Thursday, April 15, 2010

Clash of the Titans - 2010

The new incarnation of “Clash of the Titans” is as glum, dreary and depressing an adventure movie as I’ve ever seen. It has no romance or poetry in its soul; what it does have is a series of combat scenes resembling a video game connected by the wispiest of narrative threads. I found it truly unbearable from beginning to end.

The film is a remake of the 1981 film “Clash of the Titans”, the last film with special effects provided by stop motion animator guru Ray Harryhausen. It made a lot of money for M-G-M and is fondly remembered by many. It certainly had the most prestigious cast of any Harryhausen film, including Laurence Olivier as Zeus, Claire Bloom as Hera, Maggie Smith as Thetis, Burgess Meredith and others.

A highlight of that film is the wonderfully creepy Medusa sequence, one of Harryhausen’s very best creations. Unfortunately, the film also contains some of Harryhausen’s worst work, especially the final showdown with the Kraken. The scenes of the Kraken’s destruction are among Harryhausen’s most embarrassing.

But there is still much to recommend about it, including the beautiful cinematography of Ted Moore (he shot many of the Bond films), the soaring symphonic score of Laurence Rosenthal and the incredibly cute Judi Bowker as Andromeda. The film also cleverly re-wrote portions of the Perseus (Harry Hamlin) myth for dramatic purposes.

The new “Clash of the Titans”, alas, has butt ugly cinematography, a score which sounds exactly like every other musical score composed in the last ten years (it could be lifted wholesale and placed in a cop or army movie and no one would be the wiser) and no epic love story. Characters in Greek mythology are always larger than life – in the 2010 “Clash of the Titans” they’re depressingly small.

The new Clash deals with surly demi-god Perseus (Sam Worthington, who sports an anachronistic buzz cut which makes him look like he just emerged from six weeks of Marine boot camp) who is angry with his father Zeus (Liam Neeson) because Zeus killed his human family. Perseus vows war on the gods. The local populace also feels they can get along just fine without the gods and cease their prayers and observations. (I’m not as familiar with Greek mythology as I used to be, but I don’t remember any wholesale rejection of the gods as shown here, but I could be wrong).

Meantime Zeus and the other gods (living in a depressingly small-scaled Mount Olympus – where’s the grandeur?) are tired of this lack of worship and Zeus and his brother Hades (Ralph Finnes) decide to teach mankind a lesson by destroying the city of Argos unless they sacrifice the Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) to the monstrous Kraken, a giant sea monster.

Perseus undertakes a quest to destroy the Kraken by securing the head of Medusa, whose gaze can turn any living thing into stone. He doesn’t do it to save Andromeda, who he barely knows, but to avenge his parents and thwart the god’s plans.

Andromeda is one of the film’s many problems. Why is she even in this movie? She’s barely a blip on the film’s radar. Never mind that Perseus and Andromeda are one of the most famous couples in Greek mythology, right up there with Jason and Medea, or Paris and Helen. Greek astronomers even named constellations after them. Here she barely exists.

Too bad because Davalos is lovely and her very brief scenes show her being wiser than her parents, and showing compassion to the city’s poor. I would have liked to seen more of her. But that would have meant Perseus establishing a relationship with her, and any kind of human interaction is anathema to the film’s creators.

Oh there is a love story of sorts between Perseus and Io (Gemma Arterton) who is also half human and acts as Perseus’s protector. She’s just there for decoration, and doesn’t make half the impression that Andromeda does.

Like all action movies today, the fighting scenes are shot too tight and cut too fast. I had hoped this trend would have ended by now, but no, the film makers still feel this is the way to go. (If anything good comes from the success of “Avatar” it’s the hope that directors would study James Cameron’s way of staging and shooting action).

From what friends have told me who have visited there, the Greek Islands and the Aegean Sea are among the most beautiful locales in the world, but you’d never know it by watching this film. Everybody is dirty and the sky seems perpetually overcast. When the characters enter the dire underworld to face Medusa, there’s no difference between where they’re heading and where they’ve come from, thus making the Medusa sequence far less effective than it should be. There’s zero contrast involved.

The Medusa sequence in the original is beautifully staged, and genuinely suspenseful. Here it’s another loud action scene with lots of running and fast cutting.

Worthington is a total stiff, offering monotone line readings and a disagreeable presence. He makes Steve Reeves look like Olivier. Actually that’s not fair, as Reeves was very likeable and had great screen presence. And he was a better actor.

I usually try to find something good to say about any movie, but I’m hard pressed to with this one. I found it as dreary a movie I’ve seen in a long time. If you ever wondered what a movie would be like made written and directed by 12-year-old boys who like their movies to resemble video games, and who think girls are icky and have no place in the story, then the 2010 “Clash of the Titans” is that movie.


Keith Buckley said...

Since you are such a big fan of the original, I can appreciate why you may have disliked the remake so much. The two films are only alike in name, main characters and select aspects of the plot. That’s it. Otherwise they are two completely different films, with the remake seemingly designed to accomplish two main tasks: updating the special effects in a CGI world, and providing a different and much darker take on the main theme, to supposedly modernize it for audiences used to action films such as “Gladiator” or “Quantum of Solace”. Regarding the first aspect of the update, though I too am a big fan of Ray Harryhausen’s work, I was also a fan of the CGI work in this film. Putting aside how the action was directed, these were pretty cool looking monsters! I suspect Harryhausen himself would have approved of the designs of the monsters. As far as the plot, I have mixed feelings. The original was a much more faithful presentation of what we would expect from the subject matter. But I also always found the original somewhat disjointed, and despite having seen it several times, the story just never jumped off the page for me. In contrast, while watching the remake, I was actually thinking to myself that the plot made more sense (or, at least, that I could follow it better). Those two aspects allowed the new film to be a moderate thumbs up for me. That, and Liam Neeson’s excellent delivery of the line “Release the Kraken!” followed by a much more appropriately “bigger and badder” destruction scene featuring our friend the Kraken, which I thought was just great. I also agree the darkness of the film in general made the trip to Medusa’s world less potent and provided far too little contrast – almost as bad as the similarity of the good ol’ USA and Vietnam in the “The Green Berets”. One bad similarity of the two films – weak casting of Perseus. But all that said, despite the fact I liked the film more than you did, I suspect 29 years from now people will still be watching and enjoying the original, whereas the remake will be thought of as an “also ran”.

Kevin Deany said...

Keith: You bring up some good points. While I do like the original, it is also one of my least favorite Harryhausen movies (though the Medusa sequence makes up for a lot).

But even if the 2010 Clash wasn't a remake, I still would have hated it. I don't like adventure movies to be so dour and gloomy. There was no epic sweep to it. It was ugly to look at and even uglier to listen to. An all-around stinker.