Review: Clash of the Titans (2010): Crackin’ on the Kraken

Clash of Titans is one of those remakes that was in no way really necessary, but with a stubbornness that would make Zeus proud, Hollywood went ahead and did it anyway – and the result demonstrates the folly of messing with movie gods like special-effects wizard Ray Harryhausen.

Even more than featuring Laurence Olivier playing the king of the gods and Harry Hamlin in a toga, the 1981 original is known for Harryhausen’s legendary stop-motion animation effects. In his final feature, Harryhausen animated Calibos, Medusa, the Kraken and all the rest by hand; he more than just a true craftsman, he was an artist with puppets. There was no reason to remake this movie unless the effects were going to completely blow the classics out of the water – and that just does not happen in the 2010 version. Granted, the computer-generated creatures move a lot more quickly and smoothly, and yes, the giant scorpions look impressive, but – why are there giant scorpions in this movie? More importantly, the creatures that Harryhausen lovingly brought to life frame-by-torturous-frame had a sense of personality that soulless CGI lacks. The ballyhooed 3D effects (tacked on as an afterthought following the runaway success of Avatar, at the expense of delaying release) add absolutely nothing to the viewing experience. The movie was not filmed with the intention of utilizing 3D all along, so the effects clearly are not used to best…er, effect.

While the creatures move fluidly, the film itself plods along with all the alacrity one would expect of the sea-dwelling Kraken if it were dropped in the Mojave Desert. Director Louis Leterrier (known for the blindingly kinetic Transporter films; go figure) is more in his plodding Incredible Hulk phase here, unable to maintain a narrative pace for the long speechifying sequences. The basic storyline remains the same: Perseus (Sam Worthington), the half-human son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), must stop the Kraken from destroying Argo City at the behest of an angry Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Oh, yeah, and rescue the Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) from being sacrificed to the beast.

SPOILER GRAF (Read at your own peril!) However, the storytelling is quite muddled, and in the end, it was not immediately clear what had been accomplished. Perseus stopped the Kraken from eating Andromeda and destroying Argo City — although sacrificing Andromeda presumably would have accomplished the same thing, so there was not really a big need for all those men to die on Perseus’ quest. Having met Andromeda only once, Perseus was clearly not in love with her, so why bother? Apparently he was he more interested in petrifying the monster than getting the girl, because he wanted nothing to do with her on the beach later. The lack of a love story makes the hero’s quest one of vengeance and punishment, which is somewhat less-than-heroic. In the end, Perseus’ magic sword sent Hades back to the Underworld (where he is presumably now madder than ever), and Zeus was suddenly cool with Perseus and the lack of worship from mankind. Really? As Hades pointed out, man doesn’t love the gods anymore — and when pressed, the humans succumbed to fear and anger, not adoration. Only a couple of whackos tried to pray their way out of destruction and the reward for those deluded souls was death. Perhaps the best bit was the hilarious cameo by Bubo, the mechanical owl from the original. (END SPOILER GRAF)

The Harryhausen Kraken

The acting is decent, but nobody is really called upon to stretch their skills – or create any real characters. Fiennes, essaying another preternaturally evil character aside from Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films, acquits himself the best of the human cast. Worthington, who starred in Avatar to tremendous effect, here makes a two-note Perseus: angry and sullen, or angry and…angrier. Davalos is extremely underused and Andromeda underwritten, while other actors like Jane March as Hestia and Alexander Siddig as Hermes, make no impression at all.

Whatever impression the anticipated arrival of the dreaded Kraken itself would have made was spoiled by the trailers that revealed the updated look of the beast – which reminded me of the Rancor from Return of the Jedi.

You can keep your CGI scorpions and djinn – give me Harryhausen puppets and a mechanical owl any day!

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