Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans (2010) movie poster

(2010) dir. Louis Leterrier
viewed: 04/03/10 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Beefed-up, as heroes and monsters are these days, the new re-make of 1981’s Clash of the Titans is a reverant but soulless endeavor in pop “summer movie” cinema.

The original, which has gotten much wistful and cynical criticism in the release of this new “Titan”, was the final film featuring the stop-motion animation special effects of the legendary and now anachronistic Ray Harryhausen.  It was a swan song not fully worthy of Harryhausen, whose effects in his Sinbad films ( The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) & Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)) and his masterpiece, Jason and the Argonauts (1963) are the stuff of greatness and much influence even in today’s industry.  The bottom line was, this wasn’t exactly tampering with a classic, so you’d give director Louis Leterrier carte blanche in terms of what he could do.

The story is of Perseus, demi-god, son of Zeus, who is raised by humans, but then faced with a full-on battle between the Greek gods of Olympus and the people of Argos, who have forsaken the gods.  Isn’t it great to see history come alive?

Actually, the story is a pastiche of mythologies, but oddly enough, Greek mythology is big with kids these days, stemming from a myriad of popular books, including no doubt Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010), a film which preceded this one in release by only a few weeks.  A few things are depicted in each film, the crossing of the river Styx and the chopping off of the head of medusa.  And so this film has a lot of potential going for it, it’s got the kiddie zeitgeist and a free reign to go crazy with sword and sorcery bombast and FX.

But it’s really barely tolerable.  The original starred Harry Hamlin who looked like he came from a Pert shampoo commercial wearing a toga.  This new one stars the Aussie Sam Worthington (he of Terminator Salvation (2009) and Avatar (2009)), crew-cut, studly, charmless.  And the gods, the super-shiney Zeus, played by Liam Neeson and the lurchy and hunchbacked Hades played by Ralph Fiennes, stroll around on Olympus with less character than costume.

Really, the damn thing is a lot of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, what with the demi-god hero whose missing-in-action God father has made him a snarky rebel.  And he’s got to fight some of the same monsters.  But the monsters, while no longer stop-motion animation, are now your typical digital effects and design creatures, no better, no worse, and only partially distiguishable from others pumped out in hundreds of movies.

Now, I watched the film with Felix, excluding Clara, who had a party to attend, partially due to social conflicts but also becuase this PG-13 film is pretty intense on the big screen.  Felix is big into the Greek mythology.  He tells me stuff like that he thinks that the Greek gods were probably more powerful than other mythologies, though he’s not familiar with other mythologies really.  And he liked it pretty well.  I mean, he’s kind of target audience.  But again, I don’t think it’s terribly memorable.

What is semi-interesting in this film is this rather clear subtext about the need for the gods or the lack of need for the gods.  In the original film, there is a realization by the gods that one day people will not believe in them anymore and they will cease to exist, more a comment on a passe belief system than one that is potentially referential to real present day issues.  But in Leterrier’s film, the constant drum beat of how the gods don’t do anything for us, that Perseus wants to remain “a man” and fight for his brothers, not the gods, pushes this issue further.  And ultimately, there is a Jesus-like zealot in Argos who wants everyone to “repent” and to sacrifice the princess Andromeda as the gods demand, wanting to perpetuate the state of the belief system.  It’s a bit like a critique of other belief systems, not just one that is a couple millenia-dead but what Leterrier wants the film’s message to carry out.

It’s an interesting thing, one which struck me as surprising.  Leterrier, whose previous work includes The Transporter 2 (2005) and The Incredible Hulk (2008) isn’t particularly a filmmaker of note.  And Clash of the Titans, in my mind, isn’t going to help that, though its commercial success (which I am guessing will be there), perhaps will.

In the post-Gladiator (2000) world, art directors have found a way to make wearing skirts (togas) manly again, what with lots of armor and a case of abs.  But for Worthington, who seemed a bit more interesting in his other roles, it’s like that is all that he is.  Charmless, humanistic, and hunky.  But he does end up with the beautiful knock-out Io (Gemma Arterton), so being a demi-god has some perks.

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