Brian Warren
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy

After the wicked magician Minos takes the throne of Athens, and sacrifices innocent victims to a supernatural beast, the populace wait for a destined hero to deliver them from Minos' tyranny.

Perhaps Joshua Kennedy's most epic adventure, this production with a grand scale and the talented stop-motion animation of Ryan Lengyel, is a loving homage to the works of special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen.

Springing from the well-known tale from Greek mythology of Theseus, Kennedy makes a few changes story-wise, but all the hallmarks are still here, from the legendary beast, to the impossible maze of Minos' labyrinth, to the beautiful Ariadne who aids Theseus in his quest.  Although this story was never brought to life in a Ray Harryhausen production, Josh borrows visual and narrative elements from other Harryhausen films that bring back nostalgic memories of films like The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad and The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad among many others.  In keeping with the presentation of this classic legend, Kennedy has crafted his dialogue, although not in verse, to have a poetic quality, assisted by acclaimed author Stephen D. Sullivan who contributed to the screenplay.

The director also gets wonderful performances from his actors, including Marco Munoz as Theseus, who looks the part of the swashbuckling hero, bringing a determined stare, and a talent for swordplay to the role.  Jamie Trevino's Ariadne is given a backstory never included in the myths and brings both beauty and righteousness to her character.  Josh's father Gus Kennedy is given a wonderful part as the blinded Gregorios, bringing sensitivity and nobility to the character in a selfless portrayal, and his son has the juicy role of Minos.  With a demonic expression, a scruffy beard, and a wildness in his eyes, Kennedy presents a unique villain, assembled from aspects of the fine actors who portrayed evil masterminds in the films of Harryhausen.

I said this film might be Josh's most epic, and visually it's definitely his most appealing, with Theseus' journey depicted against the background of a vast panoramic desert, a gift to any filmmaker apparently located in Kennedy's home state of Texas.  It gives the film scope, but there's compelling photography and visual compositing on display here as well, showing the torment of Theseus and his companions by the seductive sirens of myth, and allowing Minos to turn into a being of energy jumping across the screen as Theseus attempts to battle him.  The filmmaker of course can't deliver the elaborate interior sets of a Hollywood film on his budget, but creatively uses shadow to his advantage in depicting the insides of Minos' palace and the labyrinth, which is well-suited to the dark events transpiring within.  I also greatly enjoyed the rich palette of colors in the film, with red-garbed Theseus, white-costumed Ariadne, and black-clad Minos interacting against a bright tapestry of images.

The strong visuals and epic story make a worthy foundation for the stop-motion effects that the audience has been waiting to see, with animator Ryan Lengyel delivering two unique creatures constructed by hand over armatures as Harryhausen so memorably did throughout his career.  The Stymphalion Bird has a memorably creepy appearance, and is intriguingly integrated into the story as the deliverer of the black feather that will doom a person to death by the Minotaur.  The Minotaur itself is a triumph of design, resembling artistic depictions of the creature, but with unique details like a formidable jaw of crooked teeth exposed when the beast roars.  Lengyel may not be on the same level as Harryhausen, but his animation is still very impressive, and the fact that he and Kennedy could make their two worlds come together visually on an independent movie budget is something to behold.

Some of Harryhausen's finest moments on film came accompanied by the music of talented composers like Bernard Herrmann, and although the film does not have the advantage of a score delivered by a master like Herrmann, Josh has picked some thrilling themes from classical symphonies which bring excitement to his cinematic adventure.  As a fan of film music himself, Josh knows the importance of the aural component to the visuals he's presenting, and it's wonderful to see both come together.  Of all of Josh's films, I think the soundtrack here sounds the most like a unified orchestral score, and he should be credited for his fine selections.

This may not be a new Harryhausen classic, but it's the closest thing to it many of us will see in our lifetime, with stop-motion rendered the same painstaking way Ray did, and bright and colorful characters taking us back in time to a fantasy world like those visited by Sinbad, Jason, and other fantastic heroes.  Save perfectly rendered CGI creatures without heart and soul and grungy cinematography for the box office bombs that dwell in our cineplexes.  I'll take this wonderfully realized dream of true Harryhausen fans instead.

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