"Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?" - Captain Oveur, Airplane!
I love Airplane! That movie is hilarious. How can you not love something that is so serious about not taking anything seriously? If someone were to remake that movie, it would probably be pretty terrible. Give Hollywood time, though. They are cranking remakes out by the ton. They're going to run out of recyclables soon.
For instance, you can now scratch Clash of the Titans off the list. The 1981 romp through mythology is now a 2010 trudge through rehashed ideas and bad CGI. You want to talk about a movie that takes itself too seriously, then waste your money on a ticket to Clash of the Titans and let's you and I talk.
This updating of one of my childhood faves has been helmed by Louis Letterier, the man who gave us the over-the-top Transporter 2 and the brooding Ed Norton version of The Incredible Hulk. His Clash is the story of Perseus (Avatar's Sam Worthington), the son of Zeus, born of a revenge screw. Perseus has never known his real dad and so now he's all emo and angry at the gods for giving him a world where there is so much pain and suffering. When the city of Argos topples his daddy's statue and invokes the fury of Hades (Ralph Fiennes, who appears to be suffering from end-stage emphysema), Perseus's adopted family is killed. The splash is heard all the way up in Mount Olympus, and Hades, who was spurned by Zeus once upon a time, convinces his older brother (here played by Liam Neeson) that the meat puppets he created to worship him have to be put back in line. Zeus agrees, and Argos is told that they have to sacrifice their princess, Andromeda (Alexa Davalos, Defiance), or their whole city will pay. Hades will unleash the Kraken!
You with me so far? Okay, so when Hades gives out his warning, he also tips his hat toward Perseus and reveals to all that Perseus is a demigod. This means all of Argos puts its fate in this stranger's hands. Accompanied by a small band of soldiers and a wicked hot sort-of Oracle (Gemma Arterton, who for my money was the Bond girl of note in Quantum of Solace), Perseus goes in search of the Stygian Witches. His quest will yield magical swords and flying horses and force him to fight giant scorpions and Medusa (Natalia Vodianova). Oh, and he'll meet some genies that are like the sand people from Star Wars crossed with the walking trees from Lord of the Rings.
If it sounds like fun, then prepare to be disappointed, because fun is the last thing on the Clash of the Titans agenda. You want to know how you can tell? Because they made Pegasus a black horse. That's so you understand the filmmakers mean business this time around. Though the heavy metal score from the trailers has mostly been jettisoned, Sam Worthington's Perseus is a headbanging juggernaut, and he's heading straight to the gates of Hell! His Pegasus is like his Harley!
Except, you know, the Judas Priest leather boy version and not like something out of a Motorhead video. Had this Clash had a little bit of a sense of humor, we might have had our first 3D camp classic. All the men have skirts, ironic beards, and either fauxhawks or dreadlocks. Sometimes both. The gods of Olympus stand on glowing spheres and, well, glow while they speak in a variety of accents. (Zeus is Irish. Ralph Fiennes is English. Danny Huston makes Poseidon just sound cool and creepy like, you know, Danny Huston.) The men crack wise, the women all have bedroom eyes. This could have been a hoot! They could have also had a hoot, too. Yes, old school fans, the mechanical owl Bubo has a cameo in Letterier's Titans. He shows up as Perseus sets out on his quest, and then the lummox tosses him aside like he's some kind of joke. These folks have no time for the coolest part of the old movie, and they want you to know it right off the bat. I guess I should count my lucky stars they didn't bring Bubo back as some kind of aggro killing machine.
Listen, I'm not going to bend your ear and tell you that the original Clash of the Titans was high art. I haven't even seen it since some time in the early 1990s, so I'm not all that hung up on it. It didn't even have Gemma Arterton. What that movie did have was a sense of the awesome power of myth and of the reason these ancient stories have endured for centuries. Original writer Beverly Cross, director Desmond Davis, effects master Ray Harryhausen, and everyone involved in that film wanted their audience to have a ripping good time. They worked to deliver thrills, laughs, and a sense of heroic accomplishment. This new Clash of the Titans comes nowhere close to touching any of those things. The new script by Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, and Matt Manfredi is like an outline of a hero's journey, but without any of the actual heart or skill such a journey requires. Things just happen in their Clash of the Titans. Good luck and magic come to Perseus, he doesn't go out and get them.
All of this is made worse by muddled action sequences and poorly conceived digital effects. None of the fight sequences have much clarity. They are choppy and lack any real punch. The big reveal when the Kraken arrives should be stunning, but he ends up looking like the monster from The Host mated with a turtle. In fact, why do all the creatures in this movie have turtle faces? The witches, the ferryman on the river Styx--they all look exactly the same. The digital creations are stiff and rubbery, a fact that is only exacerbated by the intermittent use of 3D. Though most of the movie is as flat as a board and not worth the extra fee your Cineplex may charge, when the added dimension does kick in, it's only distracting and makes what should be the most exciting scenes in Clash of the Titans hard to follow. Hell, the producers spent $70,000,000 on this heap and their director couldn't even make it so when Andromeda is hanging over the ocean she looks like she's actually hanging. Every close-up of Alexa Davalos shows her with perfect posture, like she's standing on a platform. Which she probably is. That's quite an illusion you've created there!
This is the second big-budget effects movie of 2010 that was retrofitted for 3D after the fact and that turns a beloved classic into a dark, misguided porridge. Then again, I complained about Tim Burton's self-important redo of Alice in Wonderland and it went on to make a mint, so I'd still bet on Clash of the Titans doing boffo box office. More's the pity. Zeus tries to warn Perseus at the end of the movie that mankind has a habit of repeating their mistakes and bringing Hell on themselves. His point could only have been more clear had he said, "And the last 110 minutes should be all the proof you need."
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.