A film review by Craig J. Koban April 3, 2010


3D Version

  2D Version

2010, PG-13, 106 mins.


Perseus: Sam Worthington / Zeus: Liam Neeson / Hades: Ralph Fiennes / Calibos/Acrisius: Jason Flemyng / Io: Gemma Arterton / Andromeda: Alexa Davalos / Spyros: Pete Postlethwaite / Marmara: Elizabeth McGovern / Poseidon: Danny Huston

Directed by Louis Leterrier / Written by Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, based on the 1981 script by Beverley Cross


“Release the Kraken!”  

Only an actor of Liam Neeson’s Zeus-like charisma and flare could pull off such a cornball line and make it resonate with a bombastic gravity.  He, of course, does indeed play the greatest of all the Greek gods, Zeus, and he utters that aforementioned declaration near the film’s action packed and visual effects-heavy climax.  

This Zeus is one frustrated deity; he has grown annoyed by how the humans under him seem to pay him and his fellow gods no respect whatsoever.  In another of the film’s uproariously cheeky lines, Zeus proclaims, “These humans need to be reminded of the order of things.”  His estranged brother, Hades (played with equal solemnity by Ralph Fiennes) vehemently agrees with his sibling, despite the fact that he really hates being the overseer of the dreaded Underworld.  “I have watched from the Underworld…it is time for the mortals to pay.” 

It’s hard not to come out of the film without a giddy sense of reverence for its schlockier moments; Neeson and Fiennes are titans of the acting world, to be sure, but they keenly know how to find a middle ground between playing these larger than life roles straight while harnessing the theatrical outlandishness of these characters.  I think if you go into to this CLASH OF TITANS with a level head then you’ll find it a lot easier to become enthralled with its cheese-laden fantasy spectacle.  

This is a lavishly budgeted re-imagining (the big industry word now for “remake”) of the original 1981 CLASH OF THE TITANS, which has been forever remember as one of the last films featuring the dynamic and crafty stop-motion animation of the legendary Ray Harryhausen as well as featuring the unlikely performance team of Sir Lawrence Olivier, Ursula Andres, and, yes, a young Harry Hamlin.  The new film, helmed by a dependable Louis Leterrier (THE INCREDIBLE HULK and THE TRANSPORTER) harnesses the original’s basic storyline about the battle between the gods and Perseus, the son of Zeus, but with modest alterations in story and appearance (this new version is presented in 3D, definitely more on that later).  As glossy and proficient as the visual spectacle is here, CLASH OF THE TITANS-redux maintains the cheerful imagination and energy of its antecedent: this is not highbrow cinema, but a good and enjoyable swashbuckler. 

The new version focuses on the half-man/half-god Perseus (played by Sam Worthington, making a claim as an action hero here after AVATAR and TERMINATOR: SALVATION) coming to realize that he is the son of Zeus, but he is not at all happy when his “uncle” kills his earthly mother and father during a siege.  Meanwhile, both Zeus and Hades have grown tired of the lack of complacency that mankind has towards worshipping them (perhaps they all watched RELIGULOUS?), and the brothers – although basically enemies – agree to give humanity a wake-up call:  Hades issues an ultimatum to the city of Argos (not to be confused with the CFL team in Toronto): they must sacrifice their Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos, beautiful, but underused) or Hades and Zeus will unleash the dreaded and feared Kraken upon them, leading to their total annihilation.  It seems that the people of Argos are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. 

Perseus has other plans.  Realizing that he wants to enact revenge against Hades for killing his family, he decides to band together a group of earthly warriors – and one mystical woman, Io (played by QUANTUM OF SOLACE Bond girl, Gemma Arterton) – to pool their resource so that they can defeat Hades and the gods…in ten days…seeing as that’s when the Kraken will be unleashed…unless that of course Andromeda is not sacrificed (got to give it to the gods, they have the power to instantly decimate the world under them, but they are kind enough to give people enough time to prepare).  Now, Arterton is a limitlessly attractive presence, but her role as Io is about as throwaway as they come: as to what precise purpose he character has – outside of offering Yoda-like advice to Perseus and eventually becoming a tacked-on love interest – is beyond me.  The other female persona here, Andromeda, is so woefully undeveloped that it becomes really hard to care if she does become Kraken food. 

The other performers, however, seem more game and interesting: Neeson and Fiennes are, as stated, a combined hoot as battling brothers from above (again, they know they're playing campy characters without directly given it away).  Sam Worthington has a faced carved out of granite and a stoic and stern gaze that sort of reminds me of a young, SPARTACUS-era Kirk Douglas: he brings a snarling intensity as Perseus, even though the character itself genuinely lacks a personality or thorough back-story.  Worthington can more than adequately fill the shoes (make that sandals) of a determined, battle-hardened and vengeful warrior, but he falters in the dramatic scenes: his chemistry with Arterton is largely vacant, and ultimately the film’s script does not embellish this role very much, other than the basics: child of a god and human couple, earthbound fisherman, foster parent’s killed by Hades, decides to seek revenge.  That’s about it. 

Of course, people are not expecting Shakespeare out of a film called CLASH OF THE TITANS: they want epic eye-popping visual dynamism and intrigue, and Leterrier and his CGI artists don’t disappoint.  Computer beasties have replaced Harryhausen’s antiquated, but nifty and innovative, stop motion creations, and as far as state-of-the art effects go, CLASH OF THE TITANS is indeed a titan for how it blends the real and unreal.  Moments that clearly standout are a standoff (but definitely not a stare-off) with the infamous Medusa (a monster with snakes for hair and a gaze that stops men dead cold in their tracks) as well as a slickly orchestrated action sequence with Perseus and his squadron battling against a slew of crab-like monsters.  One scene involving Perseus taming and then flying a mythical flying Pegasus horse has a soaring sense of awe and wonder, as does the film’s undeniably thrilling climax with Perseus and company trying to defeat the invincible Kraken, a monster so unfathomably large that he could easily step on Godzilla with little effort.  The finale has a sort of goofy, gee-whiz adventure serial flavor and intrigue with the sword-tooting hero swooping in to rescue the damsel in distress: Andromeda – much like Fay Wray in KING KONG – is tied at the wrists and suspended before the ravenous Kraken.  

I embraced the film’s visual delights, but a strong word of warning needs to be mentioned regarded the film’s purported 3D "enhancements."  CLASH OF THE TITANS was not filmed with 3D cameras (ala AVATAR), but was rather shot with conventional cameras (ala ALICE IN WONDERLAND) and was later given an eleventh-hour upconversion to 3D; according to one internet blog, the monstrous box office returns of AVATAR lead Warner Brothers to rethink CLASH OF THE TITANS in the third dimension, and after a 3D conversion test was show to them, they apparently found it to be a “roaring success.”   


Only one conclusion comes to the forefront: Warner Brothers executives are blinded by greed.  CLASH OF THE TITANS, in my mind, is the poster boy for how retrofitted 3D can almost destroy a film’s impact.  Not only that, but the advertised 3D is a borderline sham: I removed my glasses several times during the film and, miraculously enough, the image seen with the naked eye was clear.  Now, any film legitimately shot in 3D and/or released in 3D would have an image that would be completely blurry minus the 3D headset, but not with CLASH OF THE TITANS on many occasions.  Worse yet, the unconverted 3D present here varies from serviceable to wretched.  Watch closely and you will notice shimmering and shadowy outlines around characters (which makes it look like there’s a faint twin of Worthington standing behind him at times), not to mention that the color palette is dull, dizzying motion blur accompanies the fast paced action sequences, and, overall, a sense of distraction – not full immersion – is levied on viewers.  

CLASH OF THE TITANS is a worse filmgoing experience in 3D and should be sought out in 2D only (which prompted me to give a very rare two distinct star ratings to the film).  The studios have one motive: place an unfair surcharge of anywhere from $3 to $6 dollars for the admission to a half-assed and inferior 3D product, which makes them more money and makes the film nearly impossible to bootleg.  I was concerned with the upconversion of ALICE IN WONDERLAND (a film that too got a very hasty and lackluster 3D upgrade), but CLASH OF THE TITANS is as wrongheaded as they come.  This worries me greatly: 3D films, I have frequently attested, need to be filmed in 3D for 3D theatre consumption.  Upconversions are just not ready for prime time, but it’s a cheap, time effective, and shameful way for the studio make a quick buck and falsely advertise it to the movie-going masses as the heir apparent of James Cameron's sci-fi opus.  When done right, I think that 3D has a very lucrative and positive future for the art form, but if CLASH OF THE TITANS speaks to anything, pale imitators of AVATAR’s eye-gasmic and fully immersive aesthetic are no substitute.   To pay the same surcharge for TITANS as one did for AVATAR is a crime.  

As for CLASH OF THE TITANS itself, beyond the problematic 3D?  It’s a serviceable, lively, frequently exciting, visually arresting and reasonably enjoyable regurgitation of Greek myths…to be seen in the wonders and glory of 2D only!

  H O M E