Clash+of+the+Titans


Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Review by Ryan Wilson

I'm a sucker for Greek Mythology, in nearly every form. As such, I'm fairly flexible when it comes to differing adaptations of the ancient myths. What is a myth, after all, but a tale changed by the teller? Ovid may have one version, but Apollodorus has another. In this way, the Greek Myths are like barbecue or pizza: aside from the specific sauces used, it's rather hard to screw them up.

At least that was my attitude going into the new Clash of the Titans remake. As with the 1981 version, this is the story of Perseus, of his battling Medusa and a horrible sea serpent called the Kraken.

I have fond memories of watching the original version as a child on my parent's shag carpet in the early days of cable television. Not because the original film is particularly good. Aside from Laurence Olivier as Zeus, the acting is wooden and the sets look cheaply constructed. But I remember the Kraken and I remember Medusa. Both were creations of legendary special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, who specialized in stop motion monsters. As cheesy as the original now looks, what I took from it was how fun mythology was while provoking you to think. Any parable has to be a success to an eight-year-old boy if it lets you contemplate fate versus free will alongside decapitation.

The new Clash of the Titans takes itself a bit too seriously. At its core aren't the gods, but man challenging their authority. "Someone's got to take a stand," one mortal fumes. Even Perseus, the half-son of Zeus, wants his independence from his father. Which doesn't quite make sense: as the film begins, he watches mortal soldiers tearing down a statue of Zeus. Hades quickly appears and annihilates everyone for the blasphemy, including all of Perseus's loved ones caught in the collateral damage. Logic would say blame the soldiers who started it, but Perseus wants revenge against the gods.

Perseus continues to brood throughout the film, all but ignoring the gods' gifts to him along his trek. He's accompanied by other grumpy soldiers trying to save their city and their princess. Everyone's so grouchy, you'd think they were fighting in The Pacific. The immortal Io also joins them, mainly as eye candy, but she proves useful if only to narrate what it all means.

She doesn't really need to. Aside from the film's tone and its dour characters, this Titans retreads nearly every major scene from the original. We get the Gray Women Witches sharing one eye, we get Medusa whose rattlesnake tail still teases death, and we get the Kraken, updated to look more like a giant squid mated with a Balrog. All of these are sufficient, but none feel as lovingly crafted as Harryhausen's creations. They all seem too easy now with CGI effects, making Perseus's journey to save Andromeda rushed and bland, almost as if each obstacle were a new video game level to conquer.

There is one hysterical reference to the old film involving the mechanical owl sent to aid Perseus. This was really just Harryhausen's own creation, and a creative one, but many fans hated it. When the heroes in this new version gather their weapons, the metal bird appears only to inspire one soldier to say that it will definitely not be coming along.

Yet the film needs something unique like the owl. The best it comes up with are a group of sand wizards who ride scorpions. They come to Perseus's defense, but they seemed contrived, as if they've stumbled onto the set from one of those terrible Mummy movies.

The best moments are the gods themselves. Really we only see Zeus and Hades. They're played by Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, and for a strange moment you're reminded of their work together in Schindler's List. It's genius casting. I mean wasn't Oscar Schindler given the power of a god? And wasn't Fiennes's sadistic Nazi a bit like the nasty god of the underworld? Too bad these two don't have more time together in the film, or even time alone. They're basically wasted, and worse, made to look less like gods but more like aging roadies for Aerosmith with long hair and strung out expressions.

Meanwhile, Sam Worthington's Perseus wears a buzz cut, which makes his action scenes resemble some sort of Marine Corps recruiting commercial. Worthington is better here than he was in Avatar. And he certainly breathes more life into Perseus than Harry Hamlin once did, though it's still a one note sulking performance.

The flying stallion Pegasus gets the worst treatment. For one, he's no longer white and inspiring but dull brown and basically an afterthought to Perseus. And that's how I‘ll remember the new Clash of the Titans, as a dull brown afterthought, a film that took mythology and brought it too much down to earth. I wouldn't call it a disaster, but I don't think it will inspire any kids out there to read any Edith Hamilton versions either.

Take 5 on Film is a production of Delta College's WUCX Q 90.1, airing every Saturday at 8:35 a.m. and again at 9:35 a.m. and produced by Jennifer Vande Zande. For more information, visit deltabroadcasting.org.

© Ryan Wilson, 2010