Sunday, May 9, 2010
Clash of the Titans (2010)
Some Odd Thunder
In the beginning we are told how the Olympian gods overthrew the Titans with the help of the terrifying Kraken and settled on Mount Olympus with Zeus (Liam Neeson) as ruler of all and his brother Hades (Ray Fiennes) ‘tricked’ into ruling the underworld.
That opening narrative aside, Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans pays little homage to the 1981 film that it’s adapted from or actual mythological events in any proper sequence. Instead this vanity remake follows its hero Perseus (Sam Worthington) as he sets out to save Argos by destroying the Kraken and Hades, the god responsible for his mother’s death. Of course, this quest requires a motley crew of men to help him battle awkward-looking giant scorpions, three blind sister crones and, more dangerously, behead the gorgon Medusa.
It’s a plot we know well but soon enough huge holes appear and they blur the realistic efforts of the film almost as much as the hasty rush to 3D formatting on display. Leterrier, known more for the Transporter series, doesn’t fixate on storyline long enough to set off his action sequences to full effect. This causes much static. Clash of the Titans, like the ridiculous Percy Johnson and the Lightning Thief, misunderstands its source material by focusing less on the Olympians and more on one human (a demi-god, to be technical).
This antagonistic need to ‘Americanize’ every foreign concept for film vanishes, for example, the romance between Perseus and Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) and in its place she functions solely as a high-priced extradition request. Hades demands her as a sacrifice to the gods or else Argos will be wiped out by the Kraken. Though the king, her father, tries to find ways around the request, Andromeda eventually gives in to the idea so as to spare her people of certain destruction.
Perseus’ ‘love’ interest is Io (Gemma Arterton), a female nymph who has watched over him since birth. She councils him until conveniently killed before any real sexual tension arises between them. He saves Andromeda of course but Worthington’s performance evokes a type of rigid asexuality that contrasts sharply to Harry Hamlin in the original film. This asexual broad stroke from the writers (Lawrence Kasdan, Travis Beacham) makes every character suffer from an alarming purge of human frailty; they’re characters playing characters essentially, not full-bloodied people.
Only the gods are shown with any human traits ironically: Zeus as the conciliatory ruler looking out with concern for a son and Hades maliciously out to destroy Argos with tacit consent. That consent of course comes from Zeus and though it throws his own leadership and its consequences in doubt, Leterrier skirts any real religious implications by simply making him seem like an average Joe. Being an action film, Clash of the Titans thus isn’t concerned with Zeus’ complexity issues or who needs protection from whom. It is interested in bringing unruly subjects to the brink of peril before our hero saves the day and gets the girl. It is concerned with Medusa’s hair of snakes and Pegasus magnificently black and brief shimmering across your 3D glasses. Its innovative look sacrifices important characters in the original (Thetis) so as to give you more action and pretty destruction.
And sure enough, it is in this gargantuan scope that the film fails so miserably. Avatar showed us last year that with this new 3D technology much is visually possible but Clash of the Titans follows an annoying trend of hyping big fight sequences only to wrap them up just as you’re settling in for the long haul. The emergence of the Kraken adds menace but Perseus hardly toils to do away with it. Even more surprising is his ‘defeat’ of Hades by merely throwing a lightning bolt-dagger in the god’s direction.
A small gesture with big implications and one passed over entirely by Leterrier but Perseus’ hand is not unaided in the latest banishment of Hades to the underworld. That Zeus would so daringly side against a god (his brother) in favor of humanity (through a son of his) at such a moment of crisis is telling. Leterrier’s scant regard for these conflicts between the brothers limits their true motives. This is amplified by the deafening silence of the other gods whom we see virtually nothing of, not even Hera, the only deity who dares to contradict Zeus on a regular basis.
In the end though the film delivers on its basic premise of being just an update of a cultish fantasy film…nothing more, nothing less. Purists who fume at its clear inferiority to the original miss the point as much as how you can’t equate an online idea like Farmville to real farming. The fact is that more people will flock to the former to appreciate the latter and, for them, on surprisingly deep levels too. This crass update can therefore eschew any noble notion of ideology that makes sense or multi-dimensional gods just to present them—well, Zeus and Hades really—as merely capricious gods of war. Here are deities fighting for human adoration and control and only out to prove, quite frankly, who has the bigger dick. That at least, since the start of humanity, is something we can all relate to.