Movies: Clash of the Titans

…directed by Louis Leterrier, written by Travis Beachem and Phil Hay, starring Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Gemma Arterton.  If you asked whether the original Ray Harryhausen Clash of the Titans was in dire need of a remake, most people would, say “Harry-who now?”  But if you persisted, people of a certain age range (like me), who remembered the original CotT fondly, would nod and smile and say how they loved that movie – the robot owl, the model kraken, pre-L.A. Law Harry Hamlin and Laurence Olivier as Zeus…  And that, fellow revelers, is how this newest version of CotT got made.  We can do a lot of cool green-screen stuff with the Medusa  and the kraken, and we’ll market to the 35-50 crowd and hope they bring their kids…

And lo, the marketing schlubs were correct.  Witness the might of CotT 2010 – #1 at the box office two weeks and running.  So how’s the movie, you ask?  Well, that depends.  If you’re expecting a repeat of the 1981 film, you’re not going to get it.  For one thing, the effects are state-of-the-art; for another the plot is quite different and the writers have attempted to inject what they interpret as contemporary heroic sensibilities.  This begs the question of whether the 1981 CotT was any good in retrospect, to which I answer – when I was nine, it was awesome.  CotT spurred me on to loads of books on mythology, helping me develop my geek chops at that important pre-teen-but-serious-about-reading age. Back then  I also discovered that the movie actually took some liberties with the mythology.  One example being that Perseus never messed with Pegasus – he used winged shoes to fly against the kraken.  This was also at a time I figured out that Superman had been around for 45 years and Spidey had been around for 20, yet neither had aged or changed much.  An important developmental step.  

So I was prepared for the latest version of CotT to have some ‘updates’ and not to sweat it.  You want the prime antagonist to be Hades instead of a jealous Hera?  Okay.  You want to introduce Djinn and have Io running around helping Perseus instead of Athena?  Fine.  This ain’t brain surgery and Liam Neeson makes a pretty cool Zeus.  Where they made me angry was their insistence on turning the character of Perseus into a kind of  common-man type rebel.  It’s the classic Greek hero awkwardly updated as a post-anti-hero.  It’s an insistence on trying to inject this lowest-common-denominator pathos into a story that really doesn’t need it.

And how does this play out?  Well, Perseus is a common fisherman, adopted by the man who found him floating in the sea.  Then his adopted family die due to the action of  and indifference of the gods.  These two details shape him for the rest of the movie.  He doesn’t want to accept his heritage as the son of Zeus and he won’t take any Olympian help, even when it’s sorely needed.  He’s the everyman, the stubborn non-conformist.  This way the audience will have that built-in likability for him.  It’s like the writers were trying to figure out how to factory install audience acceptance of Perseus.

Writer 1: WellPerseus is the son of Zeus.  He’s a great athlete and warrior who seems to get help from his powerful father when he really needs it. Plus he gets the Princess.

Writer 2: Crap.  He’s like a rich kid who’s good at sports.  I hate those guys.  Friggin’ elitists…  Joe six-pack will never buy it.  We gotta do something!

Writer 1:  Let’s make him like Maximus or Batman.  Throw in some Luke Skywalker.  And let’s make him poor…

Writer 2: Genius!  Then the public will like Perseus and we can follow the Heroic Journey primer and get to the action scenes without having to worry about character development…

So what you end up with is this awkward wooden Perseus who seems kind of dense.  You end up with this ridiculous pseudo-religious subplot about the average ancient Greek’s relationship with his gods, and it just turns goofy.  I say stick with the original and portray Perseus as a brave and talented guy who tries to do something heroic to prove himself worthy of his name and get the princess.  A guy who doesn’t turn down magical swords and shields.  Don’t over complicate it.  Don’t try to inject this mass-appeal underdog pathos as if you’re administering vaccinations.  And hey, if you want to mess with convention, how about making Perseus a coward who really really wants to avoid fighting and monsters.  Now that would be a trick.

So where was I…  Right, Clash of the Titans 2010 – cool effects and standard action mayhem.  But the story and especially the characterizations annoyed me greatly.  I’d recommend this one as a rental if you’re the least bit curious.  Otherwise, go see How to Train Your Dragon or if you’re that nostalgic for some 80’s – why not Hot Tub Time Machine?


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