Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
The just released Clash of the Titans remake is inferior to the original in almost every way. Read on for a defense of that statement in my full review.
Clash of the Titans (1981) opens with iconic imagery. Soldiers clad in black armor carry a large wooden casket toward a rocky shore. A young woman holding an infant stands by, quietly weeping. One of the men cries out to the raging surf and stormy skies addressing Zeus and “all the gods of high Olympus,” identifies himself as King Acrisius of Argos, and condemns the woman (Danae, his daughter) and her son (Perseus) to death in order to “purge her crime and restore [his] honor.” Soldiers lock Danae and Perseus inside the coffin and hurl their sarcophagus into the sea. Cue epic theme music and all-around awesomeness.
Clash of the Titans (2010) opens with a computer-generated view of space, artist-rendered constellations and nebulae swirling into humanoid shapes while an unseen female narrator gives a Cliff’s Notes version of Greek mythology, specifically the end of the Titanomachy and rise of the Olympic gods. Less than a minute into the movie and already liberties are taken with both the original film’s plot and Greek mythology in general.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert on Greek mythology, and I am not claiming that the original film is factually accurate, though my impression is that it is closer to being an authentic telling of Greek myth than the remake. I’ll be going into detail in defense of that statement, so fair warning: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.
The narrator tells us that in order to ascend to power, Zeus convinces his brother Hades to create the Kraken, a terrible beast with the power to defeat the Titans. How Hades has the ability to create the Kraken, and why Zeus does not, is never explained. The coup is successful, and Zeus becomes ruler of Mount Olympus and the other gods after he tricks Hades into becoming the ruler of the Underworld (even though according to The Iliad they drew lots for their domains). Zeus creates humanity so that their love and prayers may sustain the gods with immortality(?). But humanity has become restless of late, resentful of the gods and their demands for worship. This sets up the major conflict of the film.
King Acrisius, after leading of an unsuccessful siege of Mount Olympus (WTF?), is the target of Zeus’s vengeful wrath. What manner of horrible punishment does the god of thunder visit upon Acrisius for such outrage? He takes the king’s form and seduces his wife. Zeus (played by Liam Neeson) sticks around just long enough post-coitus to reveal his true nature to Acrisius and deliver a righteous “fuck you” before escaping off to Olympus. After Acrisius’s wife bears a son, the king casts them both into the sea, whereupon they’re discovered by a fisherman (Spyro, played by the great Pete Postlethwaite). Acrisius’s wife has not survived the ordeal, so Spyro adopts the baby boy as his own, naming him Perseus.
Some 20 years later, Perseus (Sam Worthington) is living the life of a fisherman at sea on a small ship with his adopted mother, father, and sister. Life is hard, the gods unwavering in their demands for fidelity and worship, quick to punish the unfaithful, yet Perseus is happy and content. These things, like so much in this film, are fed to the audience in little expository spoonfuls. And if there is still any doubt as to the resentment of mankind for the gods, soon after Perseus and his family come to a wonder of the ancient world, a giant statue of Zeus. Their awe turns to fear as they witness soldiers from Argos attacking the statue, causing it to topple into the sea. Winged demons burst from the water, quickly dispatch most of the defilers, and then coalesce into the form of Hades (played by Ralph Fiennes), who for no discernible reason launches a devastating attack on Spyro’s fishing vessel. Only Perseus survives, his family caught in the ship and carried to the ocean’s bottom to drown.
Perseus is rescued by some of the surviving soldiers, who take him back to Argos and (again, for no apparent reason) to the palace of King Kepheus, Queen Cassiopeia, and their daughter Princess Andromeda. Meanwhile Hades travels to Olympus where he petitions Zeus to allow him to punish humanity for their blasphemy and offenses to the gods. Zeus is far too loving, too lenient to do what is necessary to bring mankind back into line. Zeus acquiesces, and Hades ventures to Argos, demanding the sacrifice of Andromeda to the Kraken, else the beast will be free to lay waste to the entire city.
Sidenote: I find it utterly ridiculous that toppling a single statue of Zeus warrants destruction of an entire city, while the “punishment” for a direct assault on Mount Olympus itself is that your wife gets nailed by a god.
Upon recognizing Hades, Perseus futilely attacks him. A woman who identifies herself as Io, whom we recognize as the narrator from the opening of the film (the beautiful Gemma Arterton) counsels Perseus that if he were to kill the Kraken, it would weaken Hades to the point that a fatal blow might be struck. And so in pursuit of vengeance for his murdered family Perseus sets off with an honor guard of Argos’ finest to find the witches of Stygia, to learn how the Kraken might be killed.
I go into such detail about the plot of Clash of the Titans (2010) precisely because it is so inferior to that of the original. Clash of the Titans (1981) portrayed the Greek gods much closer to their true nature. From my recollections of Greek mythology from literature courses in school, the gods were a capricious, quarreling lot. The Greek gods were constantly having sex with each other, with mortals, meddling in the lives of humans, fighting over them and/or because of them (often their demigod children). The gods weren’t so easily divided into camps of “good guys” and “bad guys,” and more often than not most of the conflict arose between Zeus and his wife Hera. In Clash of the Titans (1981), Zeus has sex with Danae just because he fancies her. When Acrisius in outrage tosses Danae and her bastard son to the sea, Zeus orders Poseidon to guide them safety, while Acrisius and Argos are to be destroyed by the Kraken, the last of the Titans, as seen at the 6:20 mark in the following:
In fact much of the conflict of the original film is between Zeus (Laurence Olivier) and Thetis, goddess of the sea (played by the wonderful Maggie Smith). And yet this is a squabble, not some great power struggle. The interactions of the goddesses (Clash of the Titans (1981) celebrated the goddesses as much as if not more than the gods, evident by the distinct lack of male gods, aside from Zeus, Poseidon, and a brief glimpse of Hephaestus) highlight ordinary, almost commonplace nature of these godly contentions, as seen at the 00:32 mark in the following:
In contrast, the complex nature of the gods is completely abandoned in Clash of the Titans (2010) in favor of a more Judeo-Christian view. Zeus is clearly portrayed as the loving creator, though he does have some Old Testament wrath in him, and Hades is unequivocally painted as an evil/satanic figure, helped in large part by Ralph Fiennes channeling his performance as Voldemort from the Harry Potter movies, even though “Hades was actually more altruistically inclined in mythology [and] was often portrayed as passive rather than evil; his role was often maintaining relative balance.”
I could delve further into the departures (and inherent deficiencies therein) that Clash of the Titans (2010) makes. But I feel I’m getting long-winded, and so let me sum up some of the more glaring ones, and leave you to your own conclusions:
In the early goings of the film Zeus does not care about, nor is even aware of the fact that Perseus is his son.
The character of Calibos, who was the son of Thetis in the original film and cursed with deformity by Zeus for numerous offenses and becomes the primary antagonist of Perseus, is in the new film in the form of a cursed King Acrisius. He identifies himself as Calibos, though there is no reason/explanation for this, other than as a shout-out to fans of the original.
Perseus does not fall in love with Andromeda, and (as I said earlier) does not seek to kill the Kraken in order to save her. His quest is fueled purely by rage and a desire for revenge.
Bubo (the clockwork owl from the original film) makes a brief appearance in a complete throw-away moment that is another attempted shout-out to fans that fails miserably because it simply serves as a reminder of how great the original is, and how much the remake sucks in comparison.
Perseus and companions encounter djinn, which as far as I know originated in Middle Eastern/pre-Islamic legends, but were never present in Greek mythology.
Perseus falls in love, and gets to live happily ever after with Io. This both contradicts Io’s mythology as a lover of Zeus and Perseus’s own mythology as the husband of Andromeda and future king of Mycenae.
The Part of the Review Where I Rant about Specific, Unrelated Aspects of the Film:
The Special Effects
I know that if you were to directly compare the special effects of the remake with the original, you’d be considered blind or just crazy (or maybe unfairly biased) if you were to claim that the effects in the original were better. Now, I may likely be biased, but I’m here to tell you that I believe that very thing. If you consider what Ray Harryhausen was able to accomplish with stop-motion animation, while the effects may look a little ridiculous by today’s CGI standards, for the time they were cutting edge. Are the effects in the remake particularly special or ground-breaking? Are the computer generated giant spiders, or computer generated Kraken, or computer generated landscapes that different from any other big-budget action film out today? Are they anymore realistic? To wit, consider Medusa from each film. The computer generated Medusa in the remake may be sleeker and faster than the Gorgon from the original, but does she really look better? Okay maybe better, but not any uglier or more scary. And perhaps most importantly, do the “improved” special effects do anything to make the remake more enjoyable? I would say no. Clash of the Titans (2010) suffers from Transformers 2 syndrome. Yes the CG-effects are crisp and flashy, but the giant scorpions, Medusa, winged demons, and Kraken are moving so fast, and so much is happening onscreen that when coupled with shaky camera movements the action becomes so damn frenetic I can hardly follow just what the fuck is happening. At least when Harryhausen put a giant scorpion or winged horse onscreen I could see the loving attention to detail poured into every frame.
If I recall correctly (and I admit I may be mistaken about this), Clash of the Titans (2010) wasn’t originally intended to be filmed in 3D. But when Avatar made obscene amounts of money with its truly-deserving-of-the-term revolutionary 3D effects, it became the order of the day. So is it actually worth it to see this film in 3D, particularly if you have to pay extra? Let me put it this way. There are times when the film tries to use 3D in atmospheric, depth-of-field kinds of ways, and those or sort of cool, but really not that interesting (and vastly inferior to what Cameron did in Avatar). And when Clash of the Titans (2010) goes for the gimmicky “OMG something is flying toward the screen and directly at us!” schtick, which it does on several occasions, that’s exactly how it feels, like a cheap gimmick. Does it add anything? No. Would that element have worked just as well in 2D? Yes. Should you pay extra to see it in 3D? Absolutely not.
The Younger Movie-Goer’s Experience
Granted, this whole review has been fueled by my love for the original film. I’ve written this review, just as I watched the new film, from that point of view. I expect that any movie-goer around my age who has seen Clash of the Titans (1981) and has a special place for it in their hearts will come out of Clash of the Titans (2010) shaking their head, muttering about how much better the original is. But what about the young viewer who’s never seen the original? What might they think?
Oddly enough I think they too may be disgruntled. At least some of them could be. If you’re a big fan of the God of War video game franchise for the PS2 & PS3, I have no doubt you’ll come out of the theater wondering how the screenwriters got away with ripping off Sony’s biggest action hero. To wit:
In the first God of War game Kratos, a captain in the Spartan army, initiates a quest to kill Ares out of revenge for the murder of his family.
Perseus seeks to kill Hades for the murder of his adopted family.
Kratos is counseled throughout the game by the goddess Athena, who has her own motivations to see Ares fall.
Perseus is counseled by Io, a woman cursed with agelessness who has her own reasons for opposing Hades.
Kratos visits the oracle of Athens, who tells him that he must search for Pandora’s Box in order to gain the power to kill Ares. Along the way he ventures through the Underworld.
Perseus visits the Stygian Witches (themselves oracles) who tell him he must travel to the Underworld to acquire Medusa’s head in order to gain the power to kill the Kraken, and thus kill Hades.
After defeating Ares Kratos is offered a place in Olympus as the new god of war.
After defeating Hades Perseus is offered a place in Olympus as a demigod and son of Zeus.
Final Verdict, as if that Wasn’t Clear by this Point in the Review
If you’re over the age of say, 30 or so, and/or you really like the original film, I advise you to wait until this comes out on Netflix. I suspect you will be disappointed by the remake. If you like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or big, unintelligent action films with more style than substance in general, I expect you’ll have a blast at Clash of the Titans (2010).
But for the gods’ sake don’t expect to watch this film in lieu of studying for a test on Greek mythology and pass.