Somebody tell me: Are the studio big shots this easy to figure? The new “Clash of the Titans 3-D” reflects two persistent trends hitting the screen: More 3-D and rampant sequel-ism. The studios love the early returns on “Avatar,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “How to Train Your Dragon” because the 3-D versions are popular with audiences willing to pay an extra two-to-five dollars per ticket. Not surprising, Warner Brothers promises nine 3-D releases in 2011 and perhaps half that many this year. That studio rushed a converted 2-D to 3-D “Clash of the Titans” into the theaters. Was that worth the effort?
Was this material worth a redo? It seems you can watch the original 20 or 30 times a year on cable. Its earnest cheesiness always gets a laugh. This adventure loosely based on the legend of Perseus never screamed for reinterpretation, but the original movie made money and retains a core of support. The low risk factor may account for the green light on this and upcoming sequels of “The A-Team,” “The Karate Kid”– even “Predator.” Perhaps it’s the lure of the familiar. Those remakes are a million miles away from a sequel like “The Godfather: Part II.”
That’s the challenge facing “Clash of the Titans 3-D.” Does this makeover vanquish the popular campy version from 1981? Release the Smackdown Kraken!
Perseus is the half-human son of Zeus (Liam Neeson) caught in a struggle between the immortals on Olympus and the ungrateful people of Argos. Zeus wants to teach them a little humility; his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) wants the monstrous Kraken to open a can of destruction. A time limit is set. Perseus (Sam Worthington) is enlisted to stop the monster. The journey has Perseus battling overgrown scorpions, visiting the Isle of the Dead and confronting the gorgon Medusa on his way to the big Smackdown with the Kraken. None of it is easy, disaster awaits every sandal step in this 3-D adventure. Louis Leterrier directed a script from Travis Beacham and Phil Hay that freely reinterprets the ancient legend described by Ovid and Apollodorus.
The Defending Champion
Desmond Davis directed a Who’s Who of film deities in the 1981 movie. On his Olympus, Zeus is Laurence Olivier moving through the mist in flowing robes. There’s Claire Bloom and Maggie Smith and Ursula Andress. Harry Hamlin as Perseus was five years away from the greater recognition he’d earn on “L.A.Law.” All approached their roles with a straight face even as they were eclipsed by the creatures special effects master Ray Harryhausen created for the film. Both “Clash” movies share the scriptwriter’s contribution to the legend: Bubo the mechanical owl. The script from Beverley Cross – like the new film – takes a free hand in interpreting the legend of Perseus.
Both films loosely follow the legend that forms the spine of their stories. If accuracy matters here, read Edith Hamilton’s essential book on the timeless tales of gods and heroes, Mythology. Both versions of “Clash of the Titans” stand as filmed entertainment, not as documents of historical fact. For that, it’s easy to forgive a lot. Laurence Olivier can play Heathcliff, Hamlet, Othello and Lear – so why not a star turn as Zeus? The cast appeared to be having fun, and that is still apparent to audiences three decades later. The original “Clash” may shine brightest as the canvas for Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation.
This material is elastic, not sacrosanct, so cranking up the popcorn factor is not the worst thing. The new “Clash” serves up a new generation of actors you may not expect: Neeson and Fiennes and Sam Worthington (looking – with his buzz cut – like this flick could have been titled “Clash of the Avatars”). The computer generated effects give special life to the various creatures, the snake-haired Medusa and the world-killing Kraken. Ray Harryhausen is still watching movies at age 90. I think he’d be impressed with this, but not in 3-D. Honestly, the conversion is unsatisfying. It makes the compositions look like those crude cutouts on a 3-D postcard. If you enjoy this type of movie, save a few bucks and catch it in 2-D. James Cameron (“Avatar”) had it right all along: “If you want to make a movie in 3-D, make the movie in 3-D.”
Two flawed movies, good for entertainment if not for the ages. Is there a winner here?
The older film makes way for the new. The original “Clash” fits like an old shoe: comfortable, maybe a little out of style, always welcome. Check it out on cable, it’s only a matter of time. Still fun.
By contrast, the new version does not aim for allegory to tell a larger story. It does not presume to make you smarter, or more noble, for watching it. This is an entertainment, not high art, and succeeds on that level. It’s even one of the better sequels coming your way.
Our winner: “Clash of the Titans 3-D” but here’s a recommendation: Watch it in 2-D. Looks better.