Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Clash of the Titans / **½ (PG-13)

Perseus: Sam Worthington
Io: Gemma Arterton
Draco: Mads Mikkelsen
Andromeda: Alexa Davalos
Calibos/Acrisius: Jason Flemyng
Hades: Ralph Fiennes
Zeus: Liam Neeson

Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Louis Leterrier. Written by Travis Beacham and Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi. Based on the 1981 screenplay by Beverley Cross. Running time: 118 min. Rated PG-13 (for fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief sensuality).

As we try to navigate this difficult movie age of the remake/reboot, a lot of criticism has been thrown at the progress of the CGI special effects that have replaced more ‘traditional’ forms of special effects. I believe this is an area where it is time to start employing the term ‘classic’ ahead of ‘traditional’. I think CGI is an easy scapegoat here when the blame lies more in the filmmakers not having to be more creative in other areas to distract from deficiencies in the special effects department.

“Clash of the Titans” promises to be a popular battlefield on this subject because of the particular classic nature of the 1981 film’s special effects. Instead of employing the state of the art FX technology, the filmmakers of the original “Clash” opted to go with a more classic approach for that time by utilizing the stop motion animation techniques popularized in much older B movies by the man who created the form, Ray Harryhausen. I mean no disrespect to the man whom without his work we could never have reached the pinnacle of SFX technology that we have today, but even in 1981, his style was a bit chintzy. Yet critics around the country have cited those effects as one of the original’s charms that this remake lacks.

The fact is the new “Clash of the Titans” looks great. What it lacks lies internally rather than with the pictures on the screen. As CGI dominates more and more of the Hollywood blockbuster images, their innards seem to be becoming more soulless. As we get further away from classic forms of visual effects, the charms of the SFX films of the 80s become more apparent. It isn’t the herky-jerky movements and techniques of those times that we are missing in today’s extravaganzas, but the script and plot elements used to cover them up. Any SFX film from the 80s had a liberal dose of humor to go along with it. This “Clash of the Titans”, like so many other blockbusters today, is humorless.

Every development in this film is approached with reverential seriousness by the characters and screenplay. This is too bad considering how utterly absurd the plot is. The illegitimate son of Zeus, Perseus (Sam Worthington, “Avatar”), loses the family who raised him when humans knock a giant statue of Zeus into the ocean on top of their fishing boat. The humans, of the city Argos, are revolting against the gods after years of servitude.

Meanwhile, the gods stand around on Mount Olympus playing games with the humans in what is essentially a family feud between the brothers Zeus (Liam Neeson, “Taken”) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes, “The Reader”). There is a third brother, Poseidon, who seems to be AWOL; although the producers went to the trouble of hiring the excellent Danny Huston (“The Constant Gardner”) to utter his two lines. Zeus gives the inhabitants of Argos ten days to straighten out their acts and start worshiping him again before he unleashes Hades’s pet, the Kraken, on them. Hades also volunteers to stir up the humans against each other during the ten-day period. Can’t Zeus smell a trap being set by his brother as revenge for denying him a spot in Olympus with the other gods? What kind of an idiot god king is Zeus anyway?

So it becomes the duty of Perseus to stop the Kraken from destroying Argos and by default save his father’s skin. Why Perseus? Because being Zeus’s son makes him a demigod, not a mere mortal; although the differences are never really made clear here. He doesn’t have to train to be a good swordfighter. That seems to be the main difference, that and he can ride a horse with wings.

I make fun because the film does such a poor job of it. There are a couple attempts at humor that never quite rise to the surface. The first is a reference to the 1981 film. When the soldiers are suiting up to travel to the underworld, where the only weapon that can defeat the Kraken can be found, Perseus picks up a mechanical owl and asks what it is. Draco (Mads Mikkelsen, “Casino Royale”), the leader of the Argos army, simply tells him to leave it there. If you don’t know why this should be funny, then you do know why it isn’t.

The screenwriters also employ a comic relief team, ala R2D2 and C3PO, in the form of two hunters who join the soldiers in their journey to the underworld. These two are so underutilized I couldn’t even tell you what their names are. They are obviously an attempt to add levity to the proceedings, but the only person with less to do in this screenplay than them is Danny Huston.

Despite it’s lack of a soul, “Clash of the Titans” might be forgiven by some because it actually delivers exactly what it promises with scene upon scene of overblown, awesome, giant, CGI action. To it’s credit, Hades is actually very effectively executed as a godlike presence, and Ralph Fiennes gives more of a performance than the role even deserves with his wheezing, crouched frame. However, without any humor thrown into the mix, the whole thing only seems that much more silly. Who raised these gods anyway? I hope their parents are as disappointed in them as I am.

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