Remaking a beloved classic such as the 1981 fantasy epic Clash of the Titans is no small task. Considering the technological advancements in special effects that have been made since Desmond Davis called action on that first shot, or since Ray Harryhausen made that first stop-motion model, is mind-blowing in its own right. In the year 2010, a Clash of the Titans should be something spectacular to say the very least. There is also the fan service, the respect that must be paid to the original through winks, nods and intelligent transfer of story elements. All of this, and you have to make an entertaining, larger-than-life movie. For any director — even for someone who delivered such a great piece of action-adventure with The Incredible Hulk like Louis Leterrier — this would be a daunting task. Luckily, Leterrier had help, before and after the fact. Sadly, that’s where much of the problems occurred.
Prior to Leterrier calling action came the script from Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. Their story is a slightly different take on the original, and not without a bit of imagination. In this updated version, Perseus (Sam Worthington) is still the son of Zeus, a demi-god who must be enlisted by the kingdom of Argos to fight against the gods. They’ve done everything in their power to anger Zeus (Liam Neeson), Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Poseidon (a criminally underused Danny Huston) — and now they face a situation in which they must choose between their kingdom and their lovely Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos). When the moon cycle is through, the Kraken (a big, gnarly beast from which there is no escape) will rise and only the blood of the princess or the destruction of the kingdom will satiate his hunger.
So an adventure is afoot, and Perseus sets out — as he tells us over and over, “as a man” — to find a way to defeat the Kraken and save Argos. This is where things begin to stray away from the original film. For one, Perseus is accompanied by Io (Gemma Arterton), a sage-like woman with smooth skin and a knack for long bouts of exposition. This is also where the little nods to the original film begin, including a very unimaginative cameo from Bubo the electronic owl, who was the hero of the 1981 film. It is the first of many “hey, look at this” moments in the film that feel arbitrary in placement, and even more arbitrary in execution. Why nod to the fans if it is at the expense of developing your story? This is a film that doesn’t answer some questions.
It does answer for itself as an action movie. In fact, if it succeeds anywhere it is within the action scenes. While they feel haphazardly strung together by paper-thin character development, the action scenes are larger than life. They are also intensified by Ramin Djawadi’s sometimes brilliant, other times awful score. From giant crabs to Jason Fleming’s dirty performance as Calibos, the dangers along the way are the most interesting. The scene in which Perseus and his squad of seemingly forgettable travel companions face off against the giant crabs is the film’s shining moment, a sequence in which our heroes are faced with real, fast-moving danger. They do it, as Perseus continues to explain throughout the film, “as men!”
Then come the familiar faces — the Stygian witches, Medusa, the flying horse Pegasus and ultimately the Kraken. This is where the break in audience engagement happens. For fans of the original, the designs of these characters — and the stories around them — will be terribly uninspired. Medusa is a comical creature, as plastic as she was in 1981 without ever being scary. She’s one of those CGI characters who look just like a CGI character, and not in a good way. Pegasus is brilliantly conceived and fluid — and also quite substantial when he first appears, but his role in the film is limited. And his key moment of influence on the story is the most forced element of a plot that feels shoved on screen with the force of a thousand men. That’s not to mention the fact that this updated Clash pays little attention to the story of the Gods, and more attention to humans. One piece of the puzzle that would have been more interesting would have been more time spent on Mt. Olympus, a wonderful and vibrant recreation of where Sir Lawrence Olivier stood in ’81. But alas, that is not the case in 2010.
And finally, the Kraken. Where Harryhausen’s Kraken had character — even though he was a big plastic toy — this grandiose CGI Kraken is an amorphous blob of dark gray skin. Sure, he’s loud, but he’s most intimidating when he is rising out of the water — when all we can see of him are his crab legs and octopus-life tentacles. When he finally rises for the big battle, all of the possible cool-factor of this movie has been washed away by the spiritless design of his upper body features. All that remains is an anti-climactic ending that fails mostly because the characters are underdeveloped shells of heroes, and we don’t really care what happens to them in the end, anyway.
There is also the 3D problem, which is worth mentioning since Warner Bros. saw fit to ensure that critics saw the film with the added dimension. This film could easily lead the case against post-production 3D. There is no depth added to any of the sequences, nothing that inspires awe in the audience. There are several moments when characters turn heads and their necks are elongated due to the poorly rendered 3D. It all feels unnecessary, as any gimmick might, and it’s damaging to the experience of the film.
I can’t help but think that if I’d seen the film in 2D, that I may have enjoyed it more. Clash of the Titans is an otherwise passable adventure film that survives its many problems with energetic action sequences and spurts of charismatic performance, even from Sam Worthington. It’s exactly the kind of middling epic that will delight moviegoers (especially impressionable youngsters) who aren’t intimately familiar with the original. It’s loud, flashy and filled with one-liners like “Don’t look this bitch in the eye,” (Perseus referring to Medusa, of course). It’s problem is its gimmick, which feels as rushed and poorly developed as its plot.
The Upside: Some of the action works, and is at times exciting.
The Downside: The experience is damaged by the 3D element, but would already be in a bad place based on its poorly constructed story and haphazardly arranged action beats.
On the Side: Director Louis Leterrier frequently requested that Ray Harryhausen, co-producer and visual effects creator of Clash of the Titans, be involved in the film. However, Harryhausen had retired in 1981 and would not be drawn back.