Real Clash in ‘Titans’ Remake is Keeping Eyes Open

(2010) dir. Louis Leterrier

Beefed up, as heroes and monsters are these days, the new re-make of 1981’s ‘Clash of the Titans‘ is a reverent-but-soulless endeavor in pop “summer movie” cinema.

The original, which has gotten much wistful and cynical criticism in the release of this new “Titan,” was the final film featuring the stop-motion animation special effects of the legendary and now anachronistic Ray Harryhausen.  It was a swan song not fully worthy of Harryhausen, whose effects in his Sinbad films (‘The 7th Voyage of Sinbad‘ [1958] and ‘The Golden Voyage of Sinbad‘ [1974] & ‘Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger‘ [1977]) and his masterpiece, ‘Jason and the Argonauts‘ (1963) are the stuff of greatness and much influence even in today’s industry.  The bottom line: as this wasn’t exactly tampering with a classic, director Louis Leterrier got carte blanche in terms of what he could do.

The story is of Perseus, demi-god and son of Zeus, who is raised by humans, but then faced with a full-on battle between the Greek gods of Olympus and the people of Argos, who have forsaken the gods.  Isn’t it great to see history come alive?

Actually, the story is a pastiche of mythologies, but oddly enough, Greek mythology is big with kids these days, stemming from a myriad of popular books, including, no doubt, ‘Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief‘ (2010), a film which opened only a few weeks prior to this one.  A few things are depicted in both films, such as crossing the river Styx and the chopping off of medusa’s head.  So this film had a lot of potential going for it, in that it has the kiddie zeitgeist combined with a free reign to go crazy with swords & sorcery bombast and FX.

But it’s really barely tolerable. The original starred Harry Hamlin who looked like he came from a Pert shampoo commercial wearing a toga.  This new one stars the Aussie Sam Worthington (he of ‘Terminator Salvation‘ [2009] and ‘Avatar‘ [2009]), crew-cut, studly, charmless.  And the gods, the super-shiny Zeus, played by Liam Neeson, and the lurchy, hunchbacked Hades, played by Ralph Fiennes, stroll around on Olympus with less character than costume.

Really, the damn thing is a lot of ‘Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,’ what with the demi-god hero whose missing-in-action God father has made him a snarky rebel.  And he’s got to fight some of the same monsters.  But the monsters, while no longer stop-motion animation, are now your typical digital effects and design creatures, no better, no worse, and only partially distinguishable from others pumped out in hundreds of movies.

(My son Felix liked it pretty well.  I mean, he’s kind of target audience.  But again, I don’t think it’s terribly memorable.)

What is semi-interesting in this film is this rather clear subtext about the need for the gods, or the lack thereof.  In the original film, there is a realization by the gods that one day people will not believe in them anymore and they will cease to exist, more a comment on a passé belief system than one that is potentially referential to real, present-day issues.  But in Leterrier’s film, the constant drumbeat of how the gods don’t do anything for us, that Perseus wants to remain “a man” and fight for his mortal brothers pushes this issue further.  Ultimately, there is a Jesus-like zealot in Argos who wants everyone to “repent” and to sacrifice the princess Andromeda as the gods demand, wanting to perpetuate the state of the belief system.  It’s a bit like a critique of other belief systems, not just one on screen that’s a couple millennia-dead.

One noteworthy tidbit that struck me as surprising:  Leterrier, whose previous work includes ‘The Transporter 2’ (2005) and ‘The Incredible Hulk‘ (2008) isn’t particularly a filmmaker of note.  And ‘Clash of the Titans’, in my mind, isn’t going to help that, though its commercial success (which I am guessing will be there), perhaps will.

In the post-‘Gladiator’ (2000) world, art directors have found a way to make wearing skirts (togas) manly again, what with lots of armor and a case of abs.  But for Worthington, who seemed a bit more interesting in his other roles, it’s like that is all that he is.  Charmless, humanistic, and hunky.  But he does end up with the beautiful knockout Io (Gemma Arterton). So at least being a demi-god has some perks.

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