Friday, March 30, 2012

Guest Review: Clash(es) of the Titans (1981-2010)

The 1981 version of Clash of the Titans really was an inspired movie. Clash 2010 wasn’t. In fact, it stank. And what better way to explain why it stank than to compare the two?

** spoiler alert **

Clash 2010 has better production values. Its costumes are more realistic. It has better scenery and thus feels more real than Clash 1981. The supporting actors are better too. Mads Mikkelsen is excellent as Draco, as are Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes as Zeus and Hades. After that, however, things gets sketchy. . .

Surprisingly, the effects in Clash 1981 are better, not in the technical sense, but in the sense of enjoyability. The effects in Clash 1981, done by legendary special effects man Ray Harryhausen, feel more lively and maintain the spirit of mythology which surrounds Ancient Greece. You know these characters when you see them in Clash 1981. By comparison, the effects in Clash 2010 are dreary and nondescript -- you’ve seen them in a dozen other recent films and wouldn’t spot them as Ancient Greek creatures. If you were asked to draw or describe the creatures in each movie, you could easily describe the creatures in Clash 1981, but those in Clash 2010 would end up just as blurs. And that makes a huge difference in how memorable these films are.

The lead actors in Clash 1981 are better as well. Harry Hamlin portrayed the heroic young Perseus perfectly. He had enthusiasm, brashness, and was clearly captivated by Andromeda, whose life he must save. He also let the character be just naive enough that we could discover the world with him, which pulls the audience in, without making him stupid. Judi Bowker similarly gave Andromeda a regal dignity and a flirtiness in her interactions with Perseus, which made her worth saving.

By comparison, the lead actors in Clash 2010 are crap. Sam Worthington gives his usual lifeless effort. He’s dull and dumb and stiffer than a board. He whines. Even worse, his character is impossible to like. He lacks initiative. He’s not clever. He doesn’t want to be the hero, as he keeps telling us, yet for some reason he just keeps moving right along with the plot. It’s like he just had nothing better to do. He also cares so little about Princess Andromeda that you wonder why he’s bothering to save her.

Andromeda is just as bad. She’s played by Alexa Davalos, who you might remember as Olivia Wilde or Emily Blunt or Megan Fox. She’s as lifeless as Worthington and basically just mopes and occupies space. We are given no reason to like her other than her being smarter than the hillbillies around her. Frankly, by the time the mob gets her, it’s really hard to care. Heck, she doesn’t even seem to care.

But where Clash 2010 really falls apart, compared to Clash 1981, is in the substance. Clash 1981 may not have been authentic Greek mythology, but it gave you the sense that it was. The characters, the creatures and the gods all acted correctly according to what we know about them from mythology. Clash 2010 is too modern to make that claim. Consider the gods. Greek gods were flawed because they had (near)absolute power combined with the worst of human traits. They were petty, vengeful, jealous, vain, deceitful, etc. They were narcissists of the highest order, and Greek mythology crawls with their misdeeds.

Clash 1981 captured this as the story revolves around a series of characters who get caught up in the petty quarrels and sexual trysts of the gods. Indeed, the primary story involves vengeance on the people of Joppa for offending the vanity of the goddess Thetis. These gods lie and cheat and abuse their power to get their way, which is how Greek mythology paints their gods. By comparison, the gods in Clash 2010 are a reserved lot. They are mostly caring and largely passive until they are forced to act -- except Hades who has a grudge against Zeus. Indeed, they only punish the city of Argos because the people of Argos declared war on the gods first. In effect, Clash 2010 has Christianized the gods, and rather than being a gang of ultra-powerful but petty thugs, Zeus in Clash 2010 is more like the Christian God of the Old Testament and Hades is like Satan. In fact, Zeus is so caring that the thrust of his story is Zeus trying to reconcile with his bastard son Perseus. Huh?

Along similar lines, the people of Argos don’t make any sense either, and this leads to a larger point. They have declared war against the gods, but for no apparent purpose. There is no indication what they hope to achieve, nor is it ever clear if this is a philosophical issue or something else? In other words, is this a declaration of atheism or do they just want to be rid of these gods? At times the story seems to be crawling with atheistic messages, but it always undercuts itself. For example, Perseus whines repeatedly that he has no need of the gods and he’s his own man. Only. . . he’s not. In almost every scene he’s helped by the gods while the writer pretends Perseus “does it himself.” He gets magical gifts. Zeus gives him tokens he will need. The gods send an advisor/guardian angel who tells him everything he needs to know. His strength and fighting skill come from the gods. He is even told that it is his destiny to free man from the gods? Think about the ludicrousness of that statement – the mythical force of destiny has chosen Perseus to free man from mythical forces? So is this film about atheism? Who knows? The film sure doesn’t.

The problem here is that the writers never bothered to fundamentally understand the nature of the characters. Are these gods or just foreign tyrants? Are the people of Argos declaring atheism or just swapping gods? And if they’re just swapping gods, what are they seeking instead? There’s a big underwear-Gnome-class hole there. Is Perseus a hero or not? Everyone treats him like a hero, yet he achieves nothing on his own -- he is always relying on others to win his fights or tell him the way to go. Etc.

Even the mythical creatures don’t make sense in Clash 2010. Pegasus, the winged-horse which cannot be tamed, simply comes to Perseus like any other horse -- he doesn’t have to find it or tame it (nor does he really need it). Calibos, the man Zeus twisted into a wretch for killing all the winged-horses except Pegasus and who pines for Andromeda, is now little more than an animal who attacks Perseus because Hades tells him to. The deceptive and cryptic witches are neither deceptive nor cryptic. And Medusa is little more than a tall snake.

Moreover, the writers keep undercutting the story. Perseus needs to save Andromeda because. . . well? He doesn’t live in Argos and he can leave any time. He doesn’t love Andromeda either -- halfway through the film it is imply he kind of digs the girl the gods sent him (Io). So why is he trying to save Andromeda? And she doesn’t really want to be saved either. So why should we care? In Clash 1981, Perseus loved Andromeda and she really seemed to want to live. That made sense. In Clash 2010, that’s gone.

They keep undercutting the tension too. For example, Clash 2010 tells us Perseus is a poor “everyman” -- a fisherman who’s never even held a sword (what Greek male never held a sword?). But then we’re told he’s the bastard son of Zeus, and he has special powers. And when he picks up a sword for the first time, he proves to be the ultimate swordsman. . . so much for our everyman. Think about what this does to the rest of the film. With Hamlin’s Perseus, you never knew how he would do in any fight. He got gifts from the gods to help him, but he had no extraordinary skills with which to use them. Perseus 2010 does, thus with Worthington, there’s no suspense. He will win every sword fight. Yawn. Similarly, in Clash 1981, Perseus needed to figure out the puzzles himself. In Clash 2010, Perseus is given advisors directly from the gods to make sure he figures it out. Yawn. We’re even told it’s Perseus’s destiny to win the movie. Yawn.

Clash 2010 is the perfect example of what happens when you take all the “things” out of a movie but none of the substance, and then remake the movie using those things. What you get is a truly forgettable, generic film.


  1. Great article! Who is that masked writer?! ;)

  2. I dunno. Rumor has it he's a lawyer, so he's probably a jerk. LOL!