Clash of the Titans on Blu-ray
By Jim Bray
Plea to Hollywood: please don't remake Jason and the Argonauts.
The 2010 remake of the Ray Harrryhausen classic "Clash of the Titans" is, quite frankly, junk. The 1981 version was possibly Harryhausen's worst color film, though it certainly had its moments and is still eminently watchable. But when sat side by side with Jason and his first two Sinbad movies (Okay, maybe Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger was really his worst), it pales.
But, as with all Harryhausen films, it still had a sense of wonder, even of fun, and his trademarked stop motion and other special effects – even though dated today – were always worth the price of admission.
I had been looking forward to seeing the new version, if only to see how today's state-of-the-art effects would look with the classic tale of Perseus and Andromeda. And they look very good, though one would expect nothing less in this current "golden age" of effects, where it appears nothing is impossible.
Ah, but the heart of a movie is its script – as has been said, "If it ain't on the page it ain't on the stage" – and this new Clash takes an epic tale based on Greek mythology and turns it into an action adventure/effects-fest with no heart, soul or sense of wonder. Even the effects fail to save it; perhaps I'm jaded after so many recent years of great effects, but I found myself checking off the monsters mentally going "okay, that's done well – next!"
Then there's the casting. Harryhausen's version featured a little-known Harry Hamlin as Perseus but the supporting cast was spectacular: Burgess Meredith as Ammon (Perseus friend and, kind of, mentor), Maggie Smith as Thetis, Claire Bloom as Hera, Ursula Andress as Aphrodite and, of course, Laurence Olivier as Zeus. These legends brought instant strength and power to their roles and gave the film a sense of importance it may have lacked otherwise.
Here we get Sam Worthington as Perseus and he's okay. He's backed up by a band of not particularly merry men led by Casino Royale bad guy Mads Mikkelsen and they're okay as well. As far as the Gods are concerned, Ralph Fiennes is quite good as Hades, but instead of a panoply of Olympians there's really only interaction between him and Zeus, played by Liam Neeson wearing a costume that reminds me of Marlon Brando's Jor El in Superman.
I like Neeson and was looking forward to his take on the king of the Gods, but can any actor fill Laurence Olivier's sandals? Apparently not. Here, Neeson (who brought great gravitas to his role in Star Wars Episode 1) is a pale shadow of Olivier – not only because Olivier was one of the all time greats, but also because the script has him not so much The Mighty Zeus but as a victim – a victim of human hate when all he wants is to be loved and a victim of his scheming brother Hades, a God wronged ages ago by Zeus and who's been plotting his revenge ever since. Tough to act like a king of the Gods when you're written as a wimp.
The story sees Perseus also as an innocent victim, a victim of circumstances. He's a demi-god who doesn't know he's one and who finds himself the sole survivor of his fishing family after Hades' attack on a bunch of human who don't pay the Gods the respect they think they deserve. He ends up leading his rag tag band of warriors on a quest to find a way of killing the mighty Kraken before a deadline (an upcoming solar eclipse) that will mean either the mortals will have to sacrifice the reasonably lovely Andromeda (Alexa Davalos, in what's little more than a cameo role) to the Kraken lest it wreak havoc on their city.
His journey takes him across some pretty nifty landscapes, past encounters with giant scorpions and Stygian witches, to the gates of the underworld itself and his battle with the Medusa, whose dead, snake-adorned head will still have enough power – at least theoretically – to turn the Kraken to stone and thereby be destroyed, saving all that's good and human.
Alas, it really doesn't work, mostly because the script is just so dumb. For example, after Perseus and his buddies kill some of the giant scorpions – which are far larger but no more convincing than Harryhausen's – they learn these beasts have actually been domesticated by a strange race who also have a grudge against the Gods. They use the scorpions as a means of transportation, riding them like the giant Oliphants were ridden in Lord of the Rings.
This is a good thing, apparently, because we're told riding the scorpions will be a lot faster than walking and their owners offer Perseus' people a ride so they can complete their quest more quickly.
Then we get to watch the few elite riding in the shaded tents atop the scorpions while the less fortunate walk alongside – with the scorpions going no faster than the foot soldiers. So where's the speed advantage?
Dumb, dumb, dumb.
If you watch the "Maximum Movie Mode" the Blu-ray contains, you'll hear the director talk about how he didn't want to simply remake the Harryhausen classic, but to actually retell the original myths. That would be fine; I love Greek mythology – except the liberties the original movie took with the myths included, well, the Kraken and scorpions as a couple of examples. So if they're doing the myths and not the classic film, why are these here?
I'm not complaining about the presence of the Kraken or the scorpions – they were pretty neat parts of the original film – just spare us the BS. Instead, why not admit that this is full of Harryhausen-inspired creatures, such as the harpies from Jason (which here are seen as extensions of Hades). I'd be fine with that. And where's the logic behind Hades being keeper of the sea monster Kraken? Wouldn't it make more sense for Poseidon to have been on hand for that?
Dumb, dumb, dumb.
Still, a movie doesn't have to exhibit tight logic with no plot holes – ever watched a Star Trek movie? – to work. The problem is that logic and emotion and character have given way here to a nearly 106 minute roller coaster ride of special effects and action scenes (which include the type of dumb slow motion shots directors throw your way when, I figure, they're trying to impress you with their artistry).
The fight scenes are shaky, with a "hand held camera" look that manages to obscure what's happening, not that you'd care by this time anyway - except that you don't get as good a view of the special effects that are the only reason to watch the movie. And the recreations of the Harryhausen moments fail miserably. The Medusa sequence, for example, is just special effects, with none of the building tension of the original. Sure, the creature looks kind of neat and moves well, but who cares? And why does she need a bra in 2010 when she didn't in 1981?
Some of the effects work fine – for example, Pegasus' wings look and work great, but why is he black? And while the Kraken works fine, it looks more like a cross between the tentacled creature from the Pirates of the Caribbean films, the monster of Cloverfield and the Rancor of Return of the Jedi. Couldn't they have found something new, or done an updated version of Harryhausen's Kraken, which I thought was the weakest monster of that movie?
There was one homage to the original in this version that initially filled me with dread and then made me smile. Bubo, the stupid robot owl that so sullied the original movie – as if the studio demanded an R2D2 clone to cash in on the Star Wars phenomenon – makes an appearance here. The first indication is the steam whistle-like hooting sounds the damn thing made when he's pulled out of some hidey hole and presented to the audience with a "what do you want to do with this?" remark.
That's when – by this point I had pretty well given up on the film – my flesh started to crawl. Were they going to make the remake even worse by inflicting Bubo on us? Fortunately, it's just a quick joke (in an otherwise humorless movie) and Bubo is gone as quickly as it appeared.
Thank the Gods for small favors.
The Blu-ray comes packaged with a DVD and digital copy on a second disc, which is a nice way of marketing one package for multiple formats.
The 1080p picture, at an aspect ratio of 2.4:1, is good but could be better. It's sharp and detailed and colorful, but it doesn't really pop off the screen like some of the better Blu-rays do. Overall, it's very watchable, however.
The sound is better, though it's awfully front-centric. It's presented in a dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that's very aggressive, with a lot of good, deep bass (especially when things like giant statues or Kraken are falling apart and landing) and a (unfortunately forgettable) musical score that spans the front speakers nicely. Alas, the dialogue is clean as well.
Extras include the abovementioned "Maximum Movie Mode", which is basically some pop-up, picture-in picture segments with director Louis Leterrier, stars Worthington, Neeson, Fiennes, and other cast and crew folk. It includes stuff like special effects pre-visualizations, make-up and costume tests, stunt work, and more. There's some neat stuff here, but a lot of self congratulation that, considering how the movie worked out, is even more insufferable than such mutual admiration fests are usually.
There's also a collection of some 10 deleted scenes, including more bickering among the Gods, Perseus and the lovely Io (Gemma Arterton), and stuff like that.
Focus Points is a series of featurettes covering characters/actors, monsters, stunts, locations, and more. You can access them via the Maximum Movie Mode or the menu. 'Sam Worthington: An Action Hero for the Ages'' is just what it seems: Sam Worthington and how he trained for the role.
An alternate ending sees Perseus confront Zeus on Mount Olympus, but what is really needed is an alternate screenplay!
And the disc is also BD-Live-enabled, which whisks you to Warner Brother's BD-Live portal for whatever goodies you may want to sample there. I'm not big on such sampling, but to each his own.
I wish I could report that the new Clash of the Titans is a fitting remake that does justice to the original, but I can't. It just plain sucks. If you want to see how it could have, and should have, been done, watch the Harryhausen original.
And if you want to see Harryhausen at his best, try Jason and the Argonauts.
Clash of the Titans, from Warner Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.