'Clash': Myth-Takes Were Made
James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
In his classic tale of mortal rage and divine folly "Medea," Euripides tells us, "Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad." After watching "Clash of the Titans," director Louis Leterrier's modern revamp of the 1981 stop-motion special-effects bonanza, I think there's a new-Hollywood spin on Euripides' maxim: Whom the gods would destroy, they first translate their movie into 3-D in post-production. "Clash of the Titans" was not shot in 3-D or for 3-D, and was notoriously extruded into the third dimension in post-production by outsourced effects companies.
The end result is a film so distracting, so diluted, so altered and amputated in the name of making a bigger, better buck (Warner Brothers likes the cha-ching sound the cash register makes when it can charge the premium prices for 3-D), that I almost, almost, wanted to see it in 2-D before reviewing it. My experience of "Clash of the Titans" was truly that dimmed (literally) by the shabby retrofitted effects and the darker, drearier projection that the technical needs of 3-D imposed on the film.
And yet, even if 3-D didn't make the film so dank and drab that it looked like you were watching it through three feet of bong water, "Clash of the Titans" is no great shakes. As in the original, Zeus' illegitimate son Perseus (Sam Worthington) has to lead a ragtag group through a series of quests to prevent the city of Argos from being destroyed by the kraken, a monstrous leviathan released by Zeus (Liam Neeson, a ham bedecked in sparkles) to instill fear in humanity and get them back in line. As in the original, the story line's an excuse to drag Perseus and his comrades from pillar to post and from one effects-heavy action scene to the other, as Zeus and Hades (Ralph Fiennes) put obstacles like the mutilated, monstrous Calibos (Jason Flemyng) in their way.
As Worthington and his poorly-defined companions (stoic, bearded Mads Mikkelsen; comedy-relief Liam Cunningham; ethereal and immortal Gemma Arterton) fight witches, giant scorpions and the deadly gaze of the Medusa, though, I kept thinking back to "Star Wars." Watching "Star Wars" as a kid (and even now), I didn't thrill to its scenes of effects and action because they were spectacular; I thrilled to its effects and action because those scenes were about Luke, Leia and Han: characters I knew, characters I liked, characters I understood. Worthington's Perseus is mad about his divine heritage (as ever, the Greek gods are a bunch of deadbeat dads and date rapists) and intent on completing his mission without relying on his divine heritage or on any divine help: "If I do this, I do it as a man." Which means a lot of his friends die before Perseus decides to get on board with the heroic journey.
Worthington's not given much to work with, and he doesn't help by bringing very little to the task. At his worst, Worthington's like a tin toy with two settings on the back ("Roar" and "Growl"), and he's at his worst here. The film's closest nod to romance is when Worthington's Perseus and Arterton's Io tussle a little to train before his bout with the Medusa, ending in an up-close-and-personal moment charged with sexual tension until Arterton says, in a phrase designed to replace "slow your roll" among irony-loving hipsters, "Calm your storm."
Some parts of "Clash of the Titans" are rousing enough (the battle in Medusa's temple, for example) to make you wonder if it could work as a Saturday-afternoon spectacle. And some parts of it are cheerily cheesy enough (see "Calm your storm," above) to make you wonder if it might have worked as a guilty pleasure. Instead of following the thin characters or the shopworn plot or the risible dialogue, though, I was fiddling with my 3-D glasses, contrasting the bright warm colors on-screen when I had them off and the grim grayness on-screen when I had them on. Or watching as characters' heads seemed to float independently of their bodies. Or noting how a camera move or piece of set design that would have been nicely-executed in 2-D looked instead as if 3-D stood for for dreary, dull and dead.
By and large, 3-D is a gimmick. But even then there's both an art and an artifice to picking shots for it, and "Clash of the Titans" suffers for having the third dimension clumsily bolted on to it after the fact. Still, it's not as if "Clash of the Titans" is some popcorn masterpiece undone by the 3-D manipulations of its parent studio; the clunky script and blockbuster-in-a-box cluttered construction of it are probably just as lifeless in two dimensions. "Clash of the Titans" may be a tale of the struggles and strife of the ancient gods and their worshippers, but it winds up being a chronicle of the mistakes and megalomania of modern movie-making mortals.
James Rocchi's writings on film have appeared at Cinematical.com, Netflix.com, SFGate.com and in Mother Jones magazine. He lives in Los Angeles, where every ending is a twist ending.