Movie remakes are tricky monsters. This is especially true when retelling an older story with updated visual effects and making efforts to modernize a classic, which seems to make up the bulk of most Hollywood blockbusters these days. The original 1981 version of Clash of the Titans is ripe for such cinematic reinvention, as there’s been considerable progress in the fields of computer-generated effects and theater projection technology since its release, and its mythological storyline filled with Greek gods and underworld denizens like Medusa make it as perfect a fit for today’s audiences as it was back then. The truth is, I’ve seen seen the Harry Hamlin-starring original, so I’m going in with virgin eyes and open to the possibility that everything I’m seeing will seem as fresh and inviting as Warner Bros would have me believe.
Despite having created the world and all of humanity to populate it, it seems that even the gods themselves have needs. Zeus, King of the Gods, decides to have a dalliance with the human – and very married – woman Danaë, wife of the warrior king Acrisius. When this heavenly union results in a pregnancy, Acrisius packs the two into a coffin and (literally) jettisons them into the deep blue sea. As fate would have it – this is a Greek myth, after all – the coffin is rescued from the waters by the kindly fisherman Spyro, who decides the raise the child as his own. As the illegitimate son of Zeus, Perseus will soon come face-to-face with some of the fiercest creations in all of Greek mythology, and with his own destiny.
It seems the humans have been getting quite uppity, forgetting their place in the world and upsetting the gods on top of Mount Olympus. Emboldened by the humans lack of obedience, Hades (Ralph Fiennes), ruler of the underworld and brother of Zeus (Liam Neeson), schemes to forcibly demonstrate the power of the gods to a world that has lost its face. Hades then gate-crashes a particularly blasphemous party by King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia of Argos, demanding the sacrifice of their daughter Andromeda in ten days time, lest Argos itself be destroyed by the monstrous Kraken. Conveniently, this gives a band of human solders led by Draco (Mads Mikkelsen) and Perceus, enough time to seek the advice of the three Stygian Witches and save the city.
You’d think that with such a rousing start that we’d be treated to a thrilling journey of self-discovery and inspired battles between some of the most famous creations in all of Greek mythology. Unfortunately, what we have instead is a very modern looking action thriller, populated with bleary shadows of archetypes and amalgamations of what could have been interesting characters and scenarios. It bothered me that I couldn’t seem to connect with anyone, Perseus in particular, as this character has become the very basis for the classic Hero’s Journey tale of adventure and living one’s life to the fullest. As played by Sam Worthington (Avatar), he comes off whiny and confused, and it became tedious waiting for him to grow a pair of god balls and kick things into high gear.
Louis Leterrier (, Transporter, The Incredible Hulk) directs this sand-and-sandals epic like he might any of his previous films, with heavy emphasis on the action and very little on motivation and nuance. Nearly every action sequence is the same, with characters either running towards or away from each other, creatures moving at ungodly (no pun intended) speeds, with the occasional slow-motion jump and flip thrown in for good measure. This isn’t a film concerned with small things, which leads me to what’s probably going to be the single most dividing issue between this and the original. A fellow editor who’s a fan of the original (maybe too much) was really bothered by this remake’s handling of the original’s mechanical owl, Bubo, in which he/it’s treated like discarded trash. And while it may seem like sacrilege to some, let’s not forget that some people still hold Bubo as the Jar Jar Binks of the original film.
Although I’ve never seen the original film, like many people I’m more than familiar with many of its defining moments and stop-motion animation effects by the famed Ray Harryhausen. Not that I was expecting this update to replicate the look and feel of his classic puppets and designs – we do live in an age of fancy CG and blockbuster budgets – but at least the man knew how to make things look and move realistically. The creatures here feel designed by committee, almost as if their only purposes was to take up digital space and convince people how much better everything is when it’s digital. But in both background and quick-cut character animations, many of the generated monsters left me pining for the days of low-tech.
One of the film’s most anticipated encounters, with the snake-haired Medusa, is a good example of this disconnect between design and movement. This updated version now looks like a modern supermodel (opposed to the original’s face, which looked like last week’s garbage), and seems to have acquired acrobatic skills to match. Another key moment, towards the end of a climatic battle, has Perseus falling several stories from above, only to be ‘saved’ by literally bouncing off a sacrificial flame to safety.
I suppose the underlying theme of this film is that you make your own destiny, rather than listen to a bunch of blind witches and succumb to the wills of your predestined fate. But that’s never quite clear, as this retelling of the demigod Perseus lacks any necessary feelings of danger, as you’ll never question he’s going to kill the monsters and save the day. After all, the gods have decreed it so. This inevitability somewhat dampens whatever personal growth he appears to make throughout his struggle, as you’d expect these trials would reinforce his desire for independence from his demigod status. Thing is, they really don’t. It’s only after an acrobatic duel with the disfigured Calibos (Jason Flemyng) that he changes his mind and really jumps for it – literally.
Overall, this new Clash of the Titans lacks a certain grandness such a timeless story demands, and the focus on action mires what could have been a truly epic adventure for the ages. The film boasts an amazing cast, but they’re mostly wasted reciting silly platitudes and varying accents, and generally just hamming it up for the camera in sparkly armor and smeared make-up. For a man on a mission to avenge the death of his family Worthington’s Perseus is particularly dull, and the tacked-on love interest with forever woman Io feels every bit the unnecessary filler it is. While it does have its moments, the result isn’t the spectacle it could have been.
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