ULYSSES 31

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Total Recall - Ian Berriman, Re­views Ed­i­tor

If there was a spike in ap­pli­ca­tions for Clas­si­cal Stud­ies cour­ses in the late ’80s, it’s prob­a­bly down to Ulysses 31. First aired in 1981-1982 and shown on Chil­dren’s BBC four years later, this French/Ja­panese co-pro­duc­tion trans­planted the leg­ends of Odysseus to the 31st cen­tury: so, for ex­am­ple, the Cy­clops be­came a gi­ant robot, and three-headed hell-dog Cer­berus a heat-de­tect­ing “in­ter­cep­tor satel­lite”. Af­ter Ulysses – think Bee Gee Barry Gibb, but with a cape and lightsaber-like laser sword – saves his son from sac­ri­fice by de­stroy­ing the Cy­clops, the gods pun­ish him by send­ing him into “the strange cos­mos of Olym­pus”, in search of the King­dom of Hades. For me and no doubt many oth­ers, the show kick-started an in­ter­est in clas­si­cal mythol­ogy in much the way that Ray Har­ry­hausen’s movies did for an ear­lier gen­er­a­tion.

It still looks fan­tas­tic to­day. In par­tic­u­lar, I love the de­sign of Ulysses’ space­ship, the Odyssey, which doesn’t seem to have a room that’s less than 40 feet high – it even con­tains fields with cows! That ti­tanic sense of scale is char­ac­ter­is­tic of the many plan­ets vis­ited over its 26 in­stal­ments.

It’s a long, strange trip, with some psy­che­delic sights: fly­ing uni­corns, Love­craftian mon­sters, a swarm of gi­ant space moths. And it has its spooky mo­ments, too: in the last episode, Ulysses fi­nally reaches Hades, whose in­hab­i­tants – black-eyed revenants who float about back­wards, caus­ing any­thing they touch to dis­in­te­grate – se­ri­ously creeped me out.

Then there’s the groovy prog-rock score, with its flutes and wah-wah gui­tar. Three decades on, a doomy death-march cue called “La Malé­dic­tion Des Dieux” still bub­bles up from my sub­con­scious ev­ery so of­ten, com­pelling me to hum it for the rest of the day.

There’s just one fly in the oint­ment... In the af­ter­math of Star Wars, ev­ery sci-fi se­ries had to have a cute robot. Ulysses 31’s is Nono, a bolt-guz­zling scaredy-cat who spends most of his time gaw­ping open-mouthed in a man­ner which may have in­spired Caitlin Mo­ran’s pho­to­graph face, or spit­ting out cheesy catch­phrases wor­thy of a Crackerjack pre­sen­ter (“Mum­bling moons!”). How­ever, with ju­di­cious use of the fast-for­ward but­ton he’s eas­ily erased. If you’ve never seen the show, I urge you to hunt down the DVDs. You’re bound to enjoy it – un­less you’re hor­ri­bly Homer-pho­bic…

Ian Berriman is fight­ing all the evil forces, bring­ing peace and jus­tice to all.

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