Titans. Neither, says David Edelstein, has a "whisper of feeling."
Alexa Davalos plays the unlucky princess Andromeda, while Mads Mikkelsen is Draco, the leader of the Praetorian Guard, in
Clash Of The Titans
Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief sensualityWith: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Sam Worthington, Polly Walker
- Director: Louis Leterrier
- Genre: Fantasy Action/Adventure
- Running Time: 110 min
Clash of the Titans makes a good case study in what's wrong with the Hollywood blockbuster mentality. Let's start by saying it's not a train wreck — a train wreck would be more entertaining. Honest craftsmen toiled to give it life. Accomplished actors clearly worked hard to conceal their boredom. Although the film was not conceived or shot to be seen in 3-D, the Avatar box-office blowout made it a suitable candidate for a quickie conversion. Advance sales have been through the roof. As I speak, fanboys are lined up for their new dose of spectacle.
Now, there's no shame in loving spectacle. In the Poetics, Aristotle recognized it as an important component of drama — although much further down the list than plot, characters and dialogue. Of course Aristotle never saw Avatar.
Spectacle in movies goes a long way. We crave amazement. I certainly did when I lined up for the original 1981 Clash of the Titans, back in the day. Here was my favorite actor, Laurence Olivier. And he was in a movie with giant monsters made by Ray Harryhausen — the stop-motion heir to King Kong FX master Willis O'Brien, and the man behind The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts. What could go wrong? Everything — although I smile as I remember its truly mythic tackiness.
The original Clash of the Titans rests on the tragicomic conceit at the heart of many Greek myths: that the seemingly random and often cruel fates of men, women and nations can only be explained by gods and goddesses fighting among themselves like spoiled rich children with too much power. That meant Olivier's randy, petulant Zeus bickered with Maggie Smith's Thetis on Olympus — while down below the kids they'd each conceived with mortals got constantly upended.
The new Clash, by contrast, is a humdrum revenge saga. Perseus, Zeus' demigod son by a mortal woman, is out to get Ralph Fiennes' Hades for killing his adopted family. That's why he looks really mad when Fiennes' giant god materializes out of swirling black smoke and in a plangent Shakespearean belch informs an insufficiently reverent Greek king that he's going to unleash his deadliest monster, the Kraken.
Avatar's Sam Worthington plays Perseus, the demigod son of Zeus and nemesis of Hades. He's a strapping fellow — but he looks just a bit too confident (wonder why?) battling those CGI monsters.
Avatar's Sam Worthington plays Perseus, the demigod son of Zeus and nemesis of Hades. He's a strapping fellow — but he looks just a bit too confident (wonder why?) battling those CGI monsters. Jay Maidment/SMPSP
Up in Olympus, Liam Neeson's Zeus looks vexed but sad. He loves his little humans. But they're so unruly that he agrees with his brother Hades about calling forth the Kraken. But Perseus (Avatar's Sam Worthington) is down there. What's a god to do?
Apart from Neeson's haggard majesty, there isn't a whisper of feeling in Clash of the Titans. The beefy Worthington is too old and too seasoned at doing battle with FX to make a compellingly youthful warrior, and a Chewbacca-esque sidekick doesn't make him any more like Luke Skywalker. The computer-generated monsters? They're OK. I especially liked the three hairy witches who share one eye, but the giant crab thingies don't have the rickety charm of Harryhausen's stop-motion work.
Medusa is a supermodel's head on top of a giant serpent's body: She would be much scarier if she were simpler. The Kraken, when it emerges, looks like a humongous octopus with the head of a snapping turtle. Somewhere the reigning CGI hellspawn champion, The Lord of the Rings' balrog, is laughing its butt off.
Here's the most interesting thing about Clash of the Titans: In the middle, I took off my 3-D glasses, and even though it was slightly blurry, it was much more involving. Director Louis Leterrier knows how to use the wide screen to bring out the primordial beauty of the rocky desert landscapes, which are real. With those glasses on, though, they and everything in them look like one of those pop-out greeting cards.
The trendy technology, the trendy revenge formula, the miscasting of a big new star: It all works against the movie. The dirty secret about the gods who call the shots in Hollywood is that they're boring.