Often-entertaining remake of cult favorite 80s adventure debuts on DVD, Blu-Ray tomorrow.
A moderate hit upon its theatrical relsease this past spring, director Louis Leterrier’s (The Incredible Hulk) remake of the semi-beloved 1981 adventure will at least never be accused of pretension. Crammed with enough machismo to power a rugby league and wearing its derivations of established franchises (especially Star Wars and Transformers) on its brawny sleeves, it fearlessly deploys both state of the art CGI and hammy acting chiefly for the purpose of one-upsmanship. It’s a summer blockbuster through and through, a faithful depiction of Greek Mythology about as much as Star Wars was about family dynamics or space exploration. And it’s sometimes, maybe just often enough, entertaining for just those very reasons.
The setup is at least more complicated, this time around. After centuries of servitude, the human race has taken up arms against the gods who both protect and bully them, toppling the gods’ images and launching sieges against their aerie on Mount Olympus. The gods can’t live without mankinds’ prayers fueling their immortality, even though their chieftain Zeus (Liam Neeson) favors a wait-and-see approach to his rebellious creation. Others, like his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) prefer a kill-’em-all retaliation; small wonder, since as ruler of the underworld he feeds on fear and terror.
Amid this, ahem, clash, an orphaned baby is found by a kindly fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite) and raised as his own child. Nineteen years and one awkward jump in time later, the adult Perseus’ (Sam Worthington) adopted family is killed as the indirect result of anti-Zeus actions committed by soldiers from the nearby city-state of Argus. He’s taken to the Argive court, where an attack by Hades reveals his true heritage – he’s actually the son of Zeus, conceived in retaliation for a rebellious king’s (Jason Flemyng) aggression. Hades threatens to destroy the city in ten days if the Argives don’t sacrifice their noble princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos), as punishment for their defiance and as part of a larger scheme to weaken Zeus. Encouraged by fellow demi-god Io (Gemma Arterton), Perseus agrees to lead an expedition to the distant lair of the Stygian Witches, to consult their oracular advice. In turn, this sends them to murder the gorgon Medusa, to use her head against the Kraken beast Hades will send to raze Argos.
With so much plot to cover, it’s no wonder the script by Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi rarely slows down long enough to catch its breath – or even clearly identify some of its central characters. Of the four principal soldiers who accompany Perseus, only the bitter and intense Draco (Mads Mikkelsen) is given sufficient screen time to emerge as a character in his own right; the others fall into convenient war movie types: the rookie, the older veteran smartass, the carefree guy. Two additional adventurers, hunters who volunteer only until the party reaches the underworld, receive plenty of screen time but almost no characterization at all. The special effects sequences, naturally, get all the time they want under Leterrier’s direction, including a belabored and 3-D pandering coin skipping over the river Styx.
To the extent that they’re allowed, the supporting players inhabit their parts with gusto. Mikkelsen is effective as the embittered warrior who will smile “only once I’ve spit in the gods’ eyes.” Arterton, so fetching in her brief screen time in Quantum of Solace, is an alluring figure, while Davalos uses every second to build Andromeda up as both strong and compassionate. Neeson and Fiennes thump and bellow according to their parts; Fiennes seems to enjoy himself more, wallowing in the heavy metal album cover art of costuming. As for the film’s star, lately Worthington has drawn comparisons to Russell Crowe: they’re both Australian, and well-built, with plenty of cocky swagger. But Worthington lacks both Crowe’s intensity and his sense of reserved confidence. He’s a placeholder, but to his advantage the script requires him to do nothing much besides react to the circumstances around him with little need for dramatic initiative.
Perhaps the film’s greatest strength lies in its production design. The monsters are terrifying, the costumes layered and textured in such a way as to seem glamorous while lived-in at the same time. The city-state of Argos, ringing a mountainous cove, is a terrific bit of CGI imagery, while the gorgon and its lair are chillingly atmospheric. A glaring exception is the underworld ferryman Charon, whose flat and uninspired designs recall any number of comic book monsters and again, heavy metal album art (specifically, Iron Maiden.) It’s also sort of hard to take Zeus’ glittering silver armor with complete seriousness; at times its luster ebbs a bit, and the designs inlaid in the plating – an eagle-shaped shoulder guard – seem overwrought. Leterrier keeps the action moving, sometimes faster than necessary, other times slowing down at odd moments that stall the forward momentum that the characters need.
Online columnist Matthew Belinkie recently wondered in an excellent analysis if, thanks to the proliferation of online video and ecommerce, the time of the cult movie has ended. The original Clash of the Titans has become something of a cult perennial if not exactly a classic, well-liked but perhaps not widely adored. This remake shares with its predecessor the hammy acting and endearing special effects, yet its shortcomings of script and story keep it from developing as a complete work in its own right. Still, IMDB shows a sequel already announced, so it’s exceeded its inspiration in one respect.
- Michael Kabel
(Note: An earlier version of this review originally appeared for the film’s theatrical release.)