Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Film Review - CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010)
Screenplay by Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Based on a 1981 screenplay by Beverley Cross
Directed by Louis Leterrier
As much of a Ray Harryhausen fan as I am, I hold no special place in my heart for the 1981 Clash of the Titans; if anything, the memory brings more heartsickness than anything else, as I recall the hostile reviews that labeled the FX master's work as "dated" and "jerky." But let's ask the detractors - In 1981 pre-CGI Hollywood, how would you have brought the Kraken to life? A guy in a rubber suit? We were almost a decade away from a simple water tentacle, and rubberized in-camera effects were the only other game in town. So if someone wants to fire up the laptop and bring the Medusa to stupefying life, I say show me what ya got.
And truly, what is Greek mythology if not a series of Spielbergian set pieces? Quests are episodic, battles have a beginning and an end, and as long as there is an Olympus, there will always be a need for flowing robes and dry ice. In this respect, our 2010 version of Clash of the Titans nails its mark, as each scene calls out not so much for a review as for a judges' score, giving new meaning to the term Olympic Competition. Anyone looking for great depth of message and character development should probably keep walking down the hall of the cineplex -- although this CotT pares its characters right down to the bone, and that always means some muscle is sacrificed. And trust me, Perseus - you're gonna need that muscle.
French director Louis Leterrier - who never got enough credit for producing a watchable Hulk - keeps the comic book pages flipping quickly, and you'd better play close attention to Io (Gemma Arterton), Demigoddess of Exposition, whose role is to follow young Perseus' (Sam Worthington) path upon this earth and be there when the time comes to, eh, ease his storm. Perseus is also a demigod, sprung forth from the loins of Zeus (Liam Neeson, who could have shot all his footage within a day or two), destined to serve as the man in the middle when those aforementioned Titans clash. Adopted by Pete Postlethwaite and Elizabeth McGovern when the sea gives up the tiny infant, a grown Perseus later seeks to avenge their deaths - collateral damage at the hands of Hades (Ralph Fiennes, sounding in need of a good multi-vitamin). This leads to all the encounters we anticipate from mythology - the Pegasus, the Stygian witches, giant scorpions springing up from the blood of Calibos. (There's also a funny Bubo gag that is, literally, a throwaway.) Pity that we no longer advertise movies with such exclamations as "SEE! The Medusa, whose lethal gaze turns brave warriors to stone!" That's what CotT does...and not a whole hell of a lot more.
I like Sam Worthington. I like that he projects this "I'm just showing up and doing my job here" attitude that feels right for a project like this. Blessed with impeccable bone structure and a stubble that neither ebbs nor grows, he's an unassuming presence that never feels as self-inflated as, say, Brad Pitt in Troy. (He also can't be bothered masking his Aussie accent for the length of a complete sentence, but the film is such a polyglot of dialects that it's not that glaring.) While I really wanted to see him tame the Pegasus and take him out for an initial test run, Worthington has probably played that Breaking a Beast that's Not Really There card for the once-a-decade that he's allowed. Let me go on record as saying what many others have - Time to ditch the blue-screen, Sam. I have a sneaking suspicion we won't be disappointed.
But I'll close this review with one great disappointment; seldom have the beautiful isles of the Aegean looked so drab, so uninviting. Were I a member of Greece's tourism board, I would be writing a very strongly worded letter to Warner Brothers - Tenerife may be lovely, but it's not Greece. And that is the sad fact of contemporary FX - they read better in a haze of gray. For whatever limitations Harryhausen's creations may have exhibited, they were often seen in pure, crisp sunlight (except for Medusa, whose shadowy chills in the original remain unsurpassed by the remake's overly-complicated, overwrought execution). And I also - apparently wisely - bypassed the opportunity to see Clash of the Titans in now-infamously shabby 3-D. The Kraken's attack on Argos was impressive enough without the added dimension, thank you, and if there's anything I learned by watching Sam and CGI in 3-D this past winter, I get a thunderstorm of a migraine that even Io can't ease. Could it be grander? Yes. Could it be more glorious? Yes. Could it be more colorful? Hell yes. But in an era when FX epics go off the rails more frequently than not, praised be Zeus that Clash of the Titans, like Perseus / Sam, gets the job done.