CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: a beach. A beautiful young BLONDE is tied to a stake. Surrounding her are fifty or so soldiers, dressed in ancient Greek military garb. Their burly, bearded KING steps forward.)
KING (roars): Release the Kraken!
(Cue dramatic music. The sea rumbles, everyone looks with anticipation, and from under the water emerges a giant— cracker monster. Its body is rectangular like a Saltine, and its eyes are olives, its nose pimento, its mouth a piece of cheese, and its face is dotted with poppy seeds.)
KING (rolls eyes): I said “Kraken!” not “Kracker!” That’s it! I’m sick of this happening all the time! I quit!
(The crowd dissipates amidst a chorus of boos, leaving the BLONDE tied to the stake, along with MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES, who had been among the throng.)
MA: Weren’t we just here for our “April Coming Attractions” column?
LS: It just goes to show you that sometimes, even the second time, things don’t work out.
MA: Yes, sometimes you just have to try and try again. Not that I’d want to see CLASH OF THE TITANS remade yet again. I don’t think its story is strong enough to warrant that.
LS: Actually, that was kinda cool.
MA The CLASH OF THE TITANS remake?
LS: No, that cracker monster. He lives underwater, but didn’t look soggy at all!!
MA: Well, let’s get down to it. CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) is a remake of the 1981 Ray Harryhausen movie of the same name.
LS: Actually, the 1981 movie was directed by Desmond Davis. Harryhausen only directed the stop-motion special effects.
MA: Big friggin deal! I mean, who out there knows Desmond Davis? No offense, to Mr. Davis, but Ray Harryhausen is a household name and the reason movies he worked on are still watched today, not the directors.
LS: Calm down. You don’t need to get so worked up about it.
MA: I’m just sayin. But back to the new movie. Once again, it tells the story of Perseus (Sam Worthington) a half-human son of Zeus (Liam Neeson) and a human woman, who needs to fulfill his destiny by defeating the mighty monster, the Kraken. In this one, at least, Perseus has more motivation. He’s angry at the gods because they’re responsible for the death of his human family, whereas in the original, “fulfilling his destiny” sort of meant meandering around the countryside until he found something worthy to do, in that case saving the princess Andromeda.
Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) is here again too, sentenced to be sacrificed to the Kraken. You see, her parents insulted the gods by declaring they and their people could do without them, and that their daughter Andromeda was better looking than any of them.
LS: She ain’t so great!
MA: Evidently these people hadn’t read their Greek myths, or they would have known Greek gods don’t like to be insulted.
Zeus agrees to let his evil brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) have his way with these people, and so Hades gives them a choice: sacrifice Andromeda, or have the Kraken destroy their entire kingdom.
LS: Was it just me, or did Neeson and Fiennes look an awful lot alike? I thought it was the same actor at first – Neeson playing both roles. The duality of good and evil. Not that Zeus is all that good. But it took me awhile for it to sink in – this isn’t Neeson, it’s good old Ralph Fiennes!” They must have had the same barber. I don’t remember any confusion like that when Laurence Olivier played Zeus.
MA: That’s because Hades wasn’t in the original movie. But you must have had some fingerprints on your 3D glasses; I didn’t think they looked alike.
As fate would have it, Hades is also the god responsible for the death of Perseus’ family- back before he found out he was really the son of Zeus – and so he is more than willing to take up the challenge of saving the princess and killing the Kraken, all in an effort to eventually get to Hades and kill him too. But can you kill a god?
LS: I’m not sure, but it sounds like it would be fun to try!
MA: Perseus and his band of merry soldiers travel to the far ends of the earth to kill Medusa so they can use her head to turn the Kraken into stone. I wonder why Perseus didn’t decide just to use the head on Hades? It would have saved him a lot of extra work and trouble.
LS: I think they explained this. Hades, as a god, can’t be killed by a human – or even a demigod like Perseus, at full power. However, when he expends tons of energy to revive the Kraken, he’s much more vulnerable – that’s when you strike. If only Perseus had two heads, one for Hades, and one of the Kraken. That might work.
MA: Yes, two heads are better than one. Anyway, CLASH OF THE TITANS was shot in 3D, and I have to say, as much as I was impressed with the 3D effects in AVATAR, I was just as unimpressed with the 3D effects here. First and foremost, the neat depth- perception that permeated AVATAR is practically nonexistent here. Throughout most of this movie, I barely noticed I was watching 3D.
LS: Oh, the 3D here was HORRIBLE. I really felt cheated – especially now that, since AVATAR made 3D the new big thing, theater chains have decided to exploit it and up the price of tickets to 3D movies. Instead of $11.50, I got screwed out of $16.50 for this one (and they have the nerve to ask you to recycle the glasses afterwards!). Man, did that tick me off. I was soooo tempted to go to a rare 2D screening to save the cash. But I thought our audience deserved a review of the full treatment
And, for the record, it wasn’t shot in 3D originally.
MA: Yes, I read that the 3D effects were added almost as an afterthought to this movie, and it shows. It looks like when this movie was filmed, no thought at all had gone into it being shot in 3D. And the effects didn’t enhance the action sequences. I had a real problem with the action sequences even without the 3D. They were shot at close range and at such a quick pace that they were difficult to see. As a result, they were hardly enjoyable.
Director Louis Leterrier, who directed THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008), a movie I really liked, dropped the ball on this one, I think. In THE INCREDIBLE HULK, he had crafted some memorable scenes, especially the action sequences. I thought the action sequences here were a major letdown.
LS: I liked that version of THE INCREDIBLE HULK, too, even if it was by-the-numbers at times. This movie has its moments, too, but yep, it’s a letdown overall.
MA: For the most part, CLASH OF THE TITANS remains faithful to the Ray Harryhausen version. There are some changes here and there, some that work and some that don’t.
One that does work is the script by Travis Beacham and Phil Hay. I thought the character of Perseus was much more interesting and motivated in this movie than he was in the 1981 film.
LS: Yeah, I thought the story was a little bit better this time – but it’s a weak plot, and the only reason it exists at all is to give us something to think about in between the fights with monsters. Of which, there are too few in this movie.
MA: The supporting soldier characters were also more memorable here than in the 1981 movie, in which they were pretty bland. Here, there are some memorable personalities.
LS: Yeah. Especially Mads Mikkelsen as Draco, the guy who used to be the best soldier in Argos. He’s jealous that Perseus is getting all the attention, and there’s an intense rivalry there that eventually turns into a bond of mutual respect.
MA: Definitely, Mads Mikkelsen as Draco is easily one of the best performances in the movie. You might remember Mikkelsen in the Daniel Craig Bond flick CASINO ROYALE (2006) as the card playing villain “Le Chiffre.” He was great in that movie, too. I like Mikkelsen a lot, and I thought his presence here was one of the best parts of CLASH OF THE TITANS.
There’s another Bond connection to this movie as well. Gemma Arterton, who plays an immortal character name “lo” appeared in the second Daniel Craig Bond film QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008). I thought Arteton was excellent here, too, and I’d have to say that I liked her and Mikkelsen better than Sam Worthington in this movie.
LS: I was wondering where I’d seen Arterton before, since I’m not a big Bond fan and didn’t see QUANTAM OF SOLACE (which I still say is a dumb title!). I’d actually seen her before in the PBS “Masterpiece Theater” version of TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES, strangely enough, and I thought she was great in that as Tess, and quite striking. Here, I thought she was the best thing in the movie, too, and much more beautiful than the much- praised Andromeda!
MA: The whole cast is very good. Sam Worthington as Perseus was enjoyable. He makes for a likeable action star and probably could make a career doing this sort of thing if he chose to. That being said, of his three recent acting performances, I liked him the least here. He was much more memorable in both AVATAR and TERMINATOR: SALVATION.
LS: I agree. I thought he was very good here, but CLASH is a mediocre film. I actually thought I liked him best in TERMINATOR:SALVATION, because that was a BAD film, and yet he stood out as the only thing good about it.
Notice how Worthington’s Perseus here flies around on a flying horse, the legendary Pegasus, which “no man has ever ridden?” It reminded me an awful lot of how Worthington’s character tamed the flying dragon-like creature in AVATAR. I think he’s starting to repeat himself.
But at least Worthington actually looks like a hero, unlike Harry Hamlin in the original. He looked like a soap star slumming in a kids’ movie!
MA: Liam Neeson is OK as Zeus, but it’s kind of a thankless role, as all he gets to do is look majestic and shout nasty orders like “Release the Kraken!” and “Crush the humans!” Much more disappointing is Ralph Fiennes as Hades. Fiennes is an excellent actor, and he’s completely wasted here. He must have needed some extra cash or something. I can’t figure why he’d accept this role. Hades could have been, and should have been, a real nasty baddie. Instead, he looks like he a reject from the HARRY POTTER series.
LS: You’re right, Fiennes deserves much better than this and the HARRY POTTER movies. So does Neeson. They’re better than their lame roles.
MA: It was also good to see Pete Postlethwaite on hand as Perseus’ human father
LS: Oh, he’s always good to see. And keep your eye out for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by the goofy robotic owl from the original CLASH OF THE TITANS. That’s actually pretty funny.
But you’re right, the casting was very good. I also like the two guys who join Perseus’s pack later on – they’re professional monster killers or something, and I didn’t catch their names – but they added some comic relief to the story. I wanted to see more of them.
MA: I liked them, too. The heroes definitely fared better in this one than the villains, which I found boring. In the 1981 version, Calibos was a memorable villain and a strong presence. His role in this one is seriously reduced, and his portrayal by Jason Flemyng is no more memorable than Fiennes as Hades. If your villain isn’t strong, usually your movie isn’t either.
LS: I liked the disfigured, monstrous Calibos in this version (although I liked Harryhausen’s version better). They didn’t give him a lot to do, but he was more interesting than the gods.
MA: I thought CLASH OF THE TITANS began very slowly, and for a while I kept hoping something would happen. To me, the movie got better when it reached the scene with the giant scorpions.
LS: Not just to you. To the whole audience! This movie starts out very slow, setting up its storyline, and you keep wondering, WHERE THE HELL ARE THE MONSTERS? So yeah, it doesn’t hit its stride until the scorpions.
MA: I thought this was one scene that improved on the original, as it was very exciting and was probably my favorite action sequence of the film. However, even this scene had drawbacks, as the scorpions looked fake and weren’t that convincing.
LS: Sometimes they looked good, and sometimes they didn’t. But they moved around so fast during the battle scenes, you couldn’t really tell most of the time. I guess the fact that it was hard to see made you think they looked better than they did. The bad 3D didn’t help.
MA: While there are many who might say modern CGI effects are an improvement over the stop-motion animation effects by Ray Harryhausen, I say it depends on the movie. I have no problem with the Harryhausen style of special effects, and I’m sure if he were making movies today, he’d be able to make stuff that would satisfy modern audiences. CGI is just so inconsistent. Here, in this CLASH OF THE TITANS, I thought the effects were fair at best.
LS: Well, I’m a big Ray Harryhausen fan and I figured I’d just hate this movie’s effects completely. The strange thing is, overall, I didn’t mind them. This was one rare time where the CGI effects didn’t distract me from the story, and I didn’t mind them that much. Not the best I’ve ever seen, but workable. There was no way they were going to capture the fun of Harryhausen’s stop-motion style. And I’m glad they didn’t even try to.
MA: The Medusa scene here was pretty good, but it was the best sequence in the original film, and so I can’t say that this scene was an improvement. They were about the same.
LS: Yeah, I agree.
MA: And though I thought the Kraken looked more fearsome here, once again, he’s reduced to a brief scene, and that’s about it. So, he’s hardly worth getting excited about.
LS: I actually thought the Kraken in this one was terrific! The best thing in the movie, aside from Gemma Arterton, for me. And I loved the way Andromeda was suspended from ropes, waiting to be sacrificed. It reminded me a lot of KING KONG as the monster approached, with a little Lovecraft thrown in with those massive tentacles.
MA: Yeah, I would agree with you on these points. My beef with the new Kraken is he’s in the film so little.
LS: I wanted more of him, too!
MA: The bizarre desert/sand people/creatures, I thought, were really cool, and I really liked them. They didn’t appear in the original, and if I had to note one major improvement over the 1981 movie, I’d go with these creatures. They were fun to watch.
LS: They were called the Djinn – as in genies. I guess that is why they were able to perform some magic in the film (though not enough!). To me, they looked like they really belonged in a STAR WARS movie, for some reason. And I was disappointed to find out that that they used the giant scorpions as trained animals. Kind of took away their sense of danger that we got in the battle scene earlier.
MA: But as a whole package, I found CLASH OF THE TITANS mediocre, and certainly not worth the extra cost of seeing it in 3D. This could have been a powerful movie. It was loaded with strong actors, and its script wasn’t so bad, but it only boasted fair special effects, and I thought the direction was muddled and surprisingly poor. In short, there’s nothing really special about CLASH OF THE TITANS to lift it above the pack.
I was never a huge fan of the Ray Harryhausen original either, and it might be that the story itself isn’t that exciting. CLASH OF THE TITANS isn’t much of a clash, and as a result, I say skip this one until you’ve got nothing better to do.
LS: And it certainly is NOT worth the extra five bucks for the 3D glasses.
LS: Well, that’s it for this week.
BLONDE TIED TO STAKE: What about me, huh? I’ve been tied here the whole time, listening to you two go on and on about a movie. How about letting me go?
LS: Sorry, toots. We’re finished here. We’ve gotta move on.
MA: Sorry. I wish I could help you.
(LS and MA run toward the other end of the beach, where a bunch of bikini babes are playing volleyball)
GIRL TIED TO STAKE (screaming): DAMMMMMIT!
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares