Clash Of The Titans

>> Saturday, April 03, 2010

Okay, so the first thing to say about Clash Of The Titans, the remake of the last film the legendary Ray Harryhausen worked on, is don't pay the extra money for the 3D version. Given the cult status of Titans in geekdom's collective imagination, especially if you're a geek of a certain generation, a lot of you were, like me, going to see this movie as soon as you heard Liam Neeson say "Release The Kraken!" in the trailer; and that's fine, but (as you may already know) Titans was shot in 2D and converted to 3D, and while the 3D isn't quite as bad as critics have been saying, pretty much any scene with one or more live actors in it looks like a View-Master slide. You've been warned.

As for the rest of the movie: the group I was with seemed to be divided between people who thought it was awful and hated it and people who thought it was awful but had fun anyway. I was in the latter camp, not having enough invested in the movie to be passionate about it.

I mean, look, let's be realistic for a moment: I love the original Clash Of The Titans, but it's a pretty terrible movie. I know we're not really supposed to say this, because Ray Harryhausen is made of awesome, but just about everybody at the time acknowledged that the original Titans' effects looked choppy and cheap even for the time--Titans had the special misfortune to come out the same year that The Empire Strikes Back's Battle Of Hoth sequence proved that good stop-motion footage could still make an audience its bitch--and they haven't gotten better with age. Harry Hamlin brings good intentions to Perseus but not good acting. The script is kind of a mash. And do we have to talk about the anachronistic and irritating mechanical owl, seemingly created for merchandising opportunities that never came through? And again, I love this film--it's fun and it's a piece of my childhood and it has some wonderfully bizarre and endearing quirks (e.g. the casting of Sir Laurence Olivier and Dame Maggie Smith as scenery-chomping Greek gods who say gloriously absurd things like "Release The Kraken!")--but not because it's a great film.

So what can one expect from a remake? It's not like director Louis Leterrier are going in and desecrating a classic. Even the substitution of fairly run-of-the-mill CGI for Harryhausen's painstaking handmade stop-motion puppetry isn't really that awful, or at least it's not as awful as it would be if that labor had produced more effective results. If you're expecting a faithful romp through Greek mythology, the remake is a bit less faithful than the original, which wouldn't have seemed possible, but there it is--but then, did you watch the trailer? If you were expecting great acting... well, again, the trailer should have led you to expect Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes in their cornball modes and Sam Worthington in a role that mostly requires him to jump off cliffs and roll down mountains and sometimes shout a bit or say pseudoprofound nonsense about making a stand against the gods (i.e. Perseus is not exactly Hamlet, or even the voice of Piglet).

What one can expect is that the movie will roll along at a fair clip and various absurd perils will be survived, and nobody will be attacked by a giant scorpion if they can be attacked by a half dozen, and there will be just enough violence, skin and rough language to maintain a PG-13 rating. Nobody onscreen will blink when djinn show up and they're some kind of wooden Chewbacca wizard people (they're actually air spirits from Arabic folklore, if you didn't already know that) and if the sword Perseus receives from Zeus appears to be more like some kind of stainless steel lightsaber than a Bronze Age weapon, who the fuck cares as long as he hits something with it in the next few minutes. Charon may look more like something from an Iron Maiden album cover than a mythological figure, but that's alright because we all know Charon is f'ing metal, dude, so it's totally cool. And Io--whose presence makes as much sense as that of the djinn--isn't a cow, Gemma Arterton is just as hot as a brunette as she was a redhead. So it's all copacetic, y'know?

It probably didn't hurt my enjoyment any that Titans was hardly the worst movie I watched this past week nor Sam Worthington--who annoyed most of the people I was with--the least effective rugged leading man I'd seen all week.1

Anyway, it's not a good movie, but it is an enjoyable one, and I'm not going to tell you not to see it (probably couldn't stop you anyway). I won't even say wait for the DVD, because unless you have a really huge screen at home you'll miss the best and most ridiculous parts if you're not in a theater. Just don't go see it in 3D. Unless, of course, your nostalgic headtrip to see a remake of an iconic bit of '80s cheese includes a love of a certain bright red plastic binocular toy.

ADDENDUM, 2010/04/03; 9:35 P.M.: Carol Elaine pointed me to this review of the Titans remake that's up over at Cracked, of all places. (Don't get me wrong--I adore Cracked, they just don't usually do reviews like this one.) It pretty much nails the movie to the wall, repeatedly--the review is worth a look. It also provides a useful suggestion if you're dead set on seeing this one in the theatre: take an iPod full of really bitchin' metal with you--Titans might actually work as a long music video. (The movie's version of Charon is definitely f'ing metal--comically so, actually.)

Thanks, CE!





1Or so I'm counting Val Kilmer in The Ghost And The Darkness, although technically Michael Douglas--who shows up past the midway point of the film and then (SPOILER ALERT) dies not long thereafter--had top billing in it. (Douglas is fantastic, by the way.) Ghost And The Darkness actually made me wonder why I like Kilmer at all; I've thought of him as a decent actor, but I'm starting to think I've been wrong, that Kilmer has been a trailing shadow of Johnny Depp, attempting the same arc of alternating leading man rolls with quirky character sketches, only, you know, almost completely failing at it. Ghost And The Darkness isn't a bad film in spite of Kilmer's weirdly ineffectual performance--it's not great, either--but other than that, I'm trying to remember what's the last decent movie I saw Kilmer in?

As for Hide And Seek: the acting is actually pretty great. I was even impressed by creepy little Dakota Fanning. And Robert De Niro is phenomenal, which isn't always something you can say about De Niro these days (he's not quite as bad as Al Pacino's gotten with the self-parodying performances, but he's similarly a great actor who doesn't always give us great acting anymore). But Hide is plagued from the very beginning by its structure: the movie has to have a twist or it's kind of pointless, but the twist is so obvious and inevitable that you pretty much spend the movie tapping your foot and checking e-mail and Twitter while you wait for it--op, there it is. Shocked. Didn't see it coming. Nor does it help that, while the "twist" effectively explains away some of the stupider parts of the premise and characterizations, in the meantime you're dealing with some pretty stupid characterizations (at the risk of another spoiler, if that's even possible in such a predictable bit of business, let's just say that there's ultimately a reason De Niro's character, a psychologist, is an even worse psychologist than a parent--and he's a godawful parent--but in the meantime you have to deal with his being a bad dad and worse doctor.




3 comments:

vince Saturday, April 3, 2010 at 10:58:00 AM EDT  

...I'm trying to remember what's the last decent movie I saw Kilmer in

I only liked him in two movies - Willow and Real genius.

I think I'll pass on Clash of the Titans. I own the original, and agree - not a really good movie, but for me, a lot of fun.

Jeff Hentosz Saturday, April 3, 2010 at 12:45:00 PM EDT  

Sundry thoughts:

• Kilmer should go back to poetry. His tree poem was pretty good and it's been read by school kids everywhere for years. (Actually, he was really good channeling Tommy Chong via Keye Luke as a pot baron in an episode of Entourage a couple years ago.)

• If I was a good-enough sound editor, I'd take one of the Mt. Olympus scenes from the original CotT and dub it with lines from '60s Disney cartoons. Not just ones by Piglet/John Fiedler, but Sterling Holloway, Paul Winchell, Sebastian Cabot, Pat Buttram. Plus Slim Pickens, and June Foray for aaaaalllll the women (as was the custom in those days). You know what Disney did best back in the day? Cast voices, that's what. Zeus: "R-r-r-r-r-elease the the K-K-Krack-kr-Kracken!" Poseidon: "Oh, bother."

• Poor Harryhausen. 1981 was also the year of Dragonslayer, wherein Empire's stop motion master Phil Tippett created the most realistic-looking dragon anyone had ever seen. The bit where she crawls up out of the cave is still amazing.

• ALL 3D looks like a View-Master. Even Avatar. There, I said it.

Eric Saturday, April 3, 2010 at 1:29:00 PM EDT  

I'd forgotten that '81 was the year of Dragonslayer! That movie was amazing in the theatre--beautiful dragon. It hasn't aged too well thanks to a mediocre script and dodgy casting. (I like Peter MacNicol a lot--but as a plucky wizard's apprentice who charms the ladies... really?) The effects still stand out really well.

I think that in a few years the remake of Clash is going to be nearly forgotten; how long it'll take will depend on whether the movie does well enough to generate the crappy sequels that this one blatantly leaves itself open for at the end (yes, they did--the only way they could've been more blatant would've been if they'd had a James Bond-style "Perseus Will Return In..." title card at the end; actually, we left during the credits, maybe they did). Because as bad as the original is, it'll still always be Ray Harryhausen's last film, it'll still be the one with Sir Laurence and Dame Maggie and Burgess F'ing Meredith, and it'll still be a more memorable and imaginative shot at re-telling a classic myth--while the remake will still be little more than an ephemeral fantasy flick. I'd go so far as saying I enjoyed the remake--but I've already forgotten a bunch of it, too.

Vince: I also kind of liked Kilmer in Tombstone and Top Secret--but those, like Willow and Real Genius, were an awful long time ago.

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