Throughout most of my childhood, Desmond Davis' Clash of the Titans had been a personal favorite of mine. I mean, what wasn't there for a boy to love? The powerful gods of Greek mythology tested their mettle against one another to satisfy motives sparked by jealousy and revenge, and none other than Perseus, the mortal son of Zeus himself, found himself smack dab in the middle. The path laid before Perseus presented itself with the reward of love, but not before facing the likes of a two-headed wolf, the fate foreseeing Stygian Witches, the slithering Gorgon demon Medusa, and last but not least, the towering sea monster known as the Kraken. The only thing possibly more epic than the story itself, were the monsters that had been brought to life by legendary special effects master, Ray Harryhausen. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I was able to purchase the 1981 classic on Blu-ray earlier this year, as I was finally able to relive the adventure again for the first time in years. Unfortunately though, it wasn't exactly the film I remembered it to be. Sure, I still enjoyed the film due to the giddy nostalgia it was able to dredge up, but what I saw this time around was a film with serious pacing issues, terrible acting, and a finale that was far too brief to make the rest of the film worthwhile. However, a month or so after the fact, a quest with a chance at redemption presented itself to me in the form of a big-budget Hollywood remake. The verdict? I wouldn't exactly say Louis Leterrier's reimagining was a 'better' film, but it certainly was a tighter, and ultimately more entertaining one.
Leterrier must have felt the plot of the original 'classic' lacked a certain something, because he made some pretty major changes to how the story unfolds. In the 1981 version of Titans, Thetis was bickering with Zeus over his inflated ego, and a mortal man was forced to face the wrath of their ignorance as a result. That doesn't really inspire a true sense of urgency now, does it? So this time around, Leterrier has made things a little more interesting by pitting Hades (Ralph Fiennes) himself against his brother, the almighty Zeus (Liam Neeson). Putting a twist on the Greek mythology of ole', Zeus now seemingly gains his power from the constant, devoted worship of the mortals living below Mount Olympus. However, things haven't been so good in Zeus' kingdom as of late. When a group of soldiers rebel and commit an act of blasphemy to voice their discontent, Hades is allowed to come to the surface and make an example out of them. But the warning meant for mankind backfires, as Zeus loses his daily dose of praise, and becomes nearly powerless as a result. Hades seizes the opportunity to overtake his brother's throne, but like most other villains in classic 'good vs. evil' films, he makes the mistake of pissing off the wrong guy. Perseus (Sam Worthington), the son of Zeus, had his life turned upside down by the black hearted ruler of the Underworld, and he'll stop at nothing to put an end to Hades treacherous reign... even if it means going to the ends of the Earth and beyond.
On paper, this plot really sounds like a marked improvement over the original, because the story finally has the sense of urgency it so desperately needed. Zeus' original conflict with Thetis came off as childish at best. And what was at stake as a result? The lives of Perseus and Princess Andromeda? It was truly yawn inducing. In Leterrier's reimagining however, there's now the looming threat that the entire world could be plunged into eternal darkness. I don't know about you, but those are the kind of high stakes I was hoping for. So why is it with such a promising premise on hand, that Leterrier's take on Titans ultimately fails to deliver?
The original film had too much emphasis on story (I could literally envision the film crawling across the finish line), and realizing that, Leterrier takes what seems to be the next logical step - he cuts the fat. However, he drastically overcompensates by spending practically no time on plot or character development at all. The script was seemingly crafted to move the audience from one action sequence to the next in as little time as possible. This makes 2010's Titans flick a bit more entertaining overall, but unfortunately, it's at the cost of featuring a cast of one dimensional characters the audience is never going to be able to connect with. The extraordinarily talented Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes are tragically unable to give the performance their characters deserve, and Sam Worthington is, yet again, typecast as the 'do much but say little' action star (and yes, I do believe Worthington is capable of much, much more). I can certainly understand that Leterrier didn't want his film to drag on endlessly such as the original did, but even a little character development could have gone a long way. When I should have been biting my nails to see which characters would actually make it through to the end of the film, I was merely waiting for the next sequence of special effects so I could say 'oooooooh' and 'ahhhhhh' instead.
That being said, Leterrier's film isn't exactly a failure. I may not have cared much about the characters at any given point in time, but this version of Clash of the Titans is pretty satisfying as a special effects driven spectacle. Please, don't get me wrong - Harryhausen's stop-motion creatures will always hold a special place in my heart (as they are, in fact, the very reason I still have some appreciation for Davis' film), but CGI has made the mythical creatures and beasties so much better this time around, that it's almost unfair to compare them. Pegasus doesn't flop through the sky like a wounded duck anymore, Medusa is no longer slithering at a snail's pace, the scorpions instill a greater sense of dread than they ever have, and the Kraken can now give most every other monster in cinematic history a run for their money. I know, I know. Having better special effects doesn't inherently mean a film such as this is going to be any better than its predecessor, but Leterrier's film also bests the original in every other way that counts. Again, the script may have been lacking any of the substance the original had, but the pacing this time around is much improved thanks to the fast paced action, and the acting, at least when it comes to the main cast that's on display, is better by leaps and bounds (which doesn't exactly say much, I know).
After all is said and done, the Clash of the Titans remake is pretty much what I expected it to be - an average, yet satisfying popcorn action flick. That is, it's the kind of film that's perfect to watch when all I want to do is sit down, turn off my brain, and enjoy the ride. I'm sure some of you are probably pulling your hair out right now, asking yourself, "How can this guy possibly believe this is better than the original?!" Let's face it folks, the 1981 'classic' is a bit of a mess. There were a lot of good ideas that were presented throughout the entirety of the film, but they were executed poorly. You could certainly say the same about this film as well, but at the end of the day, the remake has a faster pace and is actually fun (unlike Davis' film which could likely cure insomnia), and the finale is much more satisfying. If you're looking for a fun way to kill some time and you're not in the mood for a film that has any depth, you probably won't regret giving this one a whirl... just make sure you keep your expectations in check. I wish a higher recommendation was in order, as this truly could have been one of the most epic films to grace the cinemas in some time, but the director hired for the job obviously didn't care enough to make a truly good film.
Clash of the Titans makes its way on to Blu-ray with a very nice 1080p VC-1 encode (2.40:1), but unfortunately, the look that was crafted for the film's theatrical release keeps this from being a dazzling one.
When I saw the film theatrically in April, I couldn't help but notice the film I was watching didn't exactly look like... well, a film. Grain was minimal at best, the picture had a touch of softness to it, and skin textures were a little unnatural at times. Since I always have film, Blu-ray, and picture quality in general on the brain, I thought I finally lost my marbles when I saw what I could only describe as DNR (digital noise reduction) on the projection screen. Shrugging and saying to myself, "Joe six pack strikes again!" I proceeded to laugh off my suspicions and carry on with my day. Fortunately for me (but unfortunately for the state of film production), it turns out I wasn't crazy at all! My local theater wasn't running the film slightly out of focus, nor was the 'print' I saw a fluke. No, the theatrical presentation I saw a few months ago had been accurate and is faithfully represented on this Blu-ray release. The problem is, I'm really torn about how I should feel about this.
To me (and I'm sure most of you out there), high definition is about bringing the theatrical experience home, grain and all. It's for this very reason that I've always been a strong advocate for the 'as the director intended' argument, and continue to badmouth any release that shows evidence of digital tampering by the studio... but this is the first time these views have conflicted with one another (well, at least for me). This film had obviously been scrubbed for its theatrical release (perhaps to make for a better/cleaner experience for the faux 3D conversion), and now that 'artistic choice' has been faithfully reproduced on this release. Should I be applauding this transfer, or knocking off points? It's a tough call to make. Either way though, you've been informed. The signs of DNR some of you are likely to see are not a result of the disc's authoring, because DNR was there all along.
That's not to say that Clash of the Titans looks bad, because it actually looks pretty darn good. The transfer does have some DNR and a minimal amount of edge enhancement in a couple of shots, yes, but it's not as offensive as it all sounds. Not even close. Despite the fact the minor scrubbing can make this movie look a little soft at times, definition and detail are still pretty strong, taking all things into consideration. Color saturation is fantastic (when the film warrants it), and the contrast, although lacking a little bit when compared to other high-def releases, is also faithful to what was seen in theaters.
The disc as is, is flawless. There's some terminology in my video comments that might alarm some film enthusiasts, but if you didn't mind what you saw in the theaters, then you're not going to mind how the Blu-ray itself looks. Is this amongst the most impressive high-def releases I've ever seen? Absolutely not, but this is a fault by design, and this Blu-ray release really can't be knocked for it.
A word to any offending studio engaging in this practice however - Stop the 'scrubbing' madness, will ya? I mean, I can ALMOST understand why you would clean things up for home video releases (although I still completely detest it), but if you're going to start making me worry about seeing DNR in theaters, I'm just going to wait for the Blu-ray to eventually come out. Maybe you'll get my dollars in the home video market, but I refuse to pay $10+ to sit in a theater and see the same digital anomalies I shouldn't even have to endure at home, and I'm sure I'm not alone on this.
Despite the shortcomings of the video presentation, Warner's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is absolutely brilliant. Surround effects are spot on throughout. Precision is pinpoint from beginning to end - Certain sounds will creep into your living room for the appropriate atmosphere or ambience (Medusa's lair is a perfect example), and action scenes are loud and proud, without ever sacrificing a sense of depth for their power. The lower frequencies really pound and rumble your subwoofer, but they never sound loud just for the sake of being so. Instead, they make everything feel appropriately 'weighted', meaning when a scorpioch is lunging its tail into the sand, the Kraken is roaring from the ocean, or buildings are falling, you'll actually feel like you're right in the thick of things. Despite the heavy hitting sound effects, you'll never find the dialogue hiding behind it. Nope, dialogue is crisp and clear at all times, never sounding tinny or unnatural (read: digitized) in any way. There isn't a single thing wrong with this DTS-HD MA track, and for those of you with a nice system at home, you're in for a real treat.
Maximum Movie Mode - Although this isn't the Maximum Movie Mode we've fallen in love with on such titles as Terminator Salvation or Watchmen (Leterrier isn't here to stand in front of LCD TV's so he can pause or rewind the film for the sake of discussion), this picture-in-picture supplement is still a great deal better than listening to a director's commentary track. Throughout Titans, you'll be treated to interviews with many members of the cast and crew, and you'll see plenty of behind-the-scenes clips that detail how some of the impressive special effect scenes were crafted (similar to the Maximum Movie Mode that appeared on the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Blu-ray). You'll see numerous stages of design for said special effects, as well as how wardrobe, makeup, and choreography were put together for the final product. This may not be the Maximum Movie Mode (they should have called this something else), but I suppose it's for the better. Leterrier admittedly only saw the original film once before cranking out his 'remake', so I thank Warner for not wasting my time by making me hear about Leterrier's 'inspirations', because it's pretty clear he only set out to make an entertaining summer popcorn flick, and nothing more. However, I wish there was more discussion about the film's supposed production hell. There were many changes made to the story along the way, and the final weeks leading up the film's theatrical release were spent transforming everything into 3D... but, I guess discussing such things wouldn't have shined a positive light on Warner, right?
Focus Points - Don't feel like sitting through an entire movie to get all the dirt on the film's production? Then Focus Points is for you. Over the course of 35 minutes you'll see short featurettes that detail most of the major components that make up the 2010 remake in its entirety. The featurettes on hand are: "Sam Worthington is Perseus," "Zeus: Father of Gods and Men," "Enter the World of Hades," "Calibos: The Man Behind the Monster," "Tenerife: A Continent on an Island," "Scorpioch," "Actors and their Stunts," "Wales: A Beautiful Scarred Landscape," "Bringing Medusa to Life," and "Prepare for the Kraken!"
Sam Worthington: An Action Hero for the Ages - As the title suggests, this is a brief look at Sam Worthington and what he had to go through in order to prepare for this particular role. Seeing 'an action hero for the ages' in the title is sort of a laugh though, isn't it? Unlike many of you out there, I actually think Worthington is capable of doing great things as long as he's pushed hard enough, but the laugh comes from the fact that he really wasn't able to show his acting abilities in this film. Again, he was typecast as the 'swing a sword but say little' action hero. Let's hope he has more of an opportunity to show a little more character next time around (yes... they're doing a sequel).
Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending - I guess I'm glad these particular scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. They could have added a little more depth to the story overall, but undoubtedly at the cost of making the film as a whole drag on and on, much like the original, and then this wouldn't have even worked as a popcorn action flick anymore. It's not all a waste of time however, as there's an interesting alternate ending everyone should see at least once.
Also included are DVD and digital copies of the film.
And that's really it, other than the same ho-hum BD-Live functions that I'm sure most of you could care less about. A little more would have been nice, perhaps in the way of an actual Maximum Movie Mode, but perhaps it's best that things were left the way they are.
Leterrier's Clash of the Titans isn't exactly a spectacular film, or even a really good one for that matter. The original film was executed so poorly though, that this film easily trumps the original cult classic in almost every way. It may spend very little time trying to expand on any plot or character development, but the fast paced action coupled with jaw-dropping special effects and set pieces, make this a much more entertaining film overall. Let me be clear - I'm not one of those people that are easily entertained by special effects alone. However, Davis' 1981 'classic' is only 12 minutes longer than Leterrier's remake, but it makes such poor use of its runtime that it feels like a much longer movie than that. The remake is able to keep things moving along at a brisk pace though, and although it comes at a price, 2010's Titans is actually entertaining and fun. As far as the Blu-ray release itself, the video quality on display represents the picture as seen in theaters flawlessly (which means it inherently exhibits the DNR as was seen as theaters, too), and the lossless audio track perfectly complements the summer action flick. The supplemental package leaves a little to be desired, but I wouldn't exactly say it's lacking either. After all is said and done, I'm not sorry I took the time to check out the remake, despite my better judgment. It's a fun film to view on a night where you just want to turn off your brain and unwind from a long day, but don't run out and blind buy this thing. Do yourself a favor and rent it to see how you feel about it first.