1981’s Clash of the Titans, directed by Desmond Davis and starring Laurence Olivier as Zeus, was a campy and largely forgotten retelling of the legend of Perseus, best remembered today as the last major film to feature Ray Harryhausen’s fantastic stop-motion creature effects. What better tribute to the visual effects master than a messy remake full of nonstop CGI?
So Louis Leterrier’s remake, which features computer-generated monsters like the kraken, medusa, and giant scorpions, doesn’t quite have the charm of the original. But that’s OK; the CGI here is as accomplished as it needs to be, Leterrier handles the action competently, and it’s fun to see a semi-serious attempt at Greek mythology in a major Hollywood blockbuster.
The one real problem with this Clash of the Titans is the script, which suffers from that big-budget too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen syndrome. The resulting film is an unfortunate mess in terms of narrative thread, character development, and overall theme. Writers Travis Beacham, Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi are credited with the final product, but they may not be completely at fault; apparently, the film was completely retooled in post-production (which included a conversion to 3D – see 3D note below).
One more thing about the screenplay: I’m not up to speed on all my Greek mythology, but this version of the Perseus story – despite keeping the monsters and names – bares little semblance to the classic tale.
I can see why they wouldn’t want to stick to the 1981 film, but why the filmmakers try to completely reinvent this story through a conventional modern narrative, when they have this wonderful source material at their disposal that has been told and retold and proven itself over the last 2500 years, well, that I cannot explain.
In 2010’s Clash of the Titans, Perseus is played by Sam Worthington, fresh off Avatar and Terminator Salvation and as out of place here as Harry Hamlin was in the original. Not that he’s bad: whatever Worthington’s failures as an actor may be (and he hasn’t exactly had the chance to display range in these high-profile roles), he’s a legitimate movie star, with all the requisite charm and swagger that entails.
While his buzz cut, clean cut appearance doesn’t exactly match that of his costars, his attractive, inherently likable presence in the lead role grounds the movie. Liam Neeson plays Zeus, who’s fed up with mankind’s disobedience and allows brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) to put some fear back into the residents of Argos (Danny Huston is the third brother, Poseidon, in a role that must’ve ended up on the cutting room floor).
Hades kills off Perseus’ adoptive family (for no reason whatsoever) before threatening to unleash the deadly Kraken unless upon the city unless the residents make a sacrifice of the beautiful princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos).
So Perseus sets out to kill Hades as revenge for killing his family (the, uh, impossibility of killing an immortal god notwithstanding), and maybe he’ll save Argos and Andromeda on his way.
That doesn’t sound quite right, but that’s what we have here, as a variety of ideas converge into senselessness. We’ve also got Io (Gemma Arterton) as a bizarre love interest for Perseus (his love interest should be Andromeda, but she’s all but forgotten here), which I nevertheless enjoyed for the awkward and unusual relationship between Perseus and Io; that and Arterton and Worthington have some real chemistry together.
This all sets up the one aspect of Clash of the Titans that really works, a long and adventurous midsection that sees Perseus fighting alongside a group of Argos warriors led by Draco (Mads Mikkelsen) on a quest that will eventually lead them to the gorgon Medusa.
The camaraderie between Perseus and the warriors, the creatures they meet along their journey, and multiple fight scenes comprise almost all of the film’s (not inconsiderate) value. It’s a mess, yeah, but there’s some fun to be had.
3D Note: Clash of the Titans is playing in 2D and 3D versions on Prague screens; both versions are in English with Czech subtitles. However, the 3D version of Clash – which was converted during post-production (the film was originally shot and conceived in 2D) – was widely panned as an unsatisfying rush job. I made a point to catch the 2D version, which the above review refers to.