Apr 1 - 7, 2010 

Film Review

Clash of the Titans

Myth understandings

Sorry. One carry-on only. And no gel containers over 3 ounces.
Sorry. One carry-on only. And no gel containers over 3 ounces.

Clash of the Titans

Directed by Louis Leterrier

Cast: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Gemma Arterton, Mads Mikkelsen

Remake fever strikes again in the form of Clash of the Titans, a (semi-)big budget retooling of the 1981 myth adventure starring Harry Hamlin. The saving grace here is that the original isn’t particularly beloved. It was the swan song of special effects king Ray Harryhausen, and the stop-motion style of animation he perfected in films like 1958’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was starting to show its age by the early ’80s. Now, the effects have all been replaced with today’s big trend: computer animation—and 3D computer animation at that!

The remake, helmed by impatient French director Louis Leterrier (Unleashed, Transporter 2, The Incredible Hulk), hits more or less the same plot points as the original. This is probably due less to slavish devotion and more to the fact that both films are plundering from the same mythological source material. (Although, to be perfectly honest, this film owes its existence far more to the success of the God of War video game franchise than to some mostly forgotten ’80s fantasy.)

As in the original, our hero is Perseus, bastard son of majordomo Greek god Zeus. Perseus (embodied now by hot Aussie actor Sam Worthington) grows up as a mortal, hating his father and plotting revenge against the capricious gods who killed his adoptive family. When Zeus (Liam Neeson, looking stoic) and his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes, acting weird) plot to destroy a major city with the help of the towering Kraken, Perseus embarks on a quest to stop them.

Clash of the Titans isn’t too concerned with plot mechanics, shuffling Perseus from one exciting encounter to the next without a lot of connective tissue. Some of the sequences, though, are surprisingly entertaining. The hellish boatman Charon would look awesome on a death metal album cover. Medusa is good for some slithery scares. And the massive Kraken makes for an impressively big beastie.

Unfortunately, the lesson that Clash of the Titans forgets from its ’80s fantasy film predecessors is that a little color goes a long way. This Clash of the Titans is dark, gloomy, mostly humorless and relentlessly monochromatic. Heck, even the high-flying Pegasus comes in trendy black-on-black now. (And those polarized sunglasses you’ll don to see this in 3D don’t help lighten the mood any.) The colorlessness extends, sadly, to the characters. Take, by way of contrast, the 1984 pic Conan the Destroyer—a silly sword-and-sandal saga any way you slice it. But who could forget the characters? Towering Wilt Chamberlain, tough chick Grace Jones, skeevy Tracey Walter and wizardly Mako. Nowadays, everybody just wants to be a surly bad-ass. (Call it the “Wolverine factor.”) As a result, the characters in Clash of the Titans blur into one teeth-gritting, brow-knitting lump of sooty man-flesh. Surly bad-ass Perseus is accompanied on his quest by a bunch of sidekicks I’m forced to call Surly Bad-Ass No. 1 through 6. Only Mads Mikkelsen (who memorably villainized James Bond in Casino Royale) stands out as Draco, a somewhat gleeful bad-ass.

The 3D element, it must be noted, is just miserable. Clash of the Titans wasn’t actually shot in 3D. The studio added the process at the last minute to steal some extra money from 3D crazed filmgoers. The retrofitting is barely functional. The film looks less three-dimensional and more ... slightly embossed. It’s like someone is holding a giant magnifying glass over certain portions of the film, allowing them to bulge out a bit from the screen. At its absolute worst, people’s faces float into the foreground, while their hair hovers somewhere behind them in the background. It’s especially bad during the film’s fast-motion fight sequences. Watching them in 3D is roughly equivalent to sticking your corneas in a blender. My suggestion: Skip the 3D and lower your expectations.


Clash of the Titans

Surprisingly, this CGI re-imagining of the cheesy 1981 kids film is rather faithful to the original. Perseus (Avatar's Sam Worthington) still rides a Pegasus, beheads Medusa and fights the towering Kraken. Most of the sequences are actually quite fun. If only the film weren't so dark and grungy, or so filled with surly characters. A little color and a bit more humor would have gone a long way here. 118 minutes PG-13.

 
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