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. . .
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.
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.
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.
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.