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Review: Clash of the Titans (2010, 3D)

Posted on April 9, 2010 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

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Do you remember Clash of the Titans, a delightful 1980s film loosely based on the Greek myth of Perseus and Andromeda? It starred Harry Hamlin and Lawrence Olivier among others, but is best known as the last movie to feature the stop-motion talents of Ray Harryhausen.

A lot of people are very fond of it, but few people are so fond of it that they'd remake it. Which is what Warner Bros, writers Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, and director Louis Leterrier have done.

The question is: is it as good or is it better than the original? And does 3D make it a better movie than it would have been? Here's the trailer:

Plot
The mortal son of the god Zeus embarks on a perilous journey to stop the underworld and its minions from spreading their evil to Earth as well as the heavens.

Is it any good?
It's a bit lackluster, I have to say. Yes, the visual effects are very good and they're easily superior to the original's. But in terms of character, style and a whole load of other considerations, it'll leave you feeling unsatisfied.

Greek myths
Now, as far as the Greek myths side of things is concerned, it's all a bit Chinese whispers. If the original Clash played around a little bit with the myths - changing the Perseus story slightly to include the gift of an owl from Athena and losing Hermes' winged sandals, adding the Kraken from Icelandic myth/Tennyson, taking Pegasus from the myth of Bellerophon and so on - this new Clash has taken all of those things, treated them as the original myth and made its own changes.

That's not to say it hasn't in places actually gone back to the myths. Once everyone knew about Zeus and the other gods, but now the film includes a Princess Irulan-in-Dune-style introduction to the gods, the Titans, Olympus, how Hades came to rule the underworld, etc, so today's audience knows what's going on. But said introduction is delivered by Io (Gemma Arterton from Quantum of Solace), who now rather than being the daughter of a river-god turned into a cow, is now a human cursed with eternal youth; the Kraken is supposed to be Hades' son and used to defeat the Titans in the war for Olympus; and the gods created humans to fuel their immortality through worship.

So this version is also just about as historically, mythologically, geographically, culturally and linguistically inaccurate as it's possible to get, with Argos mysteriously moving to the west coast of Greece to near Paxos and Antipaxos, 5th century BC Attican art decorating bronze age palaces lined with modern Greek graffiti, Greeks wearing corn-rows, wearing Hellenistic era armour and carrying iron swords, Hades is full of fire and brimstone like Hell, and so on. We even have Arabian djinn turning up in deserts.

But apart from me, no one really cares and let's face it, it's not like the myths themselves weren't full of a few contradictions. This is Greek myth as backdrop to a Universal Studios ride or a Renaissance Fayre: let's just think of this all as a magic fairy land full of Harry Potter beasts and "Zeus"™. So let's move on.

Problems
More problematically is it just doesn't make a whole load of sense even on its own terms. Perseus (Sam Worthington, with full on Russell Crowe Gladiator growl, short haircut and Australian accent), who at least here acts like he might be the son of a god, unlike Harry Hamlin, is sworn to fight the gods. The gods are pissed because mortals are beginning to refuse to worship them, and during one of their punishments, Hades kills Perseus's adopted dad.

After Perseus turns up in Argos, Cassiopeia (Rome's Polly Walker, given much the same character to play) insults Aphrodite so Hades turns up and tells Argos they have to sacrifice Andromeda or else the Kraken will destroy them in just a few days' time.

He also outs Perseus as a demi-god, so the Argovites head off with Perseus to try to find out how to kill the Kraken, which eventually turns out to be the head of Medusa, which means a trip to the underworld is necessary. Along the way, Perseus, Io, and Mads Mikkelson, together with some comedic Argovites and the aforementioned djinn, have to fight giant scorpions and the Stygian Witches, as well as bribe Charon the ferryman. But Zeus also pops up to hack off Perseus, and Hades has given Perseus's hacked-off former father (the one married to his real mum, Danaë) some super-powers as well, because Hades (Ralph Fiennes) is hacked off with Zeus (Liam Neeson) and wants to take over from him.

(SPOILER ALERT) At first I thought this was going to be an aeotiological, Xena-level of ahistorical explanation for why the Greeks stopped worshipping the gods, but by the end of it, the words "we want sequels" are carefully stamped over everything. Zeus, who had so far been portrayed as a tyrant and thoroughly evil, is suddenly mortals' best friend again, pally with Perseus, resurrecting the dead to be nice and so on. It was just that Hades drumming up trouble that caused the war between the mortals and the gods. Similarly, Perseus has been trying to find a way to kill Hades - he's told what it is and… it doesn't work. Otherwise, how would Clash 2 come about if there weren't any gods and Hades were dead?

Similarly, there are weird traces of anger at the Christian God being sublimated here: the gods are depicted as evil, in part because they cause mortals to die. Hang on… that still happens, doesn't it, so is any god that causes mortals to die evil? The writers also want to have their cake and eat it: the origin story (well, one of them) is told correctly, with Athena cursing Medusa for being raped by Poseidon in her temple, and that's used to show that the gods are evil. Yet, the intrepid party go off to kill Medusa anyway, because Medusa's a bit of a bitch. So who's bad here: mortals or gods?

Characters
Perseus is divided, but he doesn't want to be like Zeus, despite being half-god, having a light sabre for a sword, and being able to bounce off surfaces and fight like Sonic the Hedgehog. He knows that much. Except he decides later he doesn't mind it that much, and maybe old dad's all right. Io hates Zeus as well, and has been helping Perseus his whole life (how does she know about Perseus exactly?). But she's all right with Zeus by the end, too. It's just that Hades that was bad. None of the other characters get much by way of character definition: they just do things.

Olympus is beautifully realised, and really conveys an otherworldliness that we can't quite fit into our mortal brains. These are gods capable of doing amazing things, instead of sitting around gassing all day as they do in the original movie. But despite there being 12 gods on display (there were plenty more in the myths), only four of them even get dialogue: Poseidon, Zeus, Hades and Apollo (who gets a line). Goddesses, who were so important in the original myth, don't even get a name check, let alone dialogue; Io is just there as love interest and because she's not a goddess and therefore not evil. It's a very, very manly movie that's arguably more misogynistic than even the ancient Greeks, who did at least include women in their stories and give goddesses something to do.

Direction
The film itself is very beautiful to look at, even in sickness-inducing, headache-causing, colour-desaturating 3D. The 3D itself doesn't really add anything, although given the film wasn't shot for 3D, I was surprised how well most of it turned out. Admittedly, it just seemed like a lot of Viewmaster slides at times, but there were a couple of moments when it was truly 3D.

However, it's poorly paced. There are long sequences where nothing really happens. Worthington is just too self-contained and growly in his performance to make you care for him, showing no charisma or real emotion whatsoever. The action scenes are just too difficult to follow in 3D Viewmaster-vision, although the later ones where Perseus begins to act godly do work a whole lot better. There's no real reason for Io and Perseus to fall in love. Andromeda's an after-thought who promptly gets ignored (except if there's a sequel, I'm sure). Fiennes is hammy, Neeson is just shouty. Mads Mikkelson is… Mads Mikkelson, but is actually really good.

Overall, it just feels like a movie that needed pruning back, having a rethink, and a return to basics. The change from making the gods just an accepted part of life to the enemies of mortals until the end of the movie makes no sense, destroys motivation for the characters and is illogical - after all, if the gods wanted mortals wiped out, that would easily done, as the story demonstrates. The Io love-interest is pretty daft. The lack of other gods is just wrong.

So I'd say stick with the original, and let's see if the sequel's any good.

Related entries

  • January 16, 2015: Review: The Man In The High Castle 1x1 (US/UK: Amazon Instant Video)
    A review of the pilot episode of Amazon Instant Video’s The Man In The High Castle

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