Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Style Trumps Substance (But It’s Hard To Care): Clash Of The Titans Is Cool!

The Good: Amazing special effects, Decent enough acting
The Bad: Light on character and plot.
The Basics: Exciting, visually spectacular and fun, Clash Of The Titans is a 3-D winner, even if it is a bit plot-driven and light on character.

When I was young, I don’t think there was a film I heard my father deride more than Clash Of The Titans. To the best of my knowledge, he only saw it on television at various points and his main critiques were the campy special effects and the cheesiness of the acting. He did not make it out to the remake of Clash Of The Titans, but that did not stop it from being a smashing success at the box office. The new Clash Of The Titans is – viewed objectively – a fairly average action-adventure, fantasy film. That’s not to say it isn’t fun and it isn’t entertaining, but the journey is one which is based more on spectacle and shock for the big screen than one which will play as well on home theaters or even replay as well for most audiences.

It is worth noting, as well, that I have never seen the original Clash Of The Titans, so this will not be a comparison between the 1981 film and the 2010 film. However, it is worth noting that the team who wrote the current film’s script – Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, and Matt Manfredi – are the credited writers, not Beverly Cross, who wrote the original. So, more than just a remake, this is an entirely rewritten film. And despite the dependence upon the huge battles and special effects sequences – the just-under two-hour film feels like it has less than an hour of meaningful dialogue – Clash Of The Titans is written to have a classic sense of hubris associated with some of the primary characters.

In ancient Greece, Mount Olympus is in decline and Zeus calls upon the gods to consider the fate of Man. His buttons pushed just enough by Hades, Zeus encourages the Gods to strike fear into Man by sending plagues – the undead, immense creatures like giant scorpions, and ultimately a massive beast from the underworld – upon them. For the most part, the leaders of the Greeks are enshrined in their places of power, happily ignorant of the suffering of those around them. But when the arrogance of Cassiopeia spites the gods, all-out war between gods and men begins.

Rising to the challenge is Perseus, a son of Zeus who is living as a man, who is in love with Andromeda and agrees that Man has become too arrogant in turning away from the gods. At the same time, he insists that the gods should not be wiping humanity out and he takes a stand against his godly relatives. This earns him the ire of Zeus, who allows increasingly greater threats to befall mankind.

The good is exceptionally simple with Clash Of The Titans. This is an impressive special effects film where the 3-D effects look amazing and the unreal creatures all look good enough to impress serious movie fans. Arguably, not since The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy have fans seen an unreal world that looks so real. Virtual characters meld seamlessly with the real ones and even the digital versions of characters like Perseus and Andromeda in scenes with the Pegasus and fighting unreal creatures look and move like they are real. This is a shockingly good example of how far special effects have come and viewers expecting anything b-rate will be blown away within the first two minutes of the film. In fact, one of the real detractions to the film is how quickly some of the most ambitious creatures leave the screen.

Second, the pacing is decent. Obstacles come up which Perseus, Andromeda and the small army Perseus raises to save humanity have to tangle with. Interspersed are the reactions of the gods and Zeus’s heightened sense of anger combined with Hades’s eagerness to populate the underworld with more dead humans makes the movie move along at a real fast clip; unlike most movies I’ve seen lately which feel longer than they are, “Clash Of The Titans” eats up its two hour runtime. And it does it without it feeling underdeveloped, though it is hard not to acknowledge that this is not the most character-driven story.

Even so, the pretense of character development is made and while the playing field is certainly not level with the way the gods allow giant scorpions, Medusa, the Kraken and a small legion of undead, who Perseus must beat the crap out of, Perseus gives a good showing of arguing in favor of self-determination. And while this is in no way close to a recreation of Greek mythology, some of the themes that enhance Greek Mythology’s hero stories are present and fairly well-developed. Cassiopeia especially infuses the film with a strong sense of human hubris and her arrogance becomes a key motivator for Zeus and his willingness to allow Hades to unleash (essentially) hell on Earth.

But the film falls into more average territory when considering things like Hades. Hades quickly becomes a very generic antagonist and there are shades of very Hollywood “bigger is better” elements that come into play with both his character and the direction of his villainy. Fans of superhero films will be unsurprised at how he keeps coming back. What’s less inspired is that Hades does not seem as motivated by anything real or empathetic the way Zeus is. That said, Hades is presented here as almost an entirely different character than his Greek Mythology origins. This Hades is a lot more active, for one thing.

As well, Clash Of The Titans tries to make viewers care more about Perseus through his attraction to Andromeda. The Perseus and Andromeda romantic plot works well enough to explain why Perseus chooses a more mortal existence than siding with the gods, but after Andromeda’s initial stand, she alternates wildly between being Perseus’s equal and a real asset to the effort to save mankind and a very obvious damsel in distress. It’s not that we can’t stand to see a Xena-strong type heroine fall, but it becomes a bit canned at points and the viewer tends to want to see Andromeda stand tall with Perseus, rather than need him to save her.

What allowed me to rate this so highly was the acting. Clash Of The Titans is extraordinarily well-cast, if not the best acting ever. Liam Neeson is cast perfectly to play the dignified and angered Zeus, but this is not going to be a role that gets him an Oscar nomination. Similarly, Sam Worthington returns to big-screen prominence as Perseus, which is essentially the same type physically demanding role viewers have come to expect from him following his appearances in Terminator: Salvation and Avatar” His portrayal of Perseus is not an exceptional departure from those roles. Similarly, Alexa Davalos has done the whole action heroine thing before and Polly Walker’s Cassiopeia is essentially the same as her role from Rome with just a little less power working for her. But, in this case, it’s hard to criticize the acting as just being good casting. Worthington and Davalos have decent on-screen chemistry and everyone does the best they can with the roles they are given. And Worthington is convincing as Perseus and all of the actors do a fine job interacting with their digital costars.

Director Louis Leterrier makes Clash Of The Titans look good and even though the characters are almost incidental to the action, he makes a passing attempt to keep the film focused on the perils of Perseus. The viewer might be overwhelmed by the speed and scope of the monsters, but it is hard not to keep focused on Perseus as he tries to overcome all that is thrown at him. And while the film might have its faults – some of the dialogue is pretty campy or melodramatic – it is a good movie and one that is pretty much guaranteed to wow people in 3-D on the big screen. It’s a fun way to kill an evening, even if it is not the most enduringly great film of all time.

Now on DVD and Blu-Ray, Clash Of The Titans comes with the usual bevy of bonus features like a commentary track and featurettes on the making of the film. These are extensive enough to please fans who enjoy the primary material.

For other fantasy films, please check out my reviews of:
The Little Mermaid


For other film reviews, please visit my index page for an organized listing!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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