1981’s CLASH OF THE TITANS was the end of an era. It was the final feature film that effects wizard Ray Harryhausen would work on, and one of the last films to rely heavily on stop-motion animation. (A year later, TRON would showcase the first extensive use of CGI in a film.) CLASH OF THE TITANS is a respected classic, and when I heard it was being remade I was pretty apprehensive.
How could Warner Bros. possibly top the original film’s epic tale of Perseus, the mortal son of Zeus, who battles mythological monsters in order to save the woman he loves?! The short answer: They couldn’t. In the new CLASH, Perseus (Sam Worthington) is the bastard child of Zeus (Liam Neeson), born after the mighty King of the Gods sneakily had his way with the wife of King Acrisius.
In anger, Acrisius tossed his wife and her newborn child into a box (more like a coffin really), and dropped them into the raging Mediterranean to die. For this despicable act, Zeus sends down a lightning bolt that disfigures Acrisius, turning him into a deformed monstrosity called Calibos.
As for Perseus, newborn demigod is eventually found and raised by a kindly fisherman named Spyros. After Spyros and his wife are killed by the minions of Hades (Ralph Fiennes), Perseus vows an oath of vengeance against the Greek gods. That’s right folks, Perseus doesn’t begin his quest to save a beautiful princess and a kingdom, he’s just out for revenge Charles Bronson-style, against foes that he cannot possibly hope to defeat!
While this isn’t really a bad thing in itself, one has to wonder why the filmmakers even bother introducing Princess Andromeda. Rescuing her is merely a “side quest;” she exists only as a reward for Perseus if he successfully completes his adventure. And for most of the film, he doesn’t even seem to care about Andromeda once another love interest, a fellow demigod named Io (Gemma Arterton), steps into the picture.
There are several problems with the sudden romance between these two main characters, but the big one is that their love feels so entirely contrived. Io claims that she has watched over Perseus since he was a child and her actions are genuinely akin to that of an older sister. But by the third act, they are ready to make sweet demigod love within the bowels of Charon’s ferryboat.
Neither of these two share similar bloodlines, so it is cool if they decide to “knock boots,” but why paint these two as a sort of brother-sister duo, then have them become lovers by the third act of the movie? That doesn’t really make sense to me.
Also joining Perseus on his peril-filled journey are a handful of Argosian soldiers, a Djinn, and a pair of “monster hunters,” that may or may not be Greek gods in disguise. While they prove to be helpful, they’re all expendable fodder for the likes of Calibos, giant scorpions, and eventually Medusa.
Speaking of Calibos, he is totally wasted here as a villain. In the original, he is punished by Zeus for killing off a herd of flying horses. For this sinful act, Calibos is turned into a twisted man-beast with a tail, horns, and claws. Although he is a secondary character in the 1981 film, he has his own story arc, and proves to be a formidable antagonist over the course of the movie.
In the “new and improved” 2010 CLASH OF THE TITANS, Calibos is the complete opposite. He sits beneath the city of Argos completely forgotten by everyone, except for Hades, who bestows upon him supernatural powers, and tasks him with ridding ancient Greece of Perseus.
Now you’d probably believe that from this point on, Calibos would become a major thorn in Perseus’ side and doggedly pursue our hero throughout his quest, but you’d be terribly wrong. Calibos shows up twice in the film to confront Perseus, before biting the dust.
And this is the film’s biggest overall problem: The characters are so horribly written! Perseus is a whiny demigod that constantly defies his Olympic parentage, because he doesn’t want to turn into a douchebag deity. Hell, even when Zeus bestows several gifts to Perseus, he refuses to utilize them, resulting in the death of every likable character in the film!
Had Perseus just accepted his Olympic heritage, and used his godly gifts before the final act, then I think I would have found the movie a bit more enjoyable. But no, our “hero” continues acting like a self-righteous prick, even after he finally accepts that Zeus is his father and uses everything at his disposal to save Argos.
However, unlike the original film where Perseus arrives just in the nick of time to save Andromeda and the people of Argos, in the new film, he arrives a bit late, resulting in lots of Kraken-related death and destruction. However, in my opinion, the people of Argos deserved to become Kraken snacks. I realize things were bad there, but who in their right mind would become desperate enough to follow a Hades worshiper that looks like a raver strung out on Ecstasy?
But as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself, because I’ve failed to talk about Perseus’ quest. Traditionally, in a film like this, the protagonist goes on a journey where he or she must overcome obstacles in order to achieve a goal, and along the way they learn lessons and grow as a character.
They also tend to build strong ties with their fellow brothers-in-arms who join them in their quest, and as a result, the audience becomes attached to these secondary characters. So when a supporting character dies heroically (or tragically), the emotionally invested viewers should feel some sense of loss.
There is absolutely none of that in the redo of CLASH OF THE TITANS, and it annoys the hell out of me! The only person in the movie with anything resembling a backstory if Perseus. Everyone else is a two-dimensional character that might as well have a target painted on their chests, because most of them don’t make it to the climax.
The bulk of the Argosian soldiers perish during their scuffle with Medusa, as does the self-destructing Djinn, while the two comic relief monster hunters from the film’s first act take a leave of absence for the remainder of the movie. There is no excuse for such terrible writing, especially when the bulk of the story was lifted from a screenplay that is over thirty years old, and doctored by three different writers! What the hell happened?! (Studio interference perhaps?)
From what I’ve read online, several key items from the script’s final draft were excised during shooting. For instance, the Greek gods all had more screentime and dialogue, and several of the Grecian deities helped Perseus on his quest, which is infinitely more interesting than just having Zeus pop up and deliver divine gifts to his bastard son.
The gods were always at odds in Greek mythology, so having Apollo, Athena, and others aiding the young demigod in his quest would have been great. Instead, all we get on the big screen is a room full of oddly-dressed giants who stare on as Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes chew some scenery.
It’s obvious that I care little for this new CLASH OF THE TITANS, but are there any redeeming factors at all? Yes. This film is not entirely without merit, as a lot of the visual effects are quite good, especially any moment that features the Pegasus in action.
During the huge climax where Perseus rides his flying stallion into Argos, we get to see the winged stallion dodge flying demons and Kraken tentacles in the air, then hit the ground at a fierce gallop before seamlessly lifting off into the sky again. It’s obscenely impressive that the Pegasus moves so fluidly in these scenes, and it easily eclipses the rest of the film’s visual effects.
The other three main creatures in the film all look pretty cool too, though admittedly the Kraken’s design didn’t blow me away. (It looks like a cross between the monster from DEEP RISING and the Rancor from RETURN OF THE JEDI.) The scorpions were nifty, but they quickly turn from a threat into a joke when they are saddled up and used as transport across a desert. And finally, there’s Medusa, the Gorgon…
Medusa was portrayed via motion capture by a Russian-born supermodel named Natalia Vodianova, and this is probably the sexiest incarnation of Medusa I’ve seen since Jennifer Richards’ snake-haired horror hostess persona from TERRORVISION. The only downside here is that Medusa wears a Gorgon-bra (really? No scaly boobs? Would that really have made this an R-rated film?) and looks horrifying… ly unconvincing when she turns her victims to stone.
For some reason, instead of doing something simple and effective like having Medusa’s eyes light up when she turns a man to stone (a la the original CLASH OF THE TITANS), her entire face contorts into something resembling a lion/snake hybrid. The transition looks really shoddy, and detracts from any menace this mighty Gorgon once had.
And while I’m still talking about Medusa, if her gaze can turn any living creature to stone, then why couldn’t she turn the Djinn into a statue? (Perhaps it’s because it is a mythological creature from an entirely different culture?) Damn you movie, make sense!
Lastly, before I give this film my final judgement, I would like to point out that the real star of the film should have been Mads Mikkelsen. He portrayed Draco, one of the main Argosian troops that aids Perseus on his quest, and is without a doubt, the biggest bad-ass in this movie! Thankfully he has one of the most suicidally heroic deaths you’ll ever see!
After being shot with an arrow by Medusa, he breaks off the tip and the fletch, then scales a wall, leaps onto a huge stalactite, hacks it from the ceiling with two daggers, and rides it to the ground as it impales Medusa’s tail to the cavern floor! He somehow survives this fall, only to be turned to stone, and then shattered into a pile of debris by a righteously pissed Medusa. This insane assist wounds the Gorgon, and gives Perseus a fighting chance to lop off her head. (Why isn’t Mads Mikkelsen the star of this movie again? Oh right, because he didn’t star in AVATAR or TERMINATOR: SALVATION!)
CLASH OF THE TITANS is big, stupid, and sometimes fun, but overall it is pointless and lacks heart. If you’re curious, give this one a rental, but otherwise, you’d be better off watching the far superior 1981 film. Though I am tempted to cast this film straight to Tartarus and give it my lowest possible rating, I am an honorable demigod (of b-movies, natch!) and shall bestow unto this remake a rating of: