Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Clash of the Titans (2010)

 I saw Clash of the Titans (2010) last night, and it was OK, but nothing great. When I sat down to blog about it this long-winded and overly serious review came out. The movie hardly deserves this much comment, but I'll post it anyway.

Clash of the Titans (2010) is a mediocre action movie remake of the Ray Harryhausen original Clash of the Titans (1981). While reasonably entertaining to watch it emphasizes slick SFX and 3D visual gimmicks at the expense of plot and characterization. It is loosely based on the myth of Perseus in the same way that the Beeb's TV show Merlin is loosely based on Arthurian Legend, which is to say almost not at all. There are some minor spoilers below, but this is not a movie to be watched for the story.

In many ways the experience of this film is summed up in the opening narration. It begins with words to the effect that the greatest myths are not those told by man but the ones written in the stars. You might expect that to be a reference to the constellations of Andromeda and Perseus, but you'd be wrong. The next thing we see on screen are not these asterisms, but colorful, nebulous clouds of stars. In the same way this film is made up of colorful, SFX heavy action scenes amidst a blurry story and vague characters.

One of the strange things about this movie is that it doesn't just take mythical figures and put them fictional situations the way they did in those old Steve Reeves pepla films. No, this movie sets itself the task of rewriting all of Greek myth, and doing it along explicitly Christian lines. While all of the Olympian gods make an appearance, they are only mute set pieces to the central struggle between Zeus/Jehovah and Hades/Satan (as in Disney's Hercules (1997)), and the clash of Perseus, the son of Zeus/Jehovah, with the monstrous Kraken, the son of Hades/Satan, in what amounts to an odd rehashing of the Christ vs. Anti-Christ tale. It's a bizarre twist to put on classical mythology and I'm not sure what if any point the filmmakers are trying to make. Most likely it was just a failure of imagination on their part.

As an action movie the film is workmanlike in it's deployment of the requisite scenes of monsters and sword fights. The costume and set design are very well done and help give the proceedings the proper atmosphere. The portrayal of Medusa is a highpoint (and interestingly her origin story is the only one that is faithful to the original myth), though she has the same lamia like body she did in the first film (and her sisters are again nowhere to be seen). The various other monsters are also well done, although the Stygian Witches, while creepy looking, feature in a dud scene. The biggest disappointment is the Kraken, which though impressive looking is given far too little screen time. It is released, thrashes the city for a couple minutes, then Perseus wastes it. It's all very anti-climactic.

For the most part the movie relies too much on the 3D gimmick of having something cominrightatcha! A giant scorpion bursts through some ruins and is cominrightatcha! One character tosses a spear to another and it's cominrightatcha! Someone tosses a gold coin and it's cominrightatcha! This wouldn't be so bad if it were in addition to strong characters and plotting, like that old movie It Came from Outer Space (1953). But Perseus (in addition to an anachronistic buzz cut) comes across as surly and petulant while the ragtag band of soldiers accompanying him are forgettable stock characters. Only Io (who is not the Io of legend but a sort of feminine Wandering Jew) has any personality.

As for the storyline, it is a peculiar tale of mortals revolting against the Gods. This opposition to the Gods is emphasized again and again, and Perseus even refuses to use a magic sword because he wants to succeed "as a man." That is until the climax of the film when he suddenly does an abrupt volte face and uses both the sword and the power of Zeus to banish Hades. This is followed by him having a cordial conversation with Zeus, all of which completely undercuts the films previous strident denunciation of Gods. The result is an incoherent mess that makes no sense except as an excuse for sword fights and monster hunting.

And another weird twist is that in the end Persus declines to marry Andromeda because he doesn't want to be a king. This is an extension of the movie's incoherent attempt at anti-authoritarianism, but it means that Hercules, the great-grandson of Persus and Andromeda, will never be born. This film is really, really determined to rewrite the whole mythology.

All told, Clash of the Titans is only slightly better than routine SeeFee channel fare like Minotaur, Cyclops, or Odysseus and the Isle of the Mists. It's a moderately entertaining but very shallow film that amounts to little more than a string of attention-getting SFX scenes.

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