Clash of the Titans (2010):
So it seems to be a weird thing about remakes and reboots. When it comes to specific genre fiction or ‘nerd stuff’ – to put it bluntly – fans can be especially passionate about the original thing. I remember a friend of mine worrying about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot – claiming he hoped it didn’t ruin the original for him. I always found that a weird idea; that a simple bad sequel/remake/reboot could somehow tarnish the original. I mean, it’s not as if it erased the original from existence. My line of thinking is usually that if it’s good, then I like it. If it’s bad, then I still have the original. After all, Maleficent was pretty bad but it didn’t tarnish Sleeping Beauty for me. It made me appreciate it all the more. So keep that line of thinking in mind as I prepare to review this little piece.
Our story takes us to Ancient Greece, in the time where Gods ruled over the people. The majority of the beings on Olympus were strengthened by the people’s love and worship. But over time mankind grew disillusioned with the Gods. And they eventually declared war on them. The film starts around the time Hades, lord of the Underworld, decides to manipulate his fellow Gods into turning on the people. It’s announced that an ancient sea monster known as the Kraken will appear and destroy everything – unless the Princess Andromeda is sacrificed. One man is able to stop the Kraken: Zeus’s illegitimate son Perseus. Joined by an army of men, a Djinn from the Far East and an immortal woman Io – Perseus goes on a quest to find a way to stop the Kraken, and save Andromeda and the people of Argos.
So let’s give a little breakdown of the film this is a remake of.
Ray Harryhausen (pictured above) was a pioneer in terms of special effects – and created many classic movie monsters through an innovative stop-motion technique. He’s known first and foremost for Jason and the Argonauts, various Sinbad movies, and a campy 80s flick called Clash of the Titans. It was a hallmark of many 80s kids’ childhoods – along with fare like The Goonies, Stand By Me, Gremlins etc. As such it’s one of those movies that holds a special nostalgic glee. I can remember when this remake was announced – and the internet backdraft was shocking. Complaints ranged from the reasonable to the downright insane – demanding the filmmakers use stop motion like the original for instance. You can guess that the film was vilified by fans of the original almost as soon as it was released. Fans of the original included plenty of professional critics. Richard Corliss of Time magazine noted that the majority of negative reviews came from those with intense nostalgia for the original. Unsurprisingly it was nominated at the Razzie Awards. Despite this it still grossed nearly $500 million worldwide. And I myself contributed a ticket to that price. After I had seen the original too. And when it comes to people’s rather odd nostalgia for it, I have to ask…
If it was something like Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark or a nostalgic movie that was actually good – then maybe I’d understand the hate. I personally didn’t grow up with the original. I bought it sometime after my Greek mythology obsession started up in my mid-teens and I was excited to see a film about Perseus and Medusa. My reaction to the film was pretty ‘meh’. The big name stars playing the Gods – Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Ursula Andress – were a nice surprise and the Medusa scene held up reasonably well. But elsewhere I just found it a cheesy and dull mess that wasn’t really camp enough to be entertaining. So with no nostalgia for the 80s version, I went into the remake with an open mind. The odd thing is that many fans attacked it for very things that the original featured as well.
- Liberties with Greek mythology? The Kraken is a Norse monster, Calibos was invented purely for the film, Medusa had sisters, Perseus killed her while asleep, he doesn’t even meet Andromeda until after he’s beheaded the Gorgon, and Cassiopeia had enraged Poseidon rather than Thetis.
- Acting? Again aside from the stars playing the Gods, none of the acting in the original is something to write home about.
- Effects? People don’t seem to realise that the stop-motion looked dated when the film was released. It was the last film Harryhaussen worked on and he himself wasn’t too proud of it. Only the Medusa scene looks remotely decent.
- Action scenes? Again the action scenes in the original don’t hold up as well as the likes of the Indiana Jones movies or something like Aliens. They’re a step above Faerie Tale Theatre to be generous.
So do I think this remake is good? Well maybe not ‘good’ in the sense that it’s a great piece of cinema. But it’s definitely watchable and I can get plenty of entertainment out of it. Granted the worst thing about this movie when I saw it in theatres was the 3D. It came out right after Avatar had been a hit – and every studio was slapping 3D on their action movies. This one in particular was only converted to 3D afterwards – and as such it looks much better on DVD.
I feel like I can’t talk about this movie without mentioning the disastrous behind the scenes process. As what you get in the final cut is the bare bones of something that would have been pretty fantastic. Director Louis Leterrier was actually quite a fan of the original film, and he intended to keep many of the themes and symbolism of it here – while updating it for a modern audience. For example, the Gods would have much larger roles in the original cut. The younger generation – Apollo and Athena especially – would have realised that Zeus pretty much dropped the ball entirely. Figuring out that Hades has his own agenda, the two of them betray Zeus and the rest of the Gods for the greater good. It was originally Apollo who gave Perseus the gifts necessary to stop the Kraken, and he who offered him a place on Mt Olympus. You can see that Apollo is set up to have some kind of important role in the plot – but then he abruptly vanishes, and the only Gods who get any kind of lines are Zeus and Hades. Athena had several major scenes that were cut completely, and she only appears as an extra in the first council. Other Gods at least had more lines and attention in minor roles; indeed each of them had at least one line in the full version of the council scene. Luke Evans and Izabella Miko deliver some very decent performances if you watch the deleted scenes on the DVD. Others such as Danny Huston (Poseidon) and Alexander Siddig (Hermes) really warranted more lines and screen time.
The next major change is Zeus’s character. If you watch the first part of the movie, it clearly sets Zeus up as a villain. He cheated Hades out of a seat at Olympus and forced him to rule the Underworld. He’s the one who orders Hades to release the Kraken and destroy Argos. And further on it’s revealed that he raped Perseus’s mother to conceive him. But then in the second act of the film, Zeus has an inexplicable change of heart. The movie suddenly tries to present him as a more heroic figure. He and Perseus are suddenly on good terms at the movie’s end. Despite all the tyranny, rape by fraud etc. If you think this is a little odd, then you’re onto something; Zeus remains a villain in the original cut. As noted above, it’s Apollo who offers Perseus a seat at Olympus. And the original ending featured Perseus going there to put the Gods on notice. This ties in with the original theme of how mankind was just as important as the Gods themselves. Perseus’s motivation for going on the quest is to prove this; that nobody should be sacrificed to appease the Gods. In the finished film, it’s a rather generic revenge plot. Perseus just wants to kill Hades. That’s something that was added in re-shoots. There are still elements of the initial message in the final cut – and you could take some proverbial scissors to the few lines where Perseus says he wants to kill Hades without affecting the movie too much.
One of the film’s biggest departures from its source material was the romance between Perseus and Andromeda. In the original film, Perseus’s motivation for defeating the Kraken is to save the woman he’s going to marry. In the remake there’s no romance between them, meaning Andromeda kind of doesn’t have that much to do. Again this wasn’t the case originally. Perseus and Andromeda would have had some kind of romantic attraction – as is hinted in their first set of scenes together. And said romance would have been another motivator for Perseus to stop the Kraken. Instead in the final film, Perseus and Io are involved romantically. According to Gemma Arterton, she initially saw the relationship between them as a platonic one. The romance was added in re-shoots. This would explain the complete lack of chemistry between them in virtually every scene except the one before they go to Medusa’s lair. The original ending would have hinted at a possible Perseus/Andromeda romance, after they shared a kiss underwater – and Io would have stayed dead. Clearly whoever requested the re-shoots didn’t catch the line where she called immortal life a curse.
So what is the reason for all these changes? I direct your attention to the movie’s star…
So who remembers that time when Sam Worthington was suddenly everywhere in Hollywood? Terminator Salvation put him on the map and he was considered a real star when Avatar came out. With the success of that movie, Sam Worthington suddenly had a lot of clout. And apparently he wanted a movie that could appeal to his nephew. So the large number of script changes were the result. Unsurprisingly fans of the original have directed a lot of hate towards him. Personally? He’s not bad in the movie at all. Watching it objectively, I don’t find anything wrong with his performance. He actually really brings it in a few of the deleted scenes – most notably the original ending. I really do have to raise my eyebrows at the accusations of ‘wooden’ and ‘dull’. Those are criticisms I’d gladly throw at Harry Hamlin’s performance in the original. But Worthington? He’s not bad. There are scenes where he’s a bit too angry to be taken seriously. But overall he doesn’t ham it up and actually does convey a sense of depth to Perseus’s character. I buy his warming towards his comrades as the quest goes on, and I admittedly do smile at his reaction to Io’s resurrection – even when I despise that as an ending. Indeed one of my favourite parts of the movie is his delivery of “I’ve got everything I need right here.” So no I don’t find Sam Worthington’s performance bad at all. He’s perfectly fine. It’s not Laurence Olivier but it’s no better or worse than the average action star. Fans of the original curiously bashed him for his Australian accent too, and for the buzz-cut that wouldn’t show up in Ancient Greece…
Elsewhere this film is divided into two sets of actors; those who really ham it up and those who deliver some surprisingly great performances. Jason Flemyng is hilariously bloodthirsty as Calibos – and the film really didn’t need him. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes are likewise acting as if they’re playing Power Rangers villains. Neeson admittedly does come across better in the reshot scenes – but I remember being disappointed at his performance, after I’d gotten so hyped up to see him as Zeus. He’s clearly not used to playing a villainous tyrant and suits the bumbling dad much more. Pete Postlethwaite is only in the film for about five minutes and yet has some of the most on-the-nose deliveries I’ve ever seen. His “somebody’s going to have to say enough” line sounded cheesy in the trailers – and it was even worse in the final film.
Gemma Arterton is in between. She gets the most screen time after Sam Worthington and uses her voice to good effect. Her exposition is again a bit on-the-nose but I feel as if she makes it work. She’s hindered by the fact that she shot her character as a surrogate sister to Perseus for half the film, before it was abruptly changed to a love interest. As such she has very little chemistry with Sam Worthington. But what’s astonishing is the chemistry he has with Alexa Davalos. She’s a very talented actress who got her start on the TV show Angel. Despite appearing in only three episodes, she was very memorable. It’s a similar situation here; Andromeda has much less to do than in the original film, and yet Alexa Davalos gives a very spirited performance. It’s a shame that most of her scenes ended up on the cutting room floor – and it’s an even bigger shame that she didn’t return for the sequel, where Andromeda got more screen time. Despite the small role, I found Andromeda to still be a very strong character who was treated pretty well. Likewise Polly Walker was a good surprise as Cassiopeia – but unfortunately she’s killed off at the end of her only scene. Liam Cunningham, Nicholas Hoult and Hans Matheson are also very enjoyable to watch as the men Perseus travels with. They’re obvious Red Shirts – and it’s clear they won’t survive Medusa’s lair – but they’re able to make you care about their characters so that their eventual demise means something. Mads Mikkelsen gets a bit more to do as Draco, and uses his extra lines and screen time wisely. The film’s cast is surprisingly huge and I feel as if the good performances really outweigh the bad.
The production design for the film is quite impressive too. The scenes on Olympus are exquisitely designed and thought out. The floor is a fully rendered map of Greece that is beautiful to look at. The Gods’ costumes are an unfortunate mishmash of various cultures across different time periods but they sure do look pretty. Apollo and Athena take the honours for the best costume. Likewise the lavish party in Argos which Hades interrupts is particularly eye-opening. The filmmakers drew inspiration from Minoan archaeology and the history buffs can see the influence. Notably the dancing girls are wearing tame versions of the Snake Goddess figurine’s costume – which comes from the very site of what once was Argos’s palace. For the grittier locations, Medusa’s lair and the garden of Stygia are also pretty impressive. You can tell the designers were having fun trying to bring these locations to life – and think outside the box. The soldiers oddly enough are using Roman weapons and wearing Roman armour, creating a bit of a jarring contrast for those who’d spot the difference. I’m not sure if this is just a goof or a relic of the original concept of the film – which would have featured a crossover from several different cultures and mythologies. This is the reason for the Djinn and the Kraken being in the film – as they are from Arabic and Norse culture respectively. With that idea replaced by the Greek Gods being the primary antagonists, it’s a little more in doubt.
If you’re watching the film without the atrocious 3D I had to see in the cinema, the effects are actually very good. They range from the spectacular – the Kraken – to the more mundane – Pegasus. The famous winged horse gets a black dye job to match the gritty tone, and it’s one of the most beautiful and flawless renderings of such a creature I’ve ever seen. There’s not a single frame where Perseus riding Pegasus looks fake or obviously CGI’d. The Kraken is truly a sight to behold. It’s a shame its screen time isn’t that much. The film really took the cake when it came to turning the Kraken to stone. It’s such a simple effect and yet the film does it so well. Other interestingly rendered creatures pop up – such as a swarm of harpies that Hades uses to do his bidding. And the familiar scorpions that come from Calibos’s blood – who appear much earlier in the film and significantly larger. Charon the ferryman is only on screen for a couple of minutes and likewise gets an interesting design. View the screen caps below to see how much thought and time was put into the monster designs. Although they’re done with CGI, they do have a certain Harryhaussen ingenuity to them.
Another element of the movie that really got trashed was the action scenes. And I mean they were really trashed. Various reviews described them as “lacking in wit and flair”, “muddled disappointment” and “harder to follow rather than exciting.” Again I have to ask ‘really?’ at these criticisms. And again it’s possible that they looked much worse with the legendarily awful 3D conversion. On the DVD they look fine. They look better than fine actually. The only one I don’t like is the needless duel with the Djinn after it heals Perseus. That was pretty gratuitous and had me rolling my eyes the whole way through. Other scenes such as the scorpion battle and the climax with the Kraken are perfectly fine. Actually they’re better than fine. I was actually intrigued with those scenes on my re-watch. The scorpion battle is a very good second act opener – and it utilises all the characters very well. In contrast to the sequel – where Perseus was the only one who got to do anything competent – each of the Red Shirts gets a moment. The climax in Argos is likewise incredibly thrilling. It’s not the Battle of Helms Deep, but it’s a very fitting finale. The advances in special effects do mean that we get some very good scenes of Perseus dodging the harpies, and the Kraken causing some extra destruction. I urge people to watch these scenes without the bad 3D and give the film a second look. But now onto what everyone always wants to talk about…
I feel as if Ms Medusa deserves a paragraph to herself. After all, she is the most memorable part of the myth. It’s been said that most of the younger generations owe their knowledge of Medusa to the original film. Indeed she’s depicted far more in media made after 1981. I said above that the Medusa scene is the only part of the original that really looks impressive to this day. And I stand by that statement. When I went into the remake, the Medusa scene was the tough act to follow. Louis Leterrier seemed to think so to; the context is changed. The scene in the original is far more suspenseful and more like something out of a horror movie. Medusa is hideous in appearance and presented as a ferocious beast. The remake instead portrays her as a tragic monster; another representation of the Gods’ abuse to mortals. As such the scene is more action-packed, with greater emphasis placed on her taking out Perseus’s comrades. Complaints of the original state that she’s unintentionally sympathetic – as she hasn’t done anything to warrant the others trying to kill her. The remake looks as if it’s addressing this, with Io providing her origin story. And this Medusa is far more malicious and bloodthirsty – taking great pleasure in turning the men to stone. People have complained about casting supermodel Natalia Vodianova to make the character more attractive. It’s worth noting that some myths do claim that Medusa was fantastically beautiful before transformation, and that she was both beautiful and terrible to look at. That seems to be the reason for the whole ‘game face’ when she turns someone to stone. . Just like in the original, her scene is also the best part of the film. It’s an excellently directed scene. Obviously it’s not as suspenseful as the original, but it’s still a good representation of her. Below is a nice video comparing the two scenes.
I think I’ve probably talked about this movie enough at this stage. Alas it could have been something really great. Louis Leterrier disowned the final cut, stating “it’s not my movie” and the numerous rewrites and re-shoots bugged Gemma Arterton enough to not return for the sequel. Alexander Siddig – who had a blink-and-you-miss-it role as Hermes – described it as the lamest movie he’d ever done. Sam Worthington even expressed regret over his performance. It’s not said what caused the film to go from a story that could actually have been pretty epic – to a rather standard action/revenge plot. Whether it was Sam Worthington’s clout or the studio’s meddling, the negative reviews are there for all to see. I did leave the cinema feeling slightly disappointed. The story we almost got sounds like something I would have loved. And the few deleted scenes that were released look pretty sweet. But I can’t call this a bad movie totally. Without the ghastly 3D in the cinema, it’s perfectly fine. There’s a certain visual charm and entertainment to it that kept me occupied on the recent re-watch. It’s neither better nor worse than the original – for neither entry is a film you’d call great. I feel as if there could be a nice fan-edited version of there that cuts the Hades revenge lines and reinserts a few of those deleted scenes – and then maybe it would work better. I still found this movie massively entertaining, despite its flaws. And that seems to be the charm of the original too. I’d compare this remake with another mindless action film I can’t get enough of – Renny Harlin’s Mindhunters. So for plenty of style and a little pizazz, this gets a 6/10. The lack of a lot of substance prevents it from getting further points.