It would appear that the original Clash Of The Titans has a lot to answer for. Released in 1981 I can still remember the impact it made on me, at a mere six years of age, instilling me with an absolute fear of Calibos and a slight disgust at the sight of tomato juice. More importantly, it left an indelible mark on my psyche as to what would continue to excite me cinematically for the rest of my life.
After re-watching the original this week, it suddenly hit me that the combination of swords, monsters, violence, naked women, horses and a robot (of sorts) are all things that have me bouncing in my seat to this day. I also noticed that the mythological beings are credited as themselves in the final credits, so it’s no wonder I have such a hard time distinguishing between reality and fiction – I’m laying the blame firmly at the feet of Perseus and co, though I wouldn’t change a thing.
I should also confess that despite my instant alarm at any remake of a childhood favourite, I was more excited about Louis Leterrier’s take on Clash than most other films out this year. It’s difficult to justify, but my weakness and love for action based sword movies has already been exposed in 2010 by Ninja Assassin, Solomon Kane and Centurion (the review of which will be coming in mid April). We’re not even at Easter, yet still I’m craving more. Perhaps it’s the chance for another generation, who might not appreciate the beauty and genius of Ray Harryhausen’s work through contemporary eyes, to get the same thrill I experienced.
Certainly the director and cast for this new take on Clash Of The Titans didn’t harm my expectations. One way to get me on side is to cast Liam Neeson (I’m sure he’ll make The A-Team all it can be), Ralph Fiennes, a Bond girl (pity poor Ursula Andress in the original – high on the credits, spartan on the dialogue) and current ‘make me your champion Duncan’ Sam Worthington.
Leterrier too has kept me on side with his track record to date having given me Unleashed (aka Danny the Dog), a fantastically mental sequel in my beloved Transporter franchise and a Norton-shaped The Incredible Hulk, which I thought was better than it had any right to be. Finally the prospect of a new rousing theme, a chance to redress the slightly limp attitude of Perseus and the prospect of new additions to the story were enough to get me excited.
However, that was all before I actually saw the movie, which turned out to be a distinctly average, incredibly disappointing, soulless film.
Firstly I need to state that time is short as the screening was late last night. We’ve all heard how studios screen films close to release if they have no faith in a product, to avoid the critics backlash. Well I’m no posh critic, I’m a big movie geek. But lord, do I now know what the critics mean.
Secondly, and I cannot emphasise this enough, do not pay out for the 3D, as it simply isn’t there. The director didn’t even want it apparently, but lo and behold Clash Of The Titans was retro-fitted to turn a fast buck and the result is shocking. Please, please if you go and see Clash of the Titans, watch it in 2D before this whole mess gets out of hand.
Talking to other audience members there were a couple of scenes specifically adapted to be in ‘proper’ 3D, but the difference was negligible and the rest of the film just looked darker and foggier as a result of the tint in the glasses. I have never been so insulted by such a criminal intent to rob the public, so to any studio who attempt to cash in on the success of other, better films with this technique: don’t.
You have no idea how much I wanted to love the film, but it just left me cold. If you haven’t seen the original then what you will get is a film that rattles along quickly, with some non-threatening CGI (that couldn’t even match Starship Troopers 13 years ago) a great under use of talented actors, very few humorous moments and a non-emotive narrative.
For those of you reading who are fans of the ‘81 original, of which I suspect there are a greater number, then it will be easier to break this review into comparative points.
To his credit, Leterrier steers the narrative in his own direction with the key events such as the confrontation with Medusa and the Kraken still intact. But he alters other parts to try and keep things fresh, which, it turns out, is a big mistake.
There is now no love story or romance between Perseus and Andromeda, which I hoped might make for a less saccharine story, but instead it ripped the heart out of the film. Worthington’s Perseus is now on a mission of vengeance against the gods for the death of his ‘family’, but we don’t get to know or care about them, so we don’t really care or feel for Perseus’s plight. He just seems a bit arsey.
That is not all the positive elements of the original that have gone: there is no invisibility helmet, no shiny shield from the gods, no two-headed dog fight, no scantily clad women, no characters at all to care about and not even a rousing theme tune which was noticeable by its absence. All that’s just for starters.
The cast, as noted earlier, are particularly strong actors yet no one is given anything to do apart from look slightly uncomfortable with their lines. Even the mighty Liam Neeson, who elevated The Phantom Menace with his soulful performance, doesn’t seem to be able to do much to help. The lovely Gemma Arterton fills in a new role as replacement for Andromeda’s duties as the female accomplice on the journey. Thinking about it, she also fills in for Bubo, the clockwork owl, who is unbelievably missed (oh and if you are going to put a throw away Bubo reference in the new film, you better be damn sure yours is better).
Sam Worthington is fine, but doesn’t have much to do apart from look pissed off and shout ‘Yaah!’, which he does very well. Yet despite Leterrier’s action movie background we’re only treated to two brief but exciting sword fights, even though Perseus’s godly gift of a magic sword is awesome.
Mads Mikkelsen and Liam Cunningham fare much better, with Cunningham given the only good lines in the film and the most interesting character, which he makes the most of.
So to my biggest casting and character grievance – Jason Flemyng as Calibos. When portrayed by Neil McCarthy in 1981, Calibos was as threatening as he was disfigured, a genuinely fierce and animalistic mutation, created by Zeus as a punishment for being cruel, sadistic and murderous. In the 2010 version we get Jason Flemyng with a bit of makeup slapped on, running around empowered by some breath from Hades. In an early encounter with Perseus and his men, there was a brief shot of Calibos tearing a man in two, but that was as far as his menace extended.
It was the same casting mistake made in Solomon Kane as Flemyng just doesn’t come off as intimidating at all. Hell, just cast Walken or Isaacs, there are plenty of great villainous actors out there. That said, Ralph Fiennes has proved himself to be quite the nasty bastard in a variety of films (see the fantastic In Bruges for an example) yet even he isn’t capable of summoning the necessary gusto with which to portray Hades. James Woods did more with the character with voiceover alone in Disney’s Hercules.
If one thing could have won me over, it would’ve been the sight of ‘The’ Pegasus on the big screen again, but no, I was denied even that joy as the beautiful winged horse is on screen for about ten minutes, and gone is the taming/bonding between Pegasus and Perseus. Damn.
At least the scenes with Pegasus looked great, mostly for using a real horse with CG wings, while the charm and wonder of Ray Harryhausen’s other designs are morphed into generic CGI creations.
Even the 1981 version has impressive moments of fusion between the stop motion puppets interacting with the live performances, but that is all gone too. Medusa comes across as a hybrid of the old lady librarian spirit from Ghostbusters and a goth, the Kraken a tentacled Rancor-esque monster. And considering Harryhausen stated that he didn’t put three heads on a would-be Cerberus creature in his film, because the animation would be too tricky, the new version just doesn’t even bother, as another painful omission is made.
I am so bitterly disappointed with the soulless entity that is the new Clash Of The Titans that, despite my love for all involved and my easy to please ‘monsters and swords’ mentality, I don’t think I can give it more than two stars (you could possibly add a third if you’ve never seen the original).
So as I wipe away the tears, I look to the heavens and pray to the gods that my other square jawed, muscle bound hero doesn’t let me down this year: “Lord Statham, hear my plea, I need you now more than ever.”
Clash Of The Titans is released this Friday.