Clash of the Titans
Directed by Louis Leterrier. Starring Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Flemyng, Gemma Arterton, Alexa Davalos, Mads Mikkelsen, Luke Evans, Izabella Miko. (2010, PG-13, 118 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 2, 2010
If you're casting about, looking to remake one of Ray Harryhausen's beloved stop-motion masterpieces but unsure of where to begin, it makes a slanted sort of sense to kick things off with everyone's least favorite of the 24-frames-per-second craftsman's 15-plus forays into "the land beyond beyond." And that, of course, would be 1981's fondly recalled but final – and frankly stodgy – Clash of the Titans. Directed, ploddingly, by Desmond Davis and featuring a raft of international thespians essaying the roles of the major Greek deities – Laurence Olivier as Zeus, Maggie Smith as Thetis, Ursula Andress as Aphrodite – the film remains most (in)famous for the presence of L.A. Law's Harry Hamlin, woefully miscast as the hero, Perseus, a half-human demigod son of Zeus who must battle the gods to save the seaside metropolis of Joppa and win the hand of the Princess Andromeda. Frankly, it's a silly, ill-conceived, kiddie-film mess, with even the great animator Harryhausen coming up short nearly everywhere (although his serpentine Medusa remains a high point). Leterrier's (The Incredible Hulk) overbusy new take is pretty messy itself, trying as it does to cram all manner of Greek history into its overstuffed 118-minute running time, but at least it has the incalculable benefit of zero Hamlin and plenty of Fiennes, who, as Hades, Lord of the Underworld, hunches amidst a perpetual swirl of ash and utters all his lines in a rasp, as if he were auditioning for Dwight Frye: Superstar. It's a terrific bit of hammy scene-devouring, and it even upstages Neeson's Zeus, nattily tricked out in iridescent armor apparently rifled from John Boorman's Excalibur wardrobe department. Avatar's Worthington is cast as Perseus, a self-denying demigod with serious father issues who, leading a band of less-than-merry Argonauts, must find a way to defeat all manner of mythological beasties, chief among them the dreaded Kraken: a giant, vaguely generic tentacle party that previously conquered the Titans. (The complex lineages of Greek mythology are helpfully spelled out for those who didn't major in humanities in one of the longest expository prologues yet committed to film.) But no one in his or her right mind is going to Clash of the Titans for extra credit (one hopes); they're going for the epic monster vs. man (or man-god) kickassery, and Leterrier's film does have some nifty CGI up its sleeve, including a trio of djinn (that's genies to 1001 Arabian Nights fans) that arrive astride gigantic ebony scorpions and end up aiding Perseus and his men in their quest. There are a number of cheeky winks from the filmmakers specifically aimed at Harryhausen fans; in the end, though, Leterrier's Clash of the Titans is nearly as messy an assemblage of mythic odds and ends as the original. It's being released in 3-D but wasn't conceived that way, and the result is a murky image that's often far too dark for the action onscreen and which features little if any three-dimensional awesomeness one would expect from an "epic adventure" such as this. Worthington plays Perseus as a variance of his Marine character in Avatar, which is patently dullsville, and the whole of the film feels like a goofy lark, with Fiennes having the most fun of all. His overeager Hades – Snidely Whiplash gone Greek – is almost reason enough to see this entertaining train wreck of a Clash. Almost.