Clash of the Titans (2010) dir. Louis Leterrier
Starring: Sam Worthington, Mads Mikkelson, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arteton, Jason Flemyng
By Alan Bacchus
Rotten Tomato meter, Metacritic score and all critics be damned ‘Clash of the Titans’ is a great picture! Some of the negative responses thus far refer to the 3D presentation of the film. But let it be known that director Louis Leterrier shot the film for 2D, NOT 3D, and even in some interviews diplomatically disapproves of the 3D version. The fact is, in good old fashioned two dimensions, Louis Leterrier has managed to capture the sense of fun adventure of the Harryhausen sword and sandals pictures (its main influence 1981’s ‘Clash of the Titans’ as well as ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ and host of other b-movie adventures with refreshing restraint.
Leterrier plays it all so very humble – it runs a scant one hour and forty minutes, not including credits, a welcomed minimalist philosophy which he seems to have extended into his creative rendering strategy.
While more comparable and more respected genre fantasies like ‘Avatar’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ wallow in sometimes overwrought super-seriousness ‘Clash of the Titans’ serves only to give its audience a good time, not to shower them with engorged special effects or convoluted plotting, or even overly designed sets, locations, monsters and like his main influence Ray Harryhausen, he keeps it simple stupid.
The Greek myth of Perseus provides the story for this adventure tale – though I haven’t brushed up on my Greek mythology, the original ‘Clash of the Titans’ is the real starting point for Leterrier. In flashback we meet a young Perseus, who is found by a humble working class fisherman, floating in a coffin with her dead mother. The fisherman raises Perseus to respect the Gods, but when Hades (God of the underworld) rears his evil head to destroy the populous city of Argos and kills his father in the process, Perseus becomes anti-religious and hell bent on revenge against Hades.
Perseus is taken in by the remaining Argos military and is recruited to help fight Hades and save the city from total destruction by the monstrous Kraken. Why not just kill everyone all at once? It’s part of the diabolical plan of Zeus to reestablish fear among the masses, fear of the Gods, and thus reclaim the order of world. Perseus’ quest has him fighting off giant scorpions, Medusa, his vengeful mutated stepfather Carabos, the Kraken and eventually Hades himself.
Leterrier’s version of the story departs significantly in a number of places for the better. Chiefly he discards the romantic angle of Perseus’ love for Andromeda, who in both films, must be sacrificed to appease the Kraken. Too many disposable blockbuster movies force feed us romantic subplots to increase the personal stakes of its hero, and giving us hyperbole like, 'it's not really action film, it's a love story'. Instead Perseus’s goals are refreshingly egalitarian, saviour of humanity, and on a personal level to avenge the death of father by the Gods.
The action scenes are conceived and choreographed in what seems consciously reactionary to the trend of overly-produced special effects extravaganzas of today. The giant scorpion battle for instance is a simple man vs. scorpion battle something which would have easily been conceived by Harryhausen himself. And there’s no need to mutate the scorpions or anything, they are just really big b-movie monster which as rendered expertly by CGI look as real as any human in the picture.
The Olympus scenes are dramatized with wonderful campness. When we first glimpse the set and costume design of the heavenly Olympus we’re reminded of a couple other Titans-era fantasy classics – Richard Donner’s “Superman: The Movie” and John Boorman’s ‘Excalibur”. The glowing armour worn by Liam Neeson, Danny Huston, Alexander Siddig and the rest of the actors playing the Gods pay fun homage to the design of Marlon Brando’ costume in ‘Superman’ or the shiny armour in ‘Excalibur’ or even the neon glow of ‘Tron.’
Neeson’s banter with fellow Schindler’s List-alum Ralph Fiennes is fun and free of the complicated dialogue of say the Harry Potter of LOTR films, which feels so desperately reverent to its source material. Sam Worthington is not great, but decent and is a good non-brooding alternative to big heads like Russell Crowe. Mads Mikkelson, the unsung Dane, emerges as the most sympathetic and the hero we silently cheer for. Thus his unworthy and uneventful death is a disappointment. The estrogen is supplied not by the sacrificed heroine Andromeda, but Gemma Arterton playing the helpful Lo, a hero cursed with everlasting life (also look out for her as the title character in a J Blakeson's awesome three-hander noir 'The Disappearance of Alice Creed'). Her girl-next-door demureness and silky pasty white skin which is surprisingly covered up with toga cloth, is a great tease. She’s one of the boys for most of the picture, until a genuine and understated attraction emerges with Perseus. Thankfully Letterier doesn’t betray us and force feed us that the romance he chose to avoid.
“Clash of the Titans” need only be reverent to the sense of adventure of the great fantasy pictures of the late 70’s early 80’s. Louis Leterrier has admirably made a reactionary film to ‘Avatar’, respecting the audience and the genre enough not to compete with James Cameron, but to do a picture justice what someone like Stephen Somers would have fucked up beyond belief.