Clash of the Titans (2010)Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/01/10 17:30:00
No matter what some revisionists might want you to believe, the original 1981 version of “Clash of the Titans” is not and never has been anything remotely resembling a masterpiece of any kind--even back in the day, it paled in comparison to such competitors at the multiplex as “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Superman II” and “An American Werewolf in London.” And yet, despite its numerous flaws--a poorly constructed hash of a screenplay, universally terrible performances from a cast ranging in age and talent from Laurence Olivier to Harry Hamlin and approximately a zillion dull spots crammed into its 113 minutes--most people who saw it for the first time at the right age (maybe 10 or so) still have a soft spot for it in their hearts thanks to the nifty stop-motion special-effects sequences from the legendary Ray Harryhausen (which would prove to be the last of his long and illustrious career), the cheerfully cheesy tone and enough generous displays of the flesh of co-stars Hamlin and Judi Bowker to jump-start a countless number of puberties over the years. Now the film has received its inevitable remake, all tarted up with elaborate special effects and the last-minute addition of the miracle of 3-D, but the problem is that while the filmmakers have faithfully replicated all of the flaws of the original film, they have utterly failed at recreating the sense of silly fun that it managed to more or less maintain throughout and the result is just another brainless gumdrop of a would-be blockbuster that will most likely make a bunch of money in its first weekend thanks to audiences lured in by the hard-sell ad campaign and the current vogue for multi-dimensional entertainment and most likely be completely forgotten by everyone by its second weekend.The story opens as humble fisherman Spyros (Pete Postlethwaite) rescues an infant boy from a coffin floating in the water and raises the child, Perseus, as his own. Years later, Perseus (Sam Worthington)--now sporting a perfect buzz cut and an Australian accent centuries before the development of electric clippers or Australia--is perfectly content with his life and his adoptive family, so naturally it is just about time for them to be shattered forever. Luckily, his family is approaching the city of Argos at precisely the moment when the town has decided to raise its metaphorical middle finger to the gods via such deeds as proclaiming the superiority of man, sawing down the statues erected in honor of the gods and declaring Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) to be lovelier than Aphrodite herself. Surprisingly, this ouzo-bagger uprising doesn’t go over very well up in Mt. Olympus and Zeus (Liam Neeson), already angered about the lack of respect that mankind has been showing him and his fellow gods over the years thanks to the goading by brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes), the king of the hoary underworld, responds by attacking Argos with winged creatures and vowing to destroy the city in ten days by unleashing the fearsome beast known as the Kraken unless the king offers up Andromeda as a sacrifice.
When it is discovered that Perseus, who lost his family in the initial attack, is actually the son of Zeus himself--the end result of a hookup (okay, the proper term is probably “date rape”) between him and the sleeping wife of King Acrisius (Jason Flemyng) that resulted in the enraged king setting her and the child adrift in revenge against the gods--the people of Argos implore him to set off on a quest to figure out how to kill the Kraken and save Argos from the wrath of Zeus. He refuses at first but under the influence of Io (Gemma Arterton), an ageless spirit guide who has been overseeing him since his birth, he sets off with her, a group of Argosian soldiers led by the fearless Draco (Mads Mikkelsen) and some comedy relief on a perilous quest that includes a battle against giant scorpions, a meeting with three malevolent witches and a climactic rendezvous with the infamous Medusa, a once-beautiful woman transformed by the gods into a snake-haired creature who can turn a man to stone if he so much as gazes into her eyes for a second. Trying to make up for years of being an absentee father, Zeus tries to help Perseus by first offering him sanctuary and then leaving him a magical sword to aid him in his battles but the proud and angry lad, still angry over what happened to his adopted family, refuses all aid. At the same time, the resentful Hades is attempting to manipulate events in his favor in an attempt to destroy all of mankind and take over Olympus for himself.
As I suggested earlier, the original “Clash of the Titans” was hardly an untouchable masterpiece by even the loosest critical standards and as a result, the idea of doing a revamped version that might correct its earlier mistakes is not the worst idea to ever come out of Hollywood. Unfortunately, instead of fine-tuning the concept into something smarter and more exciting, the film not only amplifies all of the flaws of the original but even screws up the things that it actually got right the first time around. The long-in-development screenplay by Travis Beacham and Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi is an absolute mess of half-remembered highlights from the original spackled together with dull expository sequences and duller dialogue in a manner so clumsy that it often feels as if entire scenes were yanked out at the last minute--unlike the first one, the other gods barely factor into the proceedings and in one especially bizarre moment, Danny Huston turns up as Poseidon, delivers exactly one line of dialogue and then disappears. (Perhaps the editors took pity on him and cut him out so as not to sully the reputation of the son of the man who made “Victory.”) To make matters worse, the screenwriters have chosen to eliminate the lightly campy tone of the original in order to give it a darker and more dramatic tone but what they seem to have failed to realize is that if you are telling a tale involving people running around in togas rassling with giant scorpions and the gods, there is a certain level of silliness that is already built into the proceedings and to deny it by going for a more self-serious approach only makes everything seem even more ridiculous. The only new idea that works at all is the decision to junk that stupid robot owl from the original (a blatant attempt to give the story its own version of R2-D2 that plays as badly today as it did three decades ago) and essentially transform it into the character played by Gemma Arterton. Sure, the character is still amazingly superfluous but if I have to choose between spending two hours staring at a robot owl or Gemma Arterton in a toga, I think you know which direction I am going to go.
The acting is also universally bad, even by the admittedly lowered thespic standards of the genre. Sam Worthington solidifies his reputation as the luckiest guy to hit Hollywood since Steve Guttenberg thanks to his ability to somehow find himself top-lining high-profile films without demonstrating any discernible talent or on-screen charisma--I never thought that I would say the following words but, based on the evidence here, he is no Harry Hamlin. As Andromeda, Alexa Davalos is even duller and the only thing that saves her from coming off worse than her co-star is the fact that her character’s presence has been greatly reduced this time around. (Alas, that means no tribute to Judi Bowker’s immortal bathing scene.) And yet, they come close to seeming borderline competent in comparison to their better-known and more highly acclaimed co-stars. Say what you will about Laurence Olivier’s ultra-hammy turn in the original (which he managed to sandwich in between his even worse performances as Neil Diamond’s father in “The Jazz Singer” and Douglas MacArthur in “Inchon”), at least he didn’t simply coast through the thing--when he rang out the immortal line “Release the Kraken,” he did so with enough obvious relish to let viewers know he was in on the joke and enough power to still somehow make it seem convincing. Liam Neeson, on the other hand, clearly realizes how silly it all is but seems powerless to do anything about it other than to stand around looking glum and surly in uncomfortable-looking outfits. Ralph Fiennes fares a little bit better but he is hobbled by the essential uselessness of his character in regards to the story and the fact that his performance is virtually interchangeable from the ones that he has delivered in the last few “Harry Potter” films. (Seeing Neeson and Fiennes together again after all these years, all I could do was wonder why the filmmakers didn’t bring in Ben Kingsley and go for the Schindler trifecta.)
What is really surprising about this version of “Clash of the Titans” is that it fails just as completely as a visual effects extravaganza as well. Sure, Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects may look a little cheesy and retro by today’s standards (and to be honest, they did so back in 1981) but they at least had a sense of personality and excitement to them that still rings loud and clear even at a time when technological breakthroughs in film seem to be occurring on a monthly basis. This time around, the stop-motion approach has been dumped for the usual offering of CGI sludge that director Louis Letterrier (proving once again that he is pretty much nothing without the strong whip hand of Luc Besson behind him) offers up in the laziest and most anonymous manner possible. Even the one seemingly foolproof scene, the sequence in which Perseus and his men are stalked by Medusa in her lair while trying to remove her head, fails because of the bizarre decision to restage the entire thing as an endless chase scene in which our heroes spend most of the time ducking her super-fast snake self--the earlier scene in which Io trains Perseus in how to defeat Medusa in battle actually generates more tension and excitement than the battle itself. As for the 3-D effects, I cannot offer any judgment because I chose to see the film in its 2-D incarnation instead. However, based on the combination of the film’s lackluster visual style in its flat rendition and the fact that it was actually produced in 2-D and hurriedly retrofitted for 3-D over the last couple of months in the wake of the success of “Avatar,” I can’t imagine that the extra dimension will add anything of significant value--certainly not enough to justify the higher ticket price that theaters will be charging for the privilege.Before sitting down to watch “Clash of the Titans,” several of my colleagues and I got into a discussion about the original film and came to the general conclusion that while it wasn’t an especially good film, it was at least an entertaining one that could be celebrated and admired without too much embarrassment. My guess is that when it gets remade again three decades from now, our replacements will most likely not be having a similar conversation about this one unless they are also talking about the original. “Clash of the Titans” was clearly expensive to produce but it is as lame and instantly disposable as anything one might encounter on the SyFy Network and by the time it ends, most viewers are likely to find themselves cursing the movie gods for bestowing them with something as cruddy as this. You may not exactly turn to stone the moment you lay eyes on this film (Insert gauche Gemma Arterton reference here) but after experiencing its lame lugubriousness, you may feel as though you have by the time it ends.
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