Saturday, April 17, 2010

Clash of the Titans

"There's a Saga Born Every Minute"
"Let's Get Krakken"

A new version of "Clash of the Titans" has opened—as if one was needed. The 1981 "Clash" is notable as being the last film in the storied career of stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen,* the puppet-magician, who could trace his work-lineage back to Willis O'Brien, the legendary creator of "King Kong." Talk about "Titans." Those of us (of a certain age) think very kindly on the series of British films based on Myth, spear-headed by Harryhausen. Some of us might even get a little misty when we think of the battles staged frame-by-frame between the cinematic stalwarts and Harryhausen's skeletons and other slithering, skittering creatures.

In the cold light of the critical day, though, one has to admit that, aside from
Harryhausen's work (and some legendary scoring), the movies were a bit stiff dramatically (and not just in the upper-lip department), but they provided adolescent adventure, comely lasses, and were a Colossus' step up from "Hercules" movies.

Even the original "Clash of the Titans," although boasting a cast that contained a pantheon of British thesps on the order of
Lord Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Ursula Andress, and Claire Bloom as Olympian Gods, (and Harry Hamlin, Judi Bowker and Burgess Meredith as mere mortals...or demi-gods), only manages to rise above for the camp-nature of the Brit-Theater vets' performances. Desmond Davis' direction is flat, with many vogueing shots of the hero Perseus brandishing his sword with just the right alignment to eclipse the sun, implying its gift-from-gods status. Not very convincing, nor was Judi Bowker as the damsel-in-distress.

This new version has been in development since the success of "
Gladiator," with many re-writers (including an uncredited Lawrence Kasdan) and directors. But it wasn't until French director Louis Leterrier ("The Transporter,""The Incredible Hulk") took it on that the movie emerged from Development Hades.

And it's surprisingly good. Oh, it's not anybody's idea of an inspired film, and there are moments where Letterier lets things fall flat (
the fight with three mystic crones and even the Big Finale fight with the Krakken are staged too frenetically so that important information gets lost in all the flailing). But there's a nifty fight with giant scorpions and a fight with the Medusa are nicely handled. In fact, they reveal a love of the original (and Harryhausen) that's endearing. That scorpion fight is staged among some strewn ruins that suggest Harryhausen's penchant for staging in proscenium-like settings with rubble for the poor flailing hero to appear to be doing something during filming. And even though it's a pixel-fest, there are winking nods to the 1981 version, and even a replication of the old master's stop-motion semi-stuttering movements.

Great cast, too, starting with the appearances of
Pete Postlethwaite and Elizabeth McGovern (where's she been?) as Persus' foster-parents. Liam Neeson plays Zeus (without any of Olivier's archness) and Ralph Fiennes has fun with his snakey performing of Hades. Sam Worthington plays Persus as a bit like a bland Russell Crowe, and Mads Mikkelsen (LeChiffre in "Casino Royale") does fine glowering work as an Argosian soldier who only smiles...once. Chief love interest is no longer Andromeda (played by Alexa Davalos, who's a dead-ringer for a brunette Katherine Heigl), but Io (the increasingly ubiquitous Gemma Arterton), cursed by the gods with immortality and, apparently, the tendency to be a buttinski with an all-knowing smile.

We can analyze this movie until it turns into a block of Quik-crete, but it delivers adventure tickles (one can't really say "thrills"), some nice character bits, and a regard for its original. It's a bit duller in color and flash than the first "Clash," but it does what it does for the most part very well.

Whether we needed another version is another question.

This "Clash of the Titans" was intended to be released "flat," but since "
Avatar" (the last movie Sam Worthington "sorta" performed in) received so much tribute, they hastily converted it to 3-D. There are the de rigeur spinning swords, swords poking at our noses, and—this is new—a skipping gold coin. But, as it wasn't designed for 3-D and it's an after-thought, let's call it "2 1/2 D." That, combined with the fact that most IMAX theaters in this country are not IMAX, and you have a lot of people paying extra money to not see what they think they're seeing—a 3-D movie in IMAX format. The tickets are far costlier, and "Clash of the Titans" was the top of the box-office the last couple of week-ends, so that tells me that there are a lot of people who don't know...and don't care that they're not getting what they think they're getting.

"Clash of the Titans" (2010) is a Rental.

* By the time of of the first "Titans," ILM had begun perfecting the go-motion system—Phil Tippett's way of introducing motion-blur to frame-by-frame filming, best seen in "Dragonslayer."

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