Thursday, 15 April 2010

Clash of the Titans

The original 1981 Clash of the Titans is hardly a masterpiece but certainly has the brio and verve of a creaky cult adventure, plus Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion effects are as wonderfully organic as ever. Sadly, Louis (The Hulk) Letterier's is completely devoid of dramatic tension or atmosphere. It's summer moviemaking by committee at its near-worst.

Only near-worst mind; there’s some degree of merit in Leterrier’s vision, namely the ambiguous, shifting motives of gods Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes), whose uneasy sibling rivalry sets the tale in motion, courtesy of Greek mythology 101 from Gemma Arterton’s Io. With mankind defiling the gods’ image, Hades sets in motion a plan that will see the monstrous Kraken unleashed on the city of Argos (Woolworths presumably suffered a grisly fate), to make it clear who’s in charge. Concurrently, demi-god Perseus (Sam Worthington), little realizing he is the son of Zeus, has grown into a humble fisherman, but must embrace his destiny and set out on a perilous journey to save the city and defeat Hades.

Full of mythical beasts, romance and derring-do, there’s enough intrigue in the Greek myths to fund Hollywood for the next decade but Titans is a film that’s inhabited, not felt. Commendably lavish in costume design, art direction and effects (although this is largely a given in the classical setting), the film has the feel of a piece of polished oak furniture: impressive, yes, even expensive, but still wooden. It sits there on-screen as the latest in a factory line of lazy summer blockbusters, although vignettes are effective (the unveiling of Pegasus and the delightfully revolting Stygian Witches are notable).

Certain elements on the other hand are symptomatic of the wider problems, chiefly the miscast Worthington who looks (and sounds) like he’d rather be knocking back a Fosters on Bondi. His casting is a contemporary coup…but he’s a blank façade. The box-ticking goes on elsewhere: we know the villains are so because they dress in black and whisper incessantly; British character actors pop up in the background (Pete Posthlethwaite; Liam Cunningham) to give it a classy façade, although it’s complete rubbish; and Ramin Djawadi’s score is a synthetic, Hans Zimmer-channeling mess, adding nothing visceral to the experience.

And what of the much anticipated Medusa set-piece? Brilliantly creepy in Desmond Davis’ original, Letterier predictably cranks it up, shattering the tension in the process. Nowadays it seems blockbusters are content to run at us rather than set up an emotional investment; it’s a strange regression from an original which, in spite of all its flaws, actually made us believe titans would clash.

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