While the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans has developed a cult following and its share of admirers, it is not the greatest of movies. It has a lot going for it, including a good cast and Ray Harryhausen’s unique and unforgettable creatures, but to suggest that it is even the genre equivalent of Citizen Kane may be going a bit far. I like the movie. I think it works perhaps because of the slightly silly special effects and because of the cast and because the quest Perseus sets out on feels understandable (despite its mythical nature).
One can’t help the fact that Louis Leterrier’s 2010 version of Clash of the Titans has a different cast, but the fact that the script doesn’t work and the effects are high-gloss, obviously expensive, and really only seem to try and hide the fact that the story is completely lacking. Ignoring any comparison with the original, the new film simply has actions occur – there is a distinct lack of motivation for almost every major character, and characters do seem to change their minds on a regular basis for no particular reason other than to service the needs of the story.
Starting at the beginning, the film tells the tale of Perseus (Sam Worthington), a demigod who grows up not knowing that his father is Zeus. Perseus is found by a fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite) as an infant and is taken in by him. He grows up as a fisherman, living with his adopted family and, as with the rest of the population, grows ever more uncomfortable about praying to the Gods as the Gods don’t seem to care about humans.
It is actually at that point in the film that Leterrier – had he help from the screenplay by Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, and Matt Manfredi – could enter into some sort of poignant discussion about the relationship between man and god. Allusions could be drawn to Job or maybe the film could explore what the relationship between the Greeks and their Gods had been prior to the present crisis. Clash of the Titans isn’t interested in exploring or explaining anything however, except, that is, for death and destruction (and even that in mundane fashion). Instead, Perseus arrives in Argos, loses his family, and quickly finds himself tasked with saving the city from the Kraken, an evil monster created by Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Hades has gotten permission from Zeus (Liam Neeson) to unleash the beast because Argos has been so darn mean to the Gods.
As the film hasn’t bothered to explain in any detail the relationship between Gods and humans – save the fact that we are told repeatedly that Zeus created humans because he wanted to be loved and derives his power from said love – Zeus’ allowing Hades to destroy the city seems all too manufactured an occurrence, one that happens solely so that we can get a huge climax to the film. In fact, one would think that Zeus’ feeding off humans’ love and Hades feeding off their hate might be enough to convince Zeus that destroying a whole city and making people angry and terrified isn’t the best way to approach his problems. But, as we are oft reminded in the film, the Kraken is coming to the city and is going to destroy things real good.
As with any action film though, we need not wait until the climax to get to the adrenaline rush scenes. Throughout Perseus’ journey, he and his band of not-so-merry men get to battle creatures that range from giant scorpions to Medusa. He even gets to battle his birth mother’s one-time husband, Acrisius (Jason Flemying), who has been imbued by Hades with extra-special killing powers. As he ventures on his quest Perseus falls in love with the woman who, creepily and without explanation, has been watching him since he was a baby, the ageless Io (Gemma Arterton). One presumes she’s present because the film needed a female character on the journey as well as a love interest for Perseus and they couldn’t figure out how to send Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) out of Argos. Andromeda must remain there as the Kraken would happily take her instead of destroy the city, at least that’s what we’re told right up until the city offers up Andromeda and the Kraken still tries to destroy the place. And, although they barely ever speak, a romantic relationship is certainly implied between Andromeda and Perseus at the end of the film.
In a film almost wholly without understandable motivations for any characters, that moment is the least of its offenses. Far more difficult to understand and accept is Perseus’ relationship to Zeus. Zeus loves his son and tries to help Perseus on his journey providing him with a Pegasus and a sword. They are two gifts Perseus shuns as he’s still angry at Pops, or, they’re two gifts he shuns at first. Once he needs them he uses them, but he doesn’t arrive at the decision to utilize the Zeus’ help because he likes his father, because he loves his father, or because he even accepts his fate. No, as with so much in the film, he uses them because it’s Clash of the Titans and an action movie – he has to use the gifts from the Gods’ eventually. The sword is used in a heated moment of battle and because Perseus know it is the only thing that will save his life – when he grabs it he hasn’t reached a point at which he accepts his father or the Gods, he never seems to get there, it’ll just help him at that the time and that feels very unsatisfying to the audience. Perhaps some of the blame here can be laid squarely at the feet of Worthington who seems imperturbable no matter the situation. One can’t see that he ever has any sort of internal struggle – he just sort of looks vaguely quizzical and then moves on to fight some bit of CGI.
Clash of the Titans is a film almost wholly built on special effects in place of plot, story, character, and other elements which usually comprise a film. The producers did go out and get some big names to be in the movie, but to the detriment of the film the actors are eclipsed by what takes place around them. The best (or worst) example of this is Ralph Fiennes as Hades. Fiennes doesn’t get the chance to perform as his most important scenes cover and surround him by CGI. Fiennes can do a great villain, has done a great villain with Voldemort from the Harry Potter series, and could have been given the opportunity to build a better character here, but is entirely stripped of that ability due to Clash‘s need to be over the top.
Even if the CGI and action sequences aren’t very satisfying – it helps the action sequences if one cares about the characters – they do look spectacular on Blu-ray release. The film, as stated above, is high-gloss and the Blu-ray release loses absolutely none of that sheen. There is a great deal of detail even in the darkest of moments, and the varying colors look rich and vibrant. Particularly good is the gold sheen of the Gods and the red of Hades – they really do serve to draw the audience in where the action and script fail to do so. The sound is, as one would expect, just as over the top as the film itself. What is on the 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is excellent and makes great use of the surrounds and subwoofer, but the action sequences are far too loud for the home in comparison with the dialogue.
The Blu-ray release doesn’t deliver though in terms of extras. It does come with both a DVD and digital copy, but the special features themselves are lacking. There are the usual bits of behind-the-scenes featurettes, an alternate ending, and deleted scenes. There is also something the Warner Bros. refers to “Maximum Movie Mode” which is best thought of as a picture-in-picture commentary track on God-like steroids. Rather than a simple corner of the screen featuring different members of the cast and crew showing and telling you how the film was made, the main film and picture-in-picture discussion slide around the screen and change sizes, and generally distract from both the film and the behind-the-scenes talks. It actually works perfectly with the sound and fury signifying nothing of the film itself as they are both equally silly.
In the final summation, 2010’s Clash of the Titans is a loud, special effects-laden update of a film that was notable for using stop-motion animation when computer effects were possible. It takes what was a silly but fun film and turns into a simply silly one. The only motivation of the characters is to get to the next scene and the fact that it looks beautiful does little to disguise its empty interior.