Friday, April 02, 2010

The New Titans (in 3D)

Maybe it is not quite as daunting to remake as Star Wars, but if you identify with the generation formerly known as “X,” you would probably approach Desmond Davis’s 1981 blockbuster Clash of the Titans with some trepidation, regarding it as one of the truly iconic film of your formative years. Of course, the special effects seem quaint by today’s standards, but it has a sense of wonder that still holds up. While that enchantment might be difficult to recapture, Louis Leterrier’s Clash remake (trailer here) at least has the benefit of Hollywood’s current silver bullet, 3D special effects, assuring it plenty of bespectacled customers when it opens in theaters everywhere today.

Perseus is still a demigod, the son of Zeus and a rather surprised mortal woman. A foundling raised by a poor but loving fisherman and his wife, Perseus has never held a sword in his life. However, when his family is unintentionally wiped out in an Olympian temper tantrum, the Greek hero finds himself sucked into a war between men and gods.

As was the case in the original film, the city of Argos will be destroyed by the Kraken, unless Princess Andromeda sacrifices herself. To save the princess and her city, Perseus journeys to the underworld in order to sever Medusa’s head, the only WMD that can kill the dreaded sea monster. Although Andromeda was nice enough to offer him a drink at a royal revelry (before Hades showed up, cutting the party short), there are no sparks flying between them this time around.

Not simply a departure from the original story, such absence of romantic motivation is a real problem for the new Clash. Instead of racing to save a beautiful woman, Perseus only embarks on his quest to avenge his parents. As a result, there is not a compelling sense that time is of the essence. His character also seems rather cold (and more than a bit dull).

As the lead “actor” in Avatar and now Clash, Sam Worthington is Hollywood’s reigning Mr. 3D. However, his wooden screen presence makes Jason Statham look expressive. At least Ralph Fiennes gets the film enough to ham it up shamelessly as Hades. While Liam Neeson is a serviceable stand-in for Sir Laurence Olivier as Zeus, his reteaming with Fiennes has the unintended consequence of reminding the audience of their immeasurably superior work in Schindler’s List. Though there are a number of interesting actors sprinkled throughout the supporting cast, (most notably including Danish Mads Mikkelsen, the former Bond villain who plays against type as Perseus’s comrade Draco) nobody really has much character development to work with.

There are plenty of special effects though, many of which are reasonably impressive. The flying Pegasuses are nicely rendered and the crashing of a colossal statue of Zeus into the ocean has the appeal of old school Cecil B. DeMille spectacles. Yet, despite Leterrier’s sweeping mountain vistas and seascapes, Clash never appreciably ups the ante in the 3D stakes. Really, a bit more investment in character and story would have paid higher dividends.

For those who are wondering, Bubo the mechanical owl only appears briefly in a clever cameo. However, as the movie chugs along, his gimmicky presence is actually missed. While there are many cool effects and a few campy laughs, the new Clash just is not worth the premium 3D ticket price. Revisiting the original Clash is definitely recommended though (it even streams on Netflix). Mildly distracting popcorn fare, Leterrier’s Clash opens nationwide today (4/2).