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Thursday, April 1,2010

This 'Clash' never gets Kraken

Stick with the original and give this pointless remake a myth — er, miss

by James Sanford

When it was released in 1981, “Clash of the Titans”
represented a sort of last hurrah for the sword-and-sandal spectaculars of the
“Jason and the Argonauts” and “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad” variety. The
stop-motion animation creations of Ray Harryhausen were enchantingly
old-fashioned and the mythological mash-up of the plot (involving displeased
gods, curses, Medusa and Pegasus) wasn’t just old-school, it was
ancient-academy.


The movie did respectable business, although it was quickly
eclipsed by two other films that opened around the same time: “Superman II” and
something called “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” a different brand of retro-fantasy.
But, thanks to home-video and regular showings on TV, “Clash” steadily grew in
popularity over the years, thus making it a prime target for remake-crazed
Hollywood.


The new “Clash” has monsters conjured up through the magic
of digital technology, and the screenplay by Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt
Manfredi strips away much of the corniness of the first film. Sadly, much of
the fun and a lot of the spirit also got lost along the way: Director Louis
Leterrier dishes out the battle scenes and rolls out the creepy creatures, but
the gusto and fun of the original is conspicuous in its absence.


clash_of_the_titans_image.jpgThe story is more or less the same as before. Perseus, a
baby rescued from the Grecian sea, grows up to be Sam Worthington: half-man,
half-god and — to judge from his accent — 100 percent Australian (maybe they
could have amended the character name to Pertheus?). When the people of Argos
decide they don’t feel like worshipping Zeus, Poseidon, Hades and company any
more, their uppity antics infuriate Mt. Olympus’ most famous residents. Hades
(Ralph Fiennes, speaking in an appropriately ominous stage whisper) crashes a
royal party at the court of Argos and demands the sacrifice of the Princess
Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) within 10 days; otherwise, he will start crackin’
heads by unleashing the unstoppable leviathan known as the Kraken.


Perseus, who lost his adopted family to Hades’ wrath,
decides to thwart the gods’ scheme by saving Andromeda and killing the Kraken.
In the first movie, he was assisted in his mission by a mechanical owl named
Bubo; in this version, his advisor is Io (Gemma Arterton), a brainy beauty who
has been cursed with eternal youth. While Io is certainly easier on the eyes
than Bubo, she has far less in the way of personality.


The same is true of the gods themselves. Instead of the
political intrigues and jealousies that surrounded the celestial council in the
original, we get Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades plotting to overturn the world
while the rest of the deities do little more than stand around and listen.
Zeus, who’s Perseus’ not-so-secret dad, wishes Perseus would stop hanging
around with his sleazy mortal friends and move to the family estate on Mt.
Olympus; Perseus petulantly refuses. And that’s about it as far as father-son
tensions go.


The 1981 “Clash,” silly though it might have been, swept you
up in a whirlwind of colorful adventure. The remake drags you along like a
tired tour guide at a national park, showing you all the major sights but not
making the journey particularly exciting. When Laurence Olivier bellowed his
immortal line, “Release the Kraken!” in the original, he seemed to savor every
syllable; when Neeson repeats the command here, it’s in the same tone of voice
he might use to say, “And I’ll have wheat toast with those hash browns.”
Although the content is the same, the delivery is considerably duller.


Another bad decision: “Clash” was shot in 2D and quickly
modified to 3D to cash in on the current craze. Aside from a few mildly
impressive effects — most of them involving an army of giant scorpions — the
ersatz 3D looks awful. In close-ups, Worthington’s head seems to be unnaturally
shaped, almost like a loaf of bread, and Arterton’s hair seems to be floating a
few inches behind her. Even the Kraken attack, which should have been a
showstopper, has a distracting pop-up-book look to it.


Remakes rarely improve upon the originals, but sometimes
they can put a distinctive spin on a familiar story. “Clash” 2010 doesn’t even
do that much. Harryhausen and company didn’t have the budget or the technology
Leterrier and his legions have at their disposal, but they had a real sense of
showmanship and enthusiasm, qualities money apparently can’t buy.


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