As a film critic, I'm a strong believer in divorcing one's opinion of a movie from that of the source material. The film in question needs to stand on its own merits, period.
So when I declare this remake of Clash of the Titans to be flat-out awful, it's not because I have great affection for the 1981 original. That film remains (for me) a wonderful depiction of classic Greek mythology in all its heroic romanticism, complete with a rousing score and imaginative visual effects by stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad).
Even so, the original has its flaws. It's corny, most of the performances are too melodramatic, and Harryhausen's effects were out of date thirty years ago. But the movie was a hit for its time and gained a devoted following through video rentals and cable broadcasts. A newer, big-budget remake could truly improve it, even if the new film deviates from the original story, which wasn't particularly true to Greek mythology to begin with. But what the Titans don't deserve is an overhaul as butchered and brainless as this.
The computer-generated visuals are as good as you would expect—and the only reason for 1½ stars. As a child, I was intimidated by the giant scorpions, unfazed by the giant (almost cute) Kraken, and terrified by Medusa. Now, thanks to modern technology, the scorpions are vicious, the Kraken is truly monstrous, and Medusa is even more horrific than before. (Still, it's unnecessary to see this movie in 3-D. Unlike Avatar, purposefully filmed in 3-D, Clash was converted after being completed in 2-D; I was underwhelmed by the "extra dimension.")
But the CGI extravaganza can't overcome all the other flaws: sloppy exposition, terrible dialogue, heavy-handed acting, and not a single likable character in the bunch.
Both films follow the adventures of Perseus, a poor fisherman, born of a woman, yet also the son of Zeus, creator of mankind and leader of the Greek gods. (Christ-like parallels? Discuss below!) And both stories involve the hero encountering a series of monsters, each more horrible than the last, all in effort to retrieve the grotesque head of Medusa, the one thing that can stop the Kraken stone cold in its tracks before the sea monster devours Princess Andromeda or her hometown.
But that's about all the two films have in common. Gone are the benevolent gods who show some regard for man, and the humans who revere their gods. Forget the romantic prince-rescues-princess plotline that drove the original movie (and myth).
Instead, Perseus (Sam Worthington of Avatar and Terminator: Salvation) is a man driven by his anger at the gods. After all, it was Hades (Ralph Fiennes, Voldemore in the Harry Potter films) who casually killed his family at sea while fishing too close to a battle. And didn't Zeus (Liam Neeson) let it all happen?
The odd thing about this new Clash is that everyone is angry at the gods—which the trailers made evident with their declaration of "Damn the Gods." Perseus's father bemoans the poor fishing season shortly before his tragic death. Others make casual reference to their unjust authority, longing for the day when man will finally rise up against their "tyrannical rule." There's otherwise not much evidence to support the Greeks' widespread disenchantment with their religion.
The feeling is mutual. The gods are weary of mankind's increasing arrogance and refusal to give them the worship they deserve. Hades (who sounds like he has perpetual laryngitis) even persuades Zeus to let him use the Kraken to destroy Argos, especially after the king and queen heap boasts and insults upon the gods. (Even Queen Cassiopeia spits insults into Hades' face—"We are gods now!"—before he exacts judgment). After 30 minutes, I was in favor of the gods smiting bratty mankind.
Thus Hades' decision to destroy Argos, unless the city sacrifices Andromeda (ironically, the one person in the movie who isn't angry at the gods). This makes everyone even angrier with the gods, so they instead send a contingent of soldiers to find a way to combat the sea monster. Shipwrecked Perseus gets dragged along after he's revealed to be the son of Zeus, for which he gets kicked around, tortured, and insulted. Of course, he learns how to expertly use a sword after the first brief lesson, so he must be a demigod.
It all becomes sillier from there:
- Perseus begins to sound like an Old Spice commercial, continually refusing the help of the gods and insisting he succeed only as a man; at one point, he even refuses kingship because he's a man. (Who knew he couldn't have it both ways!)
- He's guided by the mysterious Io (Gemma Arterton), an ageless woman who advises Perseus on plot points whenever it's needed.
- Two French hunters (!) insist on joining the quest, even though they offer little more than poor comic relief. ("If you're not afraid of dying, you may join us." "Eet iz death who should bee afrayed ov us!").
- Also joining the team is a magical whatchamacallit that looks like one of the sandpeople from Star Wars and grunts like Chewbacca. (Someone please explain him to me!)
- Then there's passing reference to a black-winged horse called "the Pegasus." (Is that like "The Drake" from Seinfeld?)
- There's also a scene where the soldiers visit the armory before their quest, equipping with swords, spears, and shields. One of them finds a mechanical owl—the exact replica of Bubo from the original movie. "Just leave it," says the captain, and they do. Though meant as an inside joke, I imagine fans will be frustrated by this unnecessary reference and non-fans will be confused.
So there you have it—a lot of man vs. monster smackdowns driven not by a hero's quest to rescue the maiden and gain a throne, but rather mankind's refusal to swear allegiance to the gods. The plot is so confused, one character begs Perseus to pray to the gods for help, only to express his desire to spit in the face of the gods five minutes later. It's a strange, humanistic theme that's hammered home throughout the movie.
If I didn't know better, I'd swear this new Clash was a thinly veiled metaphor for the dismissal of religion, similar to the desire to kill God in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. And wouldn't you know it, this movie leaves everything open for a trilogy, which I'm betting involves mankind's upheaval of the Olympic gods. But why let it go that far? I, for one, am tired of these sloppy remakes, not because they're different, but because they're inferior, trading storytelling for special effects.Discussion starters
- Do you see any parallels between Greek mythology and Christianity? Are there characters similar to God, Jesus, and Satan? In what important ways are they different? What is the best way to explain Greek mythology to younger viewers: historical pagan beliefs or literary fiction?
- Putting aside the pagan argument concerning Greek mythology, in what other ways do the humans break the First Commandment in this movie? Are we similarly prideful in reality?
- When only a boy, Perseus is told by his father that he was "saved for a reason." How does Perseus' search for purpose reflect our own? What questions are common to all of us in finding our way? Where do we go for answers?
- Why does Perseus reject the gifts given to him by Zeus? Pride? Mistrust? In what ways do we reject the gifts given to us by God? Why do we do so?
- As a demigod, Perseus is described as the best of both man and god. Explain what is meant by this. What about Jesus Christ? How does he represent the best of man and god?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Clash of the Titans is rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence, some frightening images, and brief sensuality. The action is far too intense for kids, involving sword-slicing, decapitation, and impaling, not to mention rotting flesh, severe burns, and a man who is literally ripped in half (too quickly to be particularly graphic). The monsters are pretty scary, especially Medusa. I'm not entirely sure what the brief sensuality refers to, but words like "bitch" and "bastard" are used. And kids might confuse the fiction of Greek mythology with the reality of Christianity. If you must watch Clash of the Titans with your family, consider the superior PG-rated 1981 original, which has tamer violence and brief nudity.
Photos © Warner Bros. Pictures
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