Like video game cutscenes? You'll like Clash of the Titans

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

Let us not be fooled by either nostalgia or the utter charm of Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animation—the original Clash of the Titans was not a very good movie. After seeing the remake, though, the 1981 film is like the Wild Strawberries of sword and sandal epics. People will be writing their Ph.D. theses on that damn clickyclack-hoohoo owl (which has a cameo in the new film, in the form of a cruel joke) when this 3-D CGI collection of video-game cutscenes is long forgotten.

Is it possible to spoil a remake of a myth that also happens to be like every other fantasy action film of the past 20 years or so? It hardly matters—the film spoils itself. In Clash, humanity has decided to withhold prayers from the gods of Olympus, and for good reason! Poor Spyros didn't catch any fish all day! (He does have a nicer boat than my actual Greek cousin Spyros, so I don't know what he's complaining about ...)

Indeed, the war between men and gods is basically a battle between petulant brats and obnoxious jerks. Men knock down a statue of Zeus, Hades (Ralph Fiennes, who used to be in good movies) shows up and kills everybody. Men lay siege to Olympus, Zeus (Liam Neeson, rocking the Jerry Garcia look) retaliates by using his Wondertwin powers to seduce a king's wife much as Tupac Shakur claimed to have slept with the Notorious B.I.G.'s wife Faith Evans. And the issue of that encounter is the demigod Perseus (Sam Worthington, who, because the gods have cursed us, is the worst actor in every movie he's in, and he's in every movie!), who is really going to teach Hades a lesson now ... but without help from the gods. Except for all the help he gets.

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Perseus doesn't know he's a demigod; as far as he is concerned, his only father is Spyros, who was killed by Hades. Yet everyone in the kingdom of Argos does know what Perseus is all about, for reasons that'll probably show up as a DVD extra, because they sure aren't in the movie. In Argos, where everyone has long braids and British accents, the king and the queen make fun of the gods and hype their own daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos, not Greek despite the name and hardly in the movie) as more beautiful than Aphrodite (not in the movie, so who knows!). Hades shows up and tells everyone that in 10 days he's going to send his little offspring the Kraken (Clovie from Cloverfield, basically) to either destroy Argos or eat Andromeda. So everyone wisely decides to leave Argos and set up a town 10 miles inland named New Argos, and Perseus opens a successful chain of combination souvlaki stand/sandal repair shops ("Eat It or Wear It!" is the motto) and that's it ...

If only. Clash of the Titans is just about two hours long, with only 20 minutes of content. Hades, as you could possibly guess from his name, or from the fact that he appears in a puff of black smoke, or that he likes to kill everyone he meets, is actually the baddie out to mess with Zeus. Zeus eats love and Hades eats fear, so you see ... you know, it doesn't matter. Perseus, his pal the immortal, who has the magical power of always being right offscreen with an anecdote to get the plot going, and the rest of the Fellowship of the 300 Rings cross the trackless deserts (of Greece?) and are about to be eaten by some scorpions grown from the blood of Hades' servant Calibos when they are saved by some ... djinn. You know, the very-much-not-Hellenic genies? Though these cats are not proper djinn, as they are made not of fire but wood, of which there is plenty in the desert. Good thing Perseus wasn't bushwhacked in a green field, or he would have been saved by leprechauns instead. Leprechauns made of chocolate!

Then it's off to the underworld to find Medusa and cut off her head. (This part of the story is 2,500 years old, so don't go whining about spoilers now.) Oh-ho, but Hades is the god of the underworld, so surely there will be a big fight ... nah. Ah, and here comes Calibos, who will certainly slice open a vein and fill the narrow pass through which Perseus moves alone with more giant scorpions to ... nope, that doesn't happen either. In fact, pretty much zero thought went into Clash of the Titans, despite the triple-headed screenwriting credit. Know this: The titular titans are supposedly the Kraken and Medusa. Except that we are told right at the beginning of the movie that the titans were a cosmic race older than and usurped by the gods. And we're also told that the Kraken was created by Hades and Medusa by Athena (the goddess of wisdom, who hates rape victims). Thus, there isn't a single titan in Clash of the Titans! I guess Clash of the Chthonic Abominations was too long for most multiplex marquees.

Further, Perseus makes a big deal about doing things "as a man," except that he is constantly saved by the djinn's magic, by the ageless Io, with a little help from his Pegasus or magic sword or papa Zeus (Zeus even hands out money just to make Perseus feel bad, in the manner of a real Greek father), and by his own inborn prowess as a demigod. Finally, the movie is in 3-D but was cut to include an immense number of close-ups. Unless you always wanted to spend a few minutes exploring the interior of Liam Neeson's 10-foot nostril, there's no reason for the film to be shot the way it was.

To give Clash the teensiest bit of credit, there is a theme here. Of course, the theme is an exploration of the childhood cry "I never asked to be born!" There's even one good moment between Perseus and Calibos. And a minor character who actually looks Greek. Well, he's fat, anyway, and has curly hair like my cousin Triphonos. So there's that, but somewhere in a dusty corner of a Burbank warehouse, some old stop-motion puppets are fuming that they never asked to be remade. And they have reason to be upset—the original was much better.