Jan 29, 2016
Clash of the Titans (2010): Release the cheese
2010’s Clash of the Titans is a terrible film. It’s terrible, it’s crap, but I couldn’t help but watch it until the end, because train wrecks are always hypnotizing. As a remake of 1981’s equally bad (but still kind of charming) Clash of the Titans, it seems this wreck was one anyone could see coming; however, it still became a huge hit. This is mostly because in the wake of the success of Avatar, and the public’s sudden (and ultimately brief) hunger for all things three-dimensional, the film’s release was postponed for a month for post-production conversion to 3D. The delay paid off, and the movie did well enough to warrant a sequel, which I’m almost certain is a film that actually exists.
But this is a review of Clash of the Titans, directed by Louis Leterrier and starring Avatar’s Sam Worthington (a name you can trust!) as Perseus, Gemma Arterton as the priestess/nymph Io, and Academy Award nominees Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes as Zeus and Hades, respectively. It may also star other people, but they would likely appreciate me not mentioning them here.
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As we learn from the opening voiceover, Clash of the Titans is based on a true story. Before humans, gods created the universe, and now Poseidon rules the seas, Zeus controls the skies, and Hades rules Hell after being tricked by Zeus into taking the job. And you thought human office politics were treacherous.
Zeus creates humans to worship the gods, but as time goes on, they begin to question their beliefs and rebel against their deities. We then cut to a fisherman as he discovers a baby and his dead mother floating at sea in a wooden coffin. The baby, soon named Perseus, is taken under the sailor’s wing, and becomes part of the guy’s family.
We then meet Perseus as an adult, and before long, his life is turned upside down when winged Furies sink his family’s boat. These Furies were unleashed due to the citizens of the nearby city of Argos toppling a statue of Zeus, and Zeus promptly having Hades reprimand them for their disloyalty.
Perseus is the only survivor of this attack, and he’s soon rescued by a band of soldiers. He’s taken to meet King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia of Argos, who happen to be hosting a banquet for their daughter Andromeda. During the festivities, the queen proclaims that her daughter is more beautiful than even the goddess Aphrodite, and before you know it, the gods ruin the occasion in retaliation.
With permission from Zeus, Hades crashes the party and decides to liven things up by killing the queen and threatening to release the Kraken, a giant monstrous monster from Hell, unless they sacrifice Andromeda to the gods. And before taking off, Hades blurts out to everyone that Perseus is actually the son of Zeus, and thus a demigod.
Perseus then gets a visit from Io, an ageless priestess who once turned down a god’s advances and was subsequently “cursed” with looking like a 23-year-old Gemma Arterton for the rest of eternity. Io has kept watch over Perseus since his birth, and she knows that as a demigod, only he can defeat the gods’ plan to destroy the city. She instructs Perseus to go on a quest to find out how to kill the Kraken.
He and several soldiers set out to visit three blind witches, who hold the secret to beating the Kraken. On the way there, they duke it out with Calibos, the guy who originally tossed Perseus and his mom into the sea (with flashbacks revealing how he was cuckolded by Zeus). But Calibos has been infused with the dark energy of Hades and become a monster. And now, when his blood hits the sand, giant CGI scorpions appear to battle our heroes. These scorpions are soon tamed by the Djinn, a band of stone-faced sorcerers who live in the desert.
Once they meet the witches, the group is told to hunt down Medusa, a weirdly sexy snake-haired gorgon who can turn anyone to stone with just a look. Her powers work even after death, and thus they can use her severed head to similarly petrify the Kraken. Many bloody battles follow, a winged horse named Pegasus (a black horse in this version, for some reason) randomly shows up to help our hero, and the Kraken may or may not be released.
The best thing I can say about this movie is that it’s entertaining enough. It’s absolutely ridiculous, but the story moves along quickly enough that you never get bored. You might find it worth watching, provided nothing better’s on. This remake also got the phrase “Release the Kraken!” reintroduced into pop culture, though even that line seems anticlimactic in the film when compared with its parodies. I’m stretching for positives here, so let’s move on.
As an action movie, this film fails to deliver the goods. The slow-motion sequences are tiresome, and the effects are lackluster at best. The original Clash of the Titans had stop-motion effects provided by Ray Harryhausen, which were fantastic at the time but look rather quaint today. I was interested in seeing what this story would be like with more polished special effects, but the bad CGI on display was mostly a disappointment. I realize visual effects aren’t everything, but when the script is this bad, I’m not sure what else I’m supposed to be focusing on here.
How bad is the script? Well, the entire screenplay appears to be devoid of words with more than two syllables, and every other word is a god’s name. “Zeus! Mumble mumble plot point: Hades!” It appears the filmmakers decided early on that nobody would be coming to a movie like this for the memorable dialogue. And going by the performances, everyone in the cast was in total agreement.
But maybe this film doesn’t deserve such harsh criticism. After all, the original wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, and it’s still fondly remembered. However, the primary difference is that the original never pretended to be anything but pure cheese, and as a cheesy movie, it’s kind of fun. The remake, on the other hand, remains serious all the way until the tepid end. It wants to be an enjoyable action film, yet nearly every fight is like an outtake from 300. Other than a few scattered one-liners, there’s really no humor and no joy to be had here.
And it feels like all of the changes from the original were done in service of this new, anti-fun agenda. The mechanical owl Bubo, one of the more memorable “stars” of the original, is now reduced to a brief cameo where Perseus finds him in a pile of junk and then tosses him aside. Also in the original, Princess Andromeda accompanied Perseus on his quest, and we got enjoyably cornball scenes where love blossomed between them. Here, Andromeda stays home, and at the end of the film, Perseus and Andromeda are essentially strangers to each other.
There are a lot of other haphazard changes from the original, and the end result may be more “serious” and “adult”, but it’s also mostly boring. If you’re going to remake Clash of the Titans, for Zeus’ sake, embrace the silliness! The forced melodrama is enough to turn off most viewers, and in the end, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to see this film more than once.