The Hero's Journey: a Biographical Portrait

Directed by David Kennard, Janelle Balnicke   |  Produced by Janelle Balnicke, Stuart L. Brown, William Free

See also: The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work (book)

“And so Galahad decided that it would be a disgrace to set off on a quest with the other knights. Alone he would enter the dark forest where there was no path. This is the myth of the Hero’s Journey.” — Joseph Campbell

One of the greatest storytellers of our time, and arguably the greatest mythologist, Joseph Campbell spent most of his long, rich career explaining how ancient myths like the Hero’s Journey are relevant to modern life. In understanding the importance of myth as a vital, vibrant source of “mankind’s one great story,” Campbell inspired others to embark on a quest for the meaning of myth in their own lives. This biographical portrait, filmed shortly before his death in 1987, follows Campbell’s personal quest—a pathless journey of questioning, discovery, and ultimately of delight and joy in a life to which he said, “Yes.”


Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a scholar who achieved legendary status as an explicator of myths, is reverently profiled in this documentary that encompasses his long life and career. During his childhood in New York City, Campbell was taken to see “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s Wild West Show at Madison Square Garden. Young Campbell was fascinated by the Native Americans in Cody’s performing troupe and eventually became obsessed with mythology. As he came to realize that myths worldwide had the same underpinnings, he also discovered his life’s work.

This documentary mentions Campbell’s affinity for the writings of James Joyce and Carl Jung, and there is ample footage of Campbell, casual in flannel shirts, giving lectures salted with references to Buddhism, Christianity, classical mythology, St. Augustine, and the rituals of plains Indians. In later life, Campbell is seen being honored at a banquet at which George Lucas rises to give him credit for helping to inspire the writing of Star Wars. After Campbell’s death in 1987, heated controversies arose about his work, but this documentary is an overwhelmingly positive look at his writings, lectures, and personality. — Robert J. McNamara,

Campbell’s great strength, as a writer and lecturer, was the plain-speaking lucidity of his thought. And he presented his ideas so simply and casually that you feel like a dolt for not having thought of them yourself. This part of the movie is great fun, as are the snapshots of the young Campbell playing the sax in a jazz band and captaining his Columbia University track team. For a few moments, it puts you in the presence of the real thing: not some potty Shirley MacLaine-ish crystal-fondler but a tough-minded, intellectually honest, truly religious individual — if you will, a highly evolved dude. –Hal Hinson, The Washington Post

If you’re totally new to the works of Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey: A Biographical Portrait is a good, general introduction to his life and some of his basic philosophical tenets. If you’re already familiar with his writings, you may find The Hero’s Journey: A Biographical Portrait a little too basic. Still, for the opportunity to see Campbell in action, and for an introduction to his challenging views on world culture, I recommend The Hero’s Journey: A Biographical Portrait. –Paul Mavis, DVD Talk


Format: Closed-captioned, Color, DVD, Full Screen, NTSC

Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0)

Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Number of discs: 1

DVD Release Date: February 6, 2007

Run Time: 58 minutes

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The Hero's Journey: a Biographical Portrait
English edition (February 6, 2007)
Acorn Media (Acacia)
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2 Responses

  1. September 20, 2016

    […] Pixar Animation and Disney Animation) this questions, Catmull listed two books by Joseph Campbell: The Hero’s Journey and The Hero with a Thousand […]

  2. December 2, 2016

    […] It’s not secret that George Lucas looked the work of Joseph Campbell as he was writing Star Wars. Campbell wrote about mythology, and extensively on what he coined as the monomyth or hero’s journey. […]