Apr 5 2010 3:32pm

Clash of the Titans

In theory, the best thing about a movie like Clash of the Titans is that there’s no Oscar-ballot discussion of deeper meaning. It was an epic B-movie in 1981, and it’s an epic B-movie now. (Motto: If you’re looking for a fifteen-minute eardrum-busting fight between nameless soldiers and enormous scorpions, you’ve come to the right place.)

And there is something exciting about the formula of a great B-movie; it’s as if they exist in a shared canon that builds shorthand with its audience. (It means that we smile when Pete Postlethwaite shows up in a cameo as the grizzled father figure, because of course he is.) For Clash of the Titans, this job should be even easier; it’s built on one of cinema’s most legendary clunkers, and so is in a unique position to improve on its source material and churn out a great mythological action flick.

Unfortunately, Clash of the Titans overshoots Popcornville and ends up in Disastertown.

This is what the filmmakers missed: even if a movie is only going for pulp appeal, it still has to have solid characters, make sense, and be engaging, and this one fails on every front. In trying to improve on the original, Clash of the Titans makes no sense whatsoever, and does so at eighty-five decibels. It’s the rare film that manages to be simultaneously bombastic and half-hearted.

Perseus and his adoptive fishing family sail into harbor just in time to see soldiers declaring war on Zeus. The soldiers are swiftly punished by Hades (because Zeus is busy, I guess), who strikes down the boat and leaves Perseus a god-hating orphan. He’s picked up and taken to Argos, where Hades is giving the city ten days before the Kraken destroys it. (Scandinavian mythological figures look around, confused as to how the kraken got that far south). When Perseus is discovered to be the son of Zeus, he must lead a motley crew to vanquish the Kraken.

And here, the movie goes completely off the rails. The contingent that accompanies Perseus consists of unnamed doomed soldiers, hunters, and magical djinn (Arabic mythological creatures look around, confused). They have the makings of a solid ensemble cast, notably Mads Mikkelsen’s captain of the guard, but the movie makes it clear they’re all cannon fodder, and most of them never even get names. Instead, the story focuses exclusively on Perseus and his reluctance to accept the gifts Zeus offers him, because he’s out to destroy gods, not become one of them. This cop plays by his own rules, dammit!

Here’s the thing. Even if Sam Worthington was a good enough actor to carry off this conflict (and he’s not), the modern construct of man vs. destiny just doesn’t hold water in a framework where gods actively affect outcomes. (When your man-at-arms is confronting you about using the magic sword Zeus hurled at you, and he’s the one making sense, you have officially lost your hero.) Plus, for a guy who makes so much noise about using only his own resources, he triumphs an awful lot from the assistance of his entourage – throughout the endless action scenes, and even at the movie’s climax, it’s someone else, not Perseus, who comes through in the clinch.

The conflict unfolding on Olympus is just as muddled; Hades is trying to overthrow Zeus because he’s unhappy with his lot, which might fly with people who have never read a Greek myth, except that even the gods seem confused as to how exactly threatening people with the kraken child of Hades will drive the necessary energizing prayers from mortals to the god of their choice. (Liam Neeson and his glittering armor seem duly embarrassed by all this; Ralph Fiennes has moved beyond shame, and just Voldemorts his way through the frame.)

The script is such a mess that ostensible love-interest Andromeda stays behind and wanders aimlessly through the doomed city; her place on the quest is taken by the endlessly-informed Io, who provides rape-heavy backstories about whatever monster they’re about to face. (If you think this will play out weirdly at the end of the movie, you have no idea.)

If the movie wanted to tackle free will in an age of gods, it might have worked. If they had gone for the full-pulp potential of its ensemble cast, it might have worked. Instead, Clash of the Titans feels like a movie thrown together from a stack of index cards marked up with action-movie tropes, CGI demos, and Mythology 101 lecture notes.

I never thought I’d say this, but the first Clash of the Titans was the better film; if you must watch a fifteen-minute fight against huge scorpions, that’s the place to go.

Genevieve was pleased to see Hans Matheson getting work; that was the only thing that pleased her about this movie. She writes about other beleaguered supporting actors on her blog.

Sarah Hale
1. rocketshale
I went to see CotT on opening night with some friends; friend who all remember (with varying degrees of fondness) the original movie. We were all left…. Underwhelmed.

The plot development…. Didn’t happen. The pacing seemed off. It was as if you had to have seen the original to know anything about what was happening, and if you saw the original, well…. You were still confused.

Random set of gratuitous characters: The Hunters. The general opinion of my friends and I was that the Hunters were intended as comic relief, but mostly ended up on the cutting room floor.

Random set of gratuitous characters: The Djinn: neat character design, but really… wha? Thanks for the help….?

Random gratuitous character: the crazy acolyte: When you died, it made me happy.

I gave a the film a couple of bonus points for the quick glimpses of Zeus’s armor (when not covered by Special Effect) that seemed to indicate that it was made out of silver fabric. Liam Neeson must have been really hot. Maybe that’s why he looked miserable.

I really wanted to give Ralph Fiennes a glass of water. He sounded a little parched. I have no comments on any of the female deities, because apparently the film makers didn’t see the need to include any of them in the story. I think out of the entire Greek Pantheon, three, maybe four gods even got to say lines (or line) on-screen?

I took points away for Pegasus. Apparently you can ride a winged horse that’s never been ridden, after you walk up to it and pet it on the nose. The wings looked good, though.

Point totals for Calibos broke even. Points lost for “wait, he’s who, now?” Points earned for Jason Flemyng apparently enjoying being a silly monster. Points lost for his parting message to Perseus.

The creature design was neat but not special. I would have liked a pulled back shot of the kraken, so you could really see it in scale. Scenes of its head/arms/whatever clearly indicate that the thing is huge, but you never see the creature in its entirety.

Action sequences were prolonged and loud, agreed, and in my opinion, filmed way to close. I have that complaint about a lot of action in fantasy/sci-fi movies these days. The fight scenes look like they could be cool… if I could see them. Why bother with fight choreography if I’m not going to be able to follow it because you have the camera on the guy’s elbow the whole time?

I still hold out the optimistic hope that the original premise and plan was not made of suck, and that the film suffered sadly at the hands of editors under the direction of some sorrowfully misguided Higher Ups. Still, I don’t think I hold out enough hope to want to see an unedited director’s cut. But thanks for the Bubo cameo.
Torie Atkinson
2. Torie
I'm not gonna lie, I had a fantastic time seeing this movie on opening night. It's RIDICULOUS. Utterly nonsensical from start to finish, which is what I expected.

I particularly loved that they set up this whole "I will do this as a man!" theme, until, you know, he realizes using daddy's magical lightsaber is easier. Not that he needed it, since he had Medusa's head in a bag IN HIS HAND.

Also: Medusa was totally the cutest Gorgon ever. Way more attractive than either Io (who, in addition to having the creepy rape backstory, also has the creepy mommy thing going on) or Andromeda (who? Yeah, exactly).

Favorite scene: an angry Acrisius getting struck by lightning and throwing the coffin over the cliff edge.

Was it just me, or were the Olympus scenes directed by J.J. Abrams? LENS FLARE
Andrew Gray
3. madogvelkor
I thought it was a fun movie, I wasn't expecting anything deep. Sure, the plot didn't make much sense but neither did the original. And as for out of place monsters and villains, Calibos appears to be stolen from Shakespeare, and why have the main monster with a name from Scandinavia when you have Cetus right in the original myth? So I was expecting a stupid good time and that's what I got.

One thing that caught me right after the movie was the realization that it is basically the same plot as the recent Alice in Wonderland movie....

Perseus - Alice
Kraken - Jabberwocky
Hades - Red Queen
Zeus - White Queen
Scorpions - Bandersnatch
Io - Cheshire Cat (or maybe Mad Hatter)
Medusa Head/Magic Sword - Vorpal Sword
Calibos - Knave of Hearts
Poison bite on arm - Poison scratch on arm
Hunters - Tweedledum & Tweedledee
Turns down offer to stay -- Turns down offer to stay
Family drowns at sea -- father lost at sea
Random soldiers -- random Alice characters
Soon Lee
4. SoonLee
Completely ridiculous movie, and not even in a good way.
Blake Ellis
5. galaxyexpressed
To be fair, we did get the next couple of weeks to milk that zany "Calm your storm" comment.
Mike Conley
6. NomadUK
I believe ... I'm in love with Genevieve Valentine....
7. gggdf
Agreed on the "Calm your storm." My fave line of the movie for sure!
8. Bether
Have...have you not seen the original? The 1981 version with Laurence Olivier as Zeus? And claymation? Because *that* is some serious B movie joy. We watched it at least once a year in my Latin classes in high school.

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