Posted on Friday, April 2nd, 2010 by Russ Fischer
Crafting a new version of Clash of the Titans shouldn’t be a difficult task. You’ve got a hero, a quest, a few monsters and a handful of gods and humans kicking around as interested parties. It’s fun stuff, as long as the proportions are all correct.
The first time this story was told, by writer Beverly Cross and director Desmond Davis in 1981, the result wasn’t good by any stretch, but it had an undeniable charm. Thank the loving stop-motion animation from Ray Harryhausen, in part. But that film also felt like myth, even if it was myth stripped down and dressed back up as a studio picture.
This version, directed by Louis Leterrier, is a lot like his last movie, The Incredible Hulk, if you replaced the personality of Edward Norton and Tim Roth with a flatline piece of work by Sam Worthington and big extra dollop of CGI. The original had a host of good actors gamely working with the material; this time most are hiding behind wigs and make-up, likely hoping they end up on the cutting room floor where a lot of the movie’s connective tissue seemingly lies.
Perseus (Worthington, barely making any impression at all) is a demi-god. Zeus fathered him by raping a mortal woman (he’s the top dog among gods, so it’s understandable, right?) but instead of lashing out at Zeus the woman’s husband casts mother and newborn son into the sea. That sort of anger fuels the rest of the movie; is bitter angst truly more appealing to kids than fun? Why so goddamned serious? Anyway, when the god Hades wrongs a grown Perseus, instead of kicking a puppy the ‘hero’ at least tries to take his fight directly to the gods.
Hades is angry, too, because when the family split up heaven and Earth, he got the short end of the stuck. Zeus (Liam Neeson, not managing to look dignified spitting out this script) got Olympus; Poseidon (Danny Huston, seen for about ten seconds wearing thick eyeliner and a Battlefield Earth wig) got the sea and Hades (Ralph Fiennes, making a good go of it) was stuck with the Underworld. He wants more power, and concocts a plan to get it.
A big part of that plan is releasing the Kraken, a big ancient sea beast, to destroy Argos, the human city leading a sorta-rebellion against the gods. That should be good for us, since we’re really only around to see hot ‘human on titan’ action. The people of Argos can either sacrifice Andromeda, daughter of the civic leaders, or face the wrath of the Kraken. Given that the wrath of the gods seems to be pretty well-known — mess with them and it’s all lighting, storms and broken marble — it’s difficult to see why the entire city of Argos doesn’t just show up to throw the girl into the sea.
Perseus and the rulers of Argos realize they’re of a similar mind, so the kid sets off with a band of Argos warriors to find a way to defeat the beast. That leads to giant scorpions, Medusa, and other dangers that should have ended the quest in stunning defeat, but don’t. (Hades is close to all-powerful, but relies on half-measures to foil the quest, rather than just stamping it out. Why? Good question.)
Have to say I prefer the story of the original film, in which Perseus spends the first half of the film trying to win the hand of Andromeda, then spends the second half in an attempt to save her from the Kraken after her mother offends a goddess. That’s a classic quest setup, and a story structure that represents the episodic nature of the original myths.
In this telling, Perseus could give a shit about Andromeda. He’s after the Kraken because of his massive hate-on for the gods. But there’s a different love interest, of sorts: Io (Gemma Arterton), a woman who isn’t human or god, but also doesn’t seem to be a demi-god. We don’t know what she is, and the movie doesn’t appear to know either. She’s a bit like the bond company stooge in The Life Aquatic. She’s around to make sure things get done, and occasionally takes action to promote that interest. But what she’s really doing is never made abundantly clear. Until the end of the film, at which point, whoa. Get someone who’s seen it to spoil that point for you.
(Io has what may be the worst line in recent memory: “Calm your storm,” intoned when Perseus gets turned on as they duel in practice for an encounter with Medusa.)
The original didn’t complicate things with supporting characters for Perseus’ quest, but here we get a slew of guys, led by Mads Mikkelsen, who are around to serve as cannon fodder. They’re almost uniformly forgettable; I quickly started thinking of them in terms like ‘guy who isn’t Orlando Bloom’ and ‘comedy relief guys lifted from Pirates of the Caribbean outtakes.’ They’re essentially nameless filler padding out the roster.
If the film weren’t so packed with unnecessary crap, there might be time to flesh out the Olympians to the point where they feel like gods. Instead there is Calibos, imported from the original film even though he doesn’t really serve any purpose in this story (here he’s the henchman Hades doesn’t need) and some Tusken Raider-like djinn who only exist because a setpiece with giant scorpions was written out of proportion.
Where’s the sense of adventure? This is the CGI mantra of ‘bigger = better.’ We know Medusa will be decapitated, so it doesn’t matter that she’s fast, amazingly powerful, a great archer, lives in a house carpeted with lava and can turn men to stone. We know Perseus will defeat the Kraken, so when that encounter turns into an over-amped camera flight between tentacles and crashing stone, the effect is numbing, not enthralling. If the emphasis was ever placed on how the heroes defeat stuff instead of what they defeat, the movie might be fun.
I didn’t mention the 3D at the outset because Clash of the Titans was crafted as a 2D film and has irredeemable problems beyond the fact that it has been converted into 3D.
That conversion, make no mistake, is a pure scam. It represents an easy way to bilk a few extra bucks out of each audience member. Not only is nothing added by this conversion, but when you see characters whose heads are misshapen by the effect, or others who seem to be in a totally different scene from the people around them, you’ll realize that something has quite definitely been taken away. Clash of the Titans is a movie without any life force to spare; converting it to 3D is about as kind as asking someone to make out with Medusa.
/Film rating: 2 out of 10