Monday, April 05, 2010
Movie Review: Clash of the Titans
Easter has came and went and I managed to find a few hours in a very packed working weekend to catch the new re-make of the 1980's classic, Clash of the Titans. The original film is one of those movies that so many people have great memories of from their youth and I think this film has drawn a lot of harsh criticism for that reason. The 2010 version is directed by Louis Leterrier, best known for helming The Incredible Hulk with Ed Norton. It also stars action film up and comer Sam Worthington, who is quickly carving out a name for himself in huge blockbuster movies like Terminator Salvation and Avatar.
Clash of the Titans chronicles the adventure's of one of Ancient Greece's earliest heroes, the demi-god Perseus (Worthington), the half mortal son of the Olympic God Zeus(played by Liam Neeson). Raised by fishermen, he arrives in Argos with his family, only to watch them die at the hands of the God of the Underworld, Hades (Ralph Finnes). Hades has been allowed to attack Argos for their insolence towards the Gods and the fact that they believe themselves superior. Promising to release his beast, The Kraken, upon the city in 10 days, he vows to destroy Argos unless the daughter of the king, Andromeda, is sacrificed to the monster. Andromeda (played by Alexa Davalos) embodies all that Argos believes makes them superior to the Gods, kindness, intelligence, and a beauty to rival Aphrodite.
Perseus teams up with some of Argos best soldiers and begins a quest to find a way to stop the Kraken, as is his destiny. He is helped along the way by Io (Gemma Atherton), an immortal woman who has watched over Perseus his entire life so that he may complete his destiny. Io, together with Perseus and the soldiers of Argos, guides them along the path his quest must take. First they must consult the Furies, wise, yet crazed seers who share a single eye and can foresee the future as well. Along the way the must fight Calibos, an empowered creature of Hades who hates Perseus and the giant scorpions that spring from his blood. Thier quest takes them to the liar of Medusa, the Gorgon who live son the edge of the Underworld along the River Styx and whose gaze turns men to stone. Only after defeating these, can Perseus return to Argos to meet his greatest challenges, The Kraken and Hades himself. He also must learn to accept exactly what his is, both man and God, in one.
Overall this movie was okay in my opinion, it's a big summer action movie that admittedly I went into with very low expectations. I had heard a lot of bad things about the actual 3D effects in this film, so my review is entirely based on my traditional 2D experience. Let's look at some of the things that I thought worked. Director Leterrier really knows his way around an action scene. He can give you huge spectacle, but he also knows how to keep the direction in the shot so that you can still see what is going on. One of the problems I have with films like Transformers is how fast they cut the film. The action is moving at such a pace, you don't get to see what is actually happening. This was one of the things that Leterrier did well when he directed Transporter 2, that I really missed in the action scenes from Transporter 3. You lost focus. I also liked that the fight scenes against the giant scorpions cast a nice homage to the great Ray Harryhausen who did the stop motion effects for the original film. The fights had a fun cinematic flair to them.
Now let's look at the casting, which I thought was a little more of a mixed bag. First up, the casting choices that worked. Sam Worthington is continuing to establish himself as a growing star and certainly Clash of the Titans exemplifies his ability to work in such an effects heavy genre. He has a natural toughness that can suit him as a big budget film actor. I can easily see him developing a career along the lines of Harrison Ford, making huge genre blockbusters but never getting recognition for his acting. My only concern is that if he continues to make these CG heavy films, people won't know the actor, just the film. Hopefully he can work in some riskier roles in the future, but for now he is establishing himself as a force in this genre. The best bit of casting is Gemma Atherton as Io, Perseus' guardian and eventual love interest. Gemma is gorgeous in the role and really steals the spotlight with just the brightness of her appearance in every scene. Liam Neeson brings just the right blend to the character of Zeus. Part of him knows the campiness of the film and you can see him having fun with the role, but he does have that certain amount of gravitas to lend to scenes that need him to display the weight of a God. My only complaint in casting was in Ralph Fiennes as Hades. Fiennes is usually such a great actor and in this role it really feels like he is doing a pale version of his role as Voldemorte from the Harry Potter films. For such a great actor, it really felt like he was mailing it in, getting lost in the visual effects and not channeling any sort of real effort into the character.
As for the visual effects, I can see where people would have some gripes. I didn't partake of the 3D experience, but some of the effects shots did look a little rushed to me. While big sequences, like the Kraken and the Medusa looked great, smaller bits could have used some polish. I noticed it more in scenes on the water where a lot of times the boats didn't really look like they were floating, or in scenes on Olympus, where you never really got a sense of the grandiose halls that should be housing the gods, they looked a little plain. I also can imagine that soem of the 3D effects could have come across feeling a little forced, since the concept of converting the film to 3D came so late in post production on the film. I would imagine that a director would direct or edit an scene differently if they know the film is going to be in 3D, as opposed to otherwise.
I think one of the biggest complaints I have heard about the film is that they changed so much of the original films story to fit this one. Honestly, both films are based on the Legend of Perseus, and both films take a generous amount of liberties with the film. The original Clash of the Titans was written based on several of the Ancient Greek Legends, borrowing some points and placing them in a single context around Perseus and Andromeda. They didn't even stop at Greek Legends, as technically the Kraken is Scandinavian in origin. Still the original film de-railed itself from the myth as well, changing the sea monster from a giant whale to the Kraken, adding in more mythological monsters, changing the fates of Perseus and Andromeda. It seems kind of silly to me that people are upset about scripting changes to something that itself changed based on an ancient myth that is full of conflicting historical inaccuracies. The only real change that bothered me in this was to the love story between Io, Andromeda, and Perseus. One of the things that set Perseus' legend apart from other great Greek heroes, like Odysseus, Hercules, Jason, and Achilles, is that he is the only one who get's a happy ending. Greek heroes always suffered, sure they lived a greater life than an other, but they always suffered, even in the end. Perseus was one of the only ones to live and rule a kingdom pretty much happily ever after. In this version, well they take an approach that leaves the possibility of a sequel more open.
Overall my approach to this film was one that I don't often have. I wasn't going in to it trying to re-capture the experience and resonance of my 8 year old youth. I looked at it as a remake, along the lines of what they to do properties like Robin Hood, Peter Pan, Gladiator, and the like. It's very much a re-make of a piece of property in the public domain. To judge this film based on pre-conceived notions is the same as judging Russel Crowe's upcoming Robin Hood film to that of Kevin Costner's 1990's version or Errol Flynn's version in the 1930's. They are simply different interpretations of classical stories. I had the same approach with the Batman franchise. Where this differs for me with movies like Transformers or Bond films is that these are supposed to be interpretations of properties that have been defined. Each Bond film is based on the one that came before, they never really re-set the franchise, they still keep ties to the old, therefore keeping the same connotations with each film. The films are based on material that is fairly clearly defined. This is where a film like Tron 2 this year is going to have a higher bar to measure up to than Clash of the Titans does.
In the end, I thought the movie was fun. I won't call it well written, or acted, or even a great movie. It's simply what it promises, a huge fun action film that acts as a fun bit of escapism. I can enjoy the film for what it is, entertainment. Sometimes all you can hope for from a movie is that, entertainment. I'd say if you are looking just to go have some fun, catch Clash of the Titans,if not, you can enjoy it just as much on DVD.
End of Line.