Friday, 16 April 2010

Film Review: Clash of the Titans

DISCLAIMER: I know I’m trying to shorten my reviews but in this particular case I’ve got a lot to get off my chest, which even then still isn’t long enough, so apologies.

(Directed by Louis Leterrier, running time 118 minutes)

Greek Mythology is somewhat of an oddity for film makers, while it provides a ready selection of mythical creatures, legendary heroes and a sizable pantheon of Gods, the originally stories themselves don’t translate to the moving picture in the slightest sense if reverence is on the agenda. Arguably the best attempt at bringing life to the ancient fables was the 1963 Jason and the Argonauts, one of the first “swords and sandals” epics and easily featuring the best of stop-motion wizard Ray Harryhausen. However liberties were taken to give life to the exaggerated tales of old. His second Greek outing (no, not like that) however came in 1981 in the form of Clash of the Titans. Unlike Argonauts, the spectacle however was not the best acted or even groundbreaking, in fact it was a step back for special effects at the time. But why is it still remembered? Charm and camp value, which makes it a cult classic that being the case would make me “Brother Frank”.

A remake however is not a farfetched concept since Greek Mythology can also be epic, just look at the God of War video game series. The original Clash of the Titans however wasn’t actually much of an epic story to begin with so naturally any attempt at making it epic would either mean taking liberties or over doing the grand scale of story itself... where this 2010 incarnation does neither.

By all means does the screenplay take liberties with the original story (which took liberties of its own with the original legend so for all those familiar with the genuine text; you’ll stop grinding your teeth after 20 minutes) but this does not involve inserting some epic battle sequences. Sam Worthington, having washed off his Smurf make-up plays Perseus, the bastard child of Zeus (played by Liam Neeson), who after losing his adoptive family and ship is swept ashore the kingdom of Argos that initially relishes in it’s independence from the Gods not long before they’re groveling at the feet of Hades (played by Ralph Fiennes) who demands a sacrifice for the Kraken, lest they be completely obliterated. So naturally this set up leads Perseus and co on a grand adventure to stop potential annihilation, overcoming many obstacles in the form of mythical beasts... or “big bad beasties” using Hollywood logic.

Already I’m questioning the plausibility of this set up. The writers themselves must have been in the mind set of “this happens because it was in the original” since a number of scenes played out in 1981 that don’t make sense in 2010. The most glaring of these is why is Perseus even on this journey? In the original, Perseus is out to save his beloved Andromeda and his soon to be kingdom while nearly 30 years later he is just out for revenge for the death of his family at the hands of Hades despite his quest not involving the goal of killing said Godof the Underworld. Further more upon his arrival at Argos he is treated like a scraping from under their sandal that begs the question why help them, especially since the people are bringing the wrath of Zeus upon themselves to the point of borderline painting a giant middle finger on the mountain side. The second issue is not so obvious since the plot element doesn’t come up much... and that is why it’s a problem. In 1981 the cursed beast Calibos is the whole reason the Kraken is summoned while in 2010 he is nothing more than a bribed peon of Hades, a tacked on reference to the original (although I will admit the mechanical owl joke was pretty clever). And thirdly Pegasus, the winged horse just turns up at the end sent by Zeus after a change of heart, there is no developed bond from the original making the creature more of a tool than a companion. I could name many others but I digress, in short it appears the film is so eager to get of the ground and wow audiences, there is no time to rationalize the legitimacy of the basic script. I’m not saying the original’s was perfect, but it was at least coherent.

Ok, so the script is clearly flawed but what about the characters? In a positive spin, the beauty part is there is definitely a band of interesting characters, that are built up from the start with different traits and backgrounds... slight problem however. Without giving away who and how, a good chunk are arbitrarily killed off making all that screen time building them up pointless if their deaths were so insignificant, screen time that could of been used developing the story itself. The acting is... ok. Not cringe worthy but tolerable... at times. The biggest chip on my shoulder is the Greek Gods themselves. Now Neeson and Fiennes are perfectly acceptable but why are they dressed like a camp stage theater retelling of King Arthur? What happened to the togas, the auroras of thunder, giant muscles and general sense of power? Why do the pantheon congregate over a landscape for train sets? They may act like Gods, heck the much touted line “release the Kraken” does pack a punch, but they don’t look like Gods.

This really isn’t going well?

CGI then. Thankfully, unlike the rendition of Olympus, the landscape does invoke the epic scale of Greek Mythology with the city of Argos alone rivaling that of the Lord of the Rings Minas Tirith. Even the desolate lands where twisted old witches reside comes off more as the shores of hell (or Hades). As for the inevitable monster mash, the bands of warriors plow through giant scorpions, harpies, Medusa and of course the Kraken, although the course is a little light, lacking the 1981 giant hawk and two-headed dog. In their place however are mysterious, almost wood like sand people who actually ally themselves with our heroes, which to their credit are at least visually striking and unique. The Kraken is defiantly the highlight despite like the original doing little in the way of... being the Kraken, but the hype prior is actually overbearing in a good way. Medusa however is less menacing this time around, having much less build up and sense of horror with the confrontation being more action orientated like the rest of the film. While it’s good action no doubt, it lacks any importance given the monsters before were casually despatched as mere hurdles. I mean even the sand people are immune to her powers, making her as an entity of pure dread redundant. On the up side, the giant scorpion sequence appears more important and exciting than it’s supposed to be given its significance to the overarching plot.

As a remake, if you saw the original first, you probably will be wanting more. As a stand alone film, it is deeply flawed. While action and spectacle take centre stage, the various hiccups along the road make the whole epic experience more of a bumpy ride. Since I essentially have a great gay boner for Greek Mythology (joke), I found myself crushingly disappointed. Not because of the liberties taken with the source material or the lack of charm the original film possesses but for the lack of epic scale and fantastical sense of awe that Greek Mythology is perfect for. The best case in cinema is still Jason and the Argonauts and very few things can even such the sheer spectacle of the God of War games, Greek Mythology or not. 2010 Clash of the Titans is not a straight up bad film, I’m sure there many who can enjoy it for the grand CGI fest it is since there is a lack of mythological orientated films, but the overall experience is lacking. I mean with a name like CLASH of the TITANS, you'd settle for nothing less than over the top epic scale. While I prefer not to grade or score a complex opinion like most critics, this film can best be described as around the C- range film, not too bad, but not really that good either... it’s just there for you.

Also starring Gemma Arterton, Jason Flemyng and Mads Mikkelsen.

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