06 April 2010

At the movies: Clash of the Titans.

Who can save the city of Argos from the wrath of the (some would say justifiably) slighted gods and the business end of a monstrous Kraken? Why, it’s Perseus (Sam Worthington), one of head deity Zeus’ scores of illegitimate children and the only man capable of tackling the biggest, strangest critters Ancient Greece can throw at him. There’s a princess to be saved, computer-generated battles to be fought, semi-divine heritage to shun (again and again and again), and a black winged horse to help with aerial shots.

But it's still not really enough.

Simultaneously a high-profile remake of a semi-beloved 1981 cult favorite and the litmus test for whether post-process 3D can work on a large scale, this Clash has been getting a lot of attention. The cast is stacked with great actors (Pete Postlethwaite in genre cinema is always a good sign, and there's a remarkable supporting cast hidden somewhere in this mess of a film), and the original’s flashy camp is well-preserved in the scenes set on Mount Olympus (it’s like some bizarre fusion of The Legion of Doom headquarters and Showgirls).

But will audiences be willing to pay the exorbitant 3D prices for a film which was hastily converted after the fact? The truth is, they shouldn't. 2D is perfectly fine. The only scene which at all benefits from the after-conversion is the opening prologue, telling the story of the Olympian revolt against the Titans across the stars themselves. It's a magical sequence, filled with color and imagination, qualities which sadly vacate the premises once the action starts.

There are three big problems with this film.

1) It’s a film dealing with ancient Greek society and its issues and belief structures, yet is firmly made in the mindset of the modern-day audience (see also 300). This dates a film badly and also creates a central incongruity that can be insurmountable. For an example of a film that does not make this mistake but that most people seem to hate- Oliver Stone's Alexander.

2) Sam Worthington, just as in Avatar, is a blank slate; there’s no presence there, and he just sort of blends in with the pixels on display. He's brawny, he's capable of being forceful (though it comes off more as petulant), but he's got no presence at all.

3) The 3D is weak. Like Alice in Wonderland, this post-processed 3D is neither immersive nor consistent. If a film wasn’t crafted to be in 3D, it shouldn’t be shown that way.

The monsters are fun (big ups on any films with giant scorpions- and this one has at least eight or nine, and the new-concept Medusa is iffily effective even if her lair is the one staggering achievement of the production), Director Louis LeTerrier (Transporter 2) has an exemplary sense of kinesis, and there are moments when it captures the hokey majesty of bringing Greek myth to life. But I'll take the dated techniques and I, Claudius supporting cast of Olympians of the original over this any day of the week.

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