Friday, 9 April 2010

3D Clash of the Titans (2010)

* *

(Dir. Louis Leterrier, 2010)

This brand new, visual epic fated to culminate Titan aetiology will have academics licking their lips the world over. Journals will be published thick and fast: this is an original and immortal work. Forget what Hesiod wrote (or spoke?) about the hero Perseus, that might have inspired centuries, even millennia, of art. In Clash of the Titans, Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson deliver their most hotly anticipated and spellbinding performances ever on screen together, as Hades and Zeus, and because they're not wearing those silly Greek theatre masks, and because they are flying at us in 3D, this makes them more believable as figureheads of an Olympian pantheon.

Nah, I'm just kiddin'.

Transporter 2 and The Incredible Hulk, Leterrier is still yet to direct anything worth re-visiting. Clash of the Titans is earnest bilge, exhausting on both eye and ear. And, accidentally, quite funny. No person nor freak, not even the impressive CGI-landscape (Olympus is a cool silvery palace reminiscent of Krypton) seems to believe in its existence, and yet this is a genuine attempt to make the hairs on the backs of our necks stand up by way of heroes, gods and monsters. The aforementioned Fiennes and Neeson are unsurprisingly assured, but their formal dialogue clashes mawkishly with the tone of the film. For instance, when Perseus is about to enter Medusa's realm, he instructs his companions: "Don't look the bitch in the eye!" Or when Zeus visits Perseus and tosses him some pocket-money. Clumsily assimilated into this American dialect (spearheaded by Avatar-lead, Sam Worthington, as Perseus) is that watered-down ancient code of honour, observed by big boys with swords and shields, a la "Shadows and dust, Maximus... Shadows and dust... Strength and honour".

The plot is a discombobulating melting pot of mythological narratives and characters. Hence the story of Perseus, the film's hero, has nothing to do with the clashing of Titans, the film's narrative, in traditional fable. Anyway, this, roughly, is Leterrier's plot; in an assembly on Olympus, the home of the gods, Hades and Zeus agree to punish mankind for its growing hybris, by unleashing the Kraken (a comical Norweigan sea-monster supposed to terrify us) to destroy Argos if its King does not sacrifice his daughter, Andromeda, within a fortnight. However Hades is really trying to trick Zeus and kill his son, Perseus, in order to reassert his place on Olympus, far from the Underworld. Meanwhile Perseus, who has now discovered he is a demi-god (thanks to a never-ageing beautiful woman who stalks him), aided by warriors of Argos and a hooded mystery-man known as a gin (as in Gordons), is told he can kill the Kraken by showing him Medusa's head and so turning him to stone. But first he has to find Medusa, avoid her stare and decapitate "the bitch". For blockheads seeking a philosophical seminar, the ruthless gods are helpful: Man is autonomous, but evil is strongest when Man is weakest.

This is a typically disastrous effort by Hollywood at re-imagining the classical, or the mythology of the classical, world. However the principal effort is of course bums-on-seats and dollars, with the noisy and bold trailer working its siren-song to lure in reluctant families on a day of April showers. This ballsy remake is one of the least affecting movies to flirt with Armageddon in recent years, but if you want a few laughs (unintended by the director) or if you're partial to short-running, quasi-archaic sci-fi shows on Sky One, it's a do-able 106 minutes. Do not go if you are an intellectually insecure classicist ready to criticise every frame for being incongruous with the Oxford Classical Dictionary. It isn't the innovative mythology that is wrong, it's everything else. Since the 7th Century BC, artists have been depicting the decapitation of Medusa - whose iconographic hair of hissing snakes still turns dreams into nightmares in the 21st century. She is the one scary monster and the single benefit of 3D in this spectacular unforced error of a film. Clash of the Titans is almost, but not quite, a guilty pleasure.

The Clash Begins
: 3.26.2010. If it hasn't yet begun for you, don't let it.


  1. Classic damning last line there, Robbie! Eloquent as ever. Although I got a bit confused in penultimate paragraph, but perhaps that's because Greek plots are so darn complicated to begin with! xx

  2. Yeah it's supposed to be confusing, the whole film is! However I should have probably given a more clear, two-or-three line summary. The plot is actually, typically American, taking a myth and modernising it according to CGI opportunism, however stupid the result. Greek plots (except perhaps the Iliad) tend not to be that complicated, forwarding simple comic / tragic myths into public context (particularly in Classical Athens). But it's hard not to generalise when talking about antiquity: this is food for a thesis I am not prepared to write.