DAVID DAVIES, host:
"Clash of the Titans" is a remake of a 1981 epic remembered for its high-toned cast, which included Laurence Olivier as Zeus. The new film is in 3-D and stars "Avatar's" Sam Worthington as Perseus, Liam Neeson as his father Zeus, and Ralph Fiennes as the malevolent god of the underworld, Hades.
Critic David Edelstein has seen both versions and has these thoughts.
DAVID EDELSTEIN: "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. But 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, Lord Laurence Olivier. And he was in a movie with giant monsters, giant monsters made by Ray Harryhausen, the stop-motion heir to "King Kong" FX master Willis O'Brien, 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 Olympos - while down below, the kids they'd each conceived with mortals got constantly upended.
The new "Clash," though, is a humdrum revenge saga. Zeus's son with a mortal woman, Perseus, played by "Avatar"'s Sam Worthington, is out to get Ralph Fiennes's Hades for killing his adopted family. That's why he looks really mad when Fiennes's giant god materializes out of swirling black smoke and in a plangent Shakespearean belch informs the insufficiently reverent Greek king he's going to unleash his deadliest monster, the Kraken.
Up in Olympos, 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, his demigod son, is down there. What's a god to do?
(Soundbite of movie, "Clash of the Titans")
Mr. LIAM NEESON (Actor): (as Zeus) You heard the witch's prophecy. You will not defeat the Kraken, much less Hades. If you continue this journey, you will die and Argus will still fall.
Mr. SAM WORTHINGTON (Actor): (as Perseus) If you're so sure, why are you here?
Mr. NEESON: (as Zeus) To offer you sanctuary. Your blood is mine, Perseus, and that makes you a god. It's time you came to Olympos and started living like one.
Mr. WORTHINGTON: (as Perseus) I'd rather die in the mud with those men than live forever as god.
Mr. NEESON: (as Zeus) You foolish boy. Man's entire existence is a gift of my grace.
Mr. WORTHINGTON: (as Perseus) For somebody who created man, you dont know much about us. We live, we fight, and we die - for each other. Not for you. Tell Hades I'll see him soon.
Mr. NEESON: (as Zeus) I will not make this offer again.
Mr. WORTHINGTON: (as Perseus) Good, because I'd hate to refuse you twice.
EDELSTEIN: Apart from Neeson's haggard majesty, there isn't a whisper of feeling in "Clash of the Titans." Beefy Sam Worthington is too old and too seasoned doing battle with effects 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 okay. 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'd 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 hell-spawn champion, "Lord of the Rings's" 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 new big star: It all works against the movie. The dirty secret about the gods who call the shots in Hollywood is that they're boring.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
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