‘Clash of the Titans’ an exhausting spectacle
April 20, 2010
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We owe a significant cultural debt to the Greeks. Fine arts, sports, medicine, philosophy, the letters on the front of frat houses---thank you, achievers of Mediterranean antiquity, for these and the many other fine things.
But you can’t hold the Greeks responsible for “Clash of the Titans,” even though it’s their story. No, for this one, you can thank---and blame---Hollywood. And France: Paris-born Louis Letterier, who previously brought “The Incredible Hulk” to the big screen in 2008, directed this romping, stomping re-visit to the legend of Perseus, the mythological Greek demi-god, king and monster slayer.
Sam Worthington from “Avatar” plays Perseus, the mixed-breed son of the deity Zeus and a mortal mother who grows up unaware he’s got god-juice in his veins. But when humans pick a fight with their cosmic CEOs up on Mount Olympus, and Perseus’ adopted family dies as a result, he springs into action as a resistance fighter. It’s only then that he learns his true nature, the unique position, the power it affords him and the crucial role he’s destined to play in the epic struggle.
Now, wait a minute, you say---wasn’t this already a movie? Yes, indeed, it was, back in 1981, when Harry Hamlin put on a toga for the lead role. This new “Clash” throws one wink-wink at its cinematic predecessor, in a scene when Perseus briefly comes across an object---a golden owl---that featured prominently in the first movie.
As you might imagine, filmmaking technology has changed a bit over the years. Though the two “Clash of the Titans” movies share a basic framework and characters, this one wallow in computer-generated, special-effect riches that were only a dream back in 1981. Worthington’s Perseus battles gigantic scorpions, stalks the deadly, snake-haired, serpent-bodied Medusa and faces off with an enormous, hulking beast called the Kraken that rises out of the ocean.
It’s a spectacle, but not necessarily one that dazzles. The action sequences are chaotic, the plot is difficult to follow and the cheesy sets sometimes look like props from a theme-park ride. (And it looks even worse in 3-D, so if you go, save your money and see it on a “standard” screen.) A meant-to-be chilling encounter with three blind witches comes off almost as a comedy sketch. As Zeus and Hades, respectively, esteemed actors Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes bring a degree of theatrical gravity to their roles but are mostly swallowed up by the noisy, overly busy special effects constantly swirling, splashing and slamming around them.
It’s hard to miss the pop-cultural cornerstones on which this project was built, from “King Kong” to “Lord of the Rings,” not to mention the sword-and-sandal format itself, established in the 1950s by a wave of Hercules muscle movies and the stop-motion animation of Ray Harryhausen. That’s one of the problems: We’ve seen so much of this before. And even rip-roaring special effects can’t carry a movie alone.
Character development clearly isn’t a priority here; nobody’s given much to do that doesn’t involve heaving, cleaving, swatting or slashing. But, in a way, “Clash of the Titans” does make you feel for its hero. By the time Perseus sends Hades packing back to the underworld, beheads Medusa, topples the gigantic Kraken and dives to the bottom of the sea to rescue the princess, you’ll feel exhausted.