The original “Clash Of The Titans” was released in 1981, and even in that era, it was already a curio, a throwback to an earlier age of special effects and storytelling. Released at the moment where motion-controlled cameras and optical printing were the state of the art, “Clash” was an unabashed stop-motion showcase for the talents of Ray Harryhausen. Even so, it certainly took some cues from the reigning box-office champ at the time, “Star Wars,” in the form of the distinctly R2-D2-esque mechanical owl Bubo. One of the reasons the film felt dated the moment it was released was because of that uneasy mix of current cultural touchstones and defiantly old-fashioned style.
The new remake of “Clash Of The Titans” has an equally split sense of identity, and suffers from not having a clear sense of what it’s trying to do, or how it wants to do it. Much of the advertising for the film focuses on one thing and one thing only: see the film in 3D. Considering what a key part of the campaign that is, the 3D post-production conversion process used on “Clash” is an unwatchable mess, ugly and strange and difficult to sit through. Nothing in the film feels organic, and there’s no part of the film that feels like it makes proper use of the format. This is the polar opposite of “Avatar,” which was designed in 3D, shot in 3D, and which did all of its FX work with 3D in mind. If that film, carefully developed and produced over a half-decade, was the game-changer, as James Cameron claimed, then “Clash Of The Titans,” rushed through post in four months to exploit the craze, has the potential to be the game-ender.
It’s difficult to separate out the disappointment with the presentation from feelings about the movie, but I would strongly encourage anyone interested in the movie to find a 2D presentation so you can see the film that Louis Leterrier directed, as he intended, and skip the overpriced 3D presentations that essentially ruin anything enjoyable about the movie. You’ll save yourself a headache, you’ll save yourself the surcharges, and you’ll be able to focus on the film itself.
The screenplay for this remake, written by Travis Beacham and Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi, substantially reimagines the original film, using key set pieces and characters while altering the motivations for almost everything. Perseus (Sam Worthington) is a Demigod, born from the union between Zeus (Liam Neeson) and a mortal woman. Perseus is raised by human parents, unaware of his own origins, and his adoptive father (Pete Postlethwaite) has no love for the Gods in general. Still, when the rulers of Argos decide to openly blaspheme against Olympus, Zeus decides to allow his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) free reign in punishing the humans, never realizing that Hades has plans of his own. Perseus steps up to defy Hades and Zeus and fight for Argos, leading a quest to find something that will kill the Kraken, weaken Hades, and bring down Olympus. Many special effects ensue.
Much like the original, this “Clash” suffers primarily from a lack of internal logic. Things happen simply because it’s time for something to happen, but there are no clear-cut rules for the audience to follow. Even with a ticking clock in the form of a scheduled Kraken attack, the film never quite manages to work up a sense of urgency. It just moves from one set piece to the next, and taken on their own terms, several of the set pieces are well-staged and dynamic. You can’t go too wrong with giant scorpions or Medusa, after all. But there is little wonder to a film packed with things that should, by all rational definition, be nothing but wonder. When there’s no modulation to your movie, when everything’s played at a non-stop level of intensity, it’s possible to simply leave the audience numb. The best movies in this genre know how to build in quiet moments so that the big moments have more impact. “Clash” has no modulation at all. It’s an assault that never subsides, so by the time Liam Neeson bellows “Release the Kraken!”, the film’s got no place to go. It’s not exciting or thrilling, because the film is so desperate to be exciting and thrilling for every single second of its running time.
Sam Worthington seems hopelessly modern in the film, and it’s not the sort of movie designed to give any actors much of a showcase. Even so, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes both seem to be giving it their best, and Fiennes deserves credit for playing Hades without leaning on his own work as Voldemort in the “Harry Potter” films. It’s hard to find different ways to play this sort of scenery-chewing evil, but Fiennes manages to pull it off. Jason Flemyng’s role as Calibos seems promising, but he’s given so little to do that it almost feels like it was overly-edited after the fact. The soldiers who travel with Perseus include Nicholas Hoult and Mads Mikkelsen, but they’re essentially wasted. Visual wallpaper, and little more. There are no real characters to play here, so nothing registers as they’re picked off by the various monsters and menaces they face.
In the end, “Clash Of The Titans” is startlingly mundane, and does little to boost the stock of anyone involved. It’s not an outright failure, but more a frustrating mediocrity. Still, when choosing a theater if you’re in the mood for a big loud monster mash this weekend, be careful. Don’t fall for the 3D hype. This outsourced rush job of a conversion is the one truly terrifying thing about the film, and viewers would be well-advised to only see the film in 2D. Send Hollywood the message that you don’t want to be ripped off. If they’ll take the time to design and film a movie in 3D, that’s one thing, but it’s not a license to empty every viewer’s wallet with absolutely nothing to show for it in return.
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