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Friday, April 02, 2010

Clash of the Titans

If ever there was a movie that needed a big shot of silly spectacle to make it work, it's this one. Oh, it has its moments. I smiled when the giant scorpions rose up from the ground, and started attacking our heroes like rejects from a 1950s horror film. I also reveled in the sight of seeing actors like Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes hamming it up as Greek Gods, and bellowing lines like "Release the Kraken!" with theatrical flair. Clash of the Titans needed more of this. In its current form, it's too leaden and underdeveloped to truly indulge in its own silliness.

picThe film itself is a loose remake of a 1981 film that probably seemed cheesy and outdated even when it came out, but has gone on to become a cult classic. The new movie stays fairly faithful to the ideals of the original. It's a big, dumb take on Greek Mythology with lots of monsters, special effects, and questionable acting. The movie's obviously been given a new coat of paint, thanks to the CG special effects, which do an admirable job of bringing the various monsters and creatures to life. While Ray Harryhausen's stop motion effects in the original have their charm, I dare anyone not to say there was room for improvement, which this movie provides. It also gives us something I don't think anyone needed - unnecessary 3D. In an attempt to cash in on the recent trend, Warner Bros. performed a very quick transition to take advantage of 3D technology at the last minute, and it shows. It's distracting, it makes the visuals muddy and dark, and it adds absolutely nothing whatsoever to the film itself. If the viewer has a choice, I say go with the 2D version. You'll save money, get a better picture, and won't have to wear those glasses for the entire movie.

picThe plot, obviously, is utter nonsense, which makes it mysterious as to why the movie spends so much time setting it up. It's set in a time of man and Ancient Gods, and as the film opens, man is starting to get tired of the treatment from the Gods on Mount Olympus. The Gods seem to take whatever they want, bring disaster and famine, and still expect the people to worship them. There are cries of rebellion amongst the people, and now the head God Zeus (Neeson) is starting to grow restless. His brother Hades (Fiennes) offers a suggestion - He goes down to the city of Argos (where the Queen recently made the blasphemous comment that her daughter, Andromeda, is more beautiful than any of the Gods), and tells them that unless Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) is sacrificed, the Gods will unleash their most terrible beast, the Kraken, upon them. The King of Argos sends a small band of warriors on a journey to find a way to defeat the Kraken. Amongst those men is Perseus (Sam Worthington), a Demigod who just happens to be the son of Zeus, and holds a personal grudge against Hades after he killed his adopted human father (Pete Posthelthwaite).

picClash of the Titans wastes little time on things like character and plot development. We learn how Perseus came to be - How Zeus disguised himself as a mortal, and had sex with a mortal woman. We don't really learn why he did this, it just shows it happening in a flashback. We learn what happened to the woman who gave birth to Perseus, and what ultimately happened to her husband (who became enraged with Zeus, and tried to kill his wife and son as a result), but none of it makes much sense. This is a movie that likes to give us just the bare details, then move on. No problem. I'm fine with that, as long as the spectacle's there. There are some nice effects-driven scenes, such as the previously mentioned scorpion battle, and the sequence where Perseus tames the winged horse, Pegasus. But all too often, the movie meanders, focusing on lifeless dialogue between the heroes. Not one of the characters reaches a second dimension in terms of development, so it's kind of hard to pull for them to see it to the end of the journey.

picWe see potential everywhere. When Perseus and his soldiers venture to the Underworld to track down Medusa, the movie actually manages to build some short-lived tension. It gives you the feeling of the kind of spectacle this movie could have been. Everything about the movie keeps on selling itself short, though. The characters are bone dry, as are the things they talk about. Maybe this is why most of the cast (especially Worthington) appear to be phoning it in here. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes at least seem to be enjoying themselves, and know just how much to ham it up and when to pull back, but they're not utilized enough. In fact, even though Hades is treated as the overall villain (he's secretly plotting against Zeus to gain control of Olympus), he never comes across as a real threat. A big part of this has to do with how little he has to do here, and how quickly he's written out of the film in a highly anticlimactic "final battle".
In fact, the entire final 10 minutes of Clash of the Titans feels extremely rushed and choppy. Yeah, the Kraken looks great when it's finally revealed, but it's not enough to cover up the overall feeling that the filmmakers are racing to tie up every loose end as quickly as possible. Is this a terrible movie? Far from it. In fact, in some ways, it's an improvement on the original. (Not saying much, I know.) But at the same time, this should have been a lot more fun than it is.

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