Published at: March 31, 2010, 8:42 a.m. CST by merrick
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
CLASH OF THE TITANS is a film that will no doubt cause countless discussions, few of them, sadly, about how good the actual film may be. It is a film that, in and of itself, is almost hard to review. Buried so deeply beneath a wealth of other problems, by the time you get around to taking in the ideas of the narrative, you are exhausted from all the other issues crushing it. Above all, this stands as THE defining moment we watched 3-D actually destroy a film and stand testament to the terrible, terrible idea of adding it in post-production. It is an effect so bad that it is all most of us can talk about. I know half a dozen critics who watched half of the film blurry rather than subject themselves to the torment of this bastardized hack job of a 3-D render; the rest of us suffered in silence, occasionally checking out the shot composition by lowering our glasses for a moment, repeatedly. How bad is it? See it in 2-D if at all possible. Do not, under any circumstances, watch the 3-D version of this film.
3-D is at a very tenuous point in its existence. Personally, I’m not a fan. When shot with 3-D in mind, it can be incredible, as in the case of Avatar. But then there are films like HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, in which I simply shrug the experience off. After all, there isn’t a single shot in HTTYD that does a thing better – or even close – to what they did a few years ago in BEOWULF. That dragon flying scene at the end? Mind-blowingly good in 3-D. But a cartoonish dragon and his dork rider? Wasn’t worth mentioning. 3-D. Not in 3-D. It’s a solid movie either way, and one in which the film carries it, not the 3-D.
But CLASH OF THE TITANS is a horse of a different color. It was not shot to be in 3-D. The decision to present it that way was made after the fact. The production designers decorated the set as if it were in 2-D. Cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr. framed his beautiful shots as if they would be presented in 2 glorious dimensions. And director Leterrier put everyone in front of the camera in positions to best compliment the work of his incredible team. The film looks awesome. Their view of ancient Greece is fresh, stunning and should be a pleasure to look at. But someone came along and decided that what would be best is if all that background stuff was pushed back and whatever character was the center of attention at the moment needed to be brought out to the forefront. After all, with all that 3-D AVATAR money out there, how could you go wrong?
How about hair that floats mysteriously behind its subject, as if there was someone with near identical hair standing behind them? How about trees that wobble in place as the camera moves and the rendering computer tries to figure out what the fuck to do with it, or flat ground that appears convex as it mysteriously slopes up on all sides towards our sitting subjects? How about editing that breaks the PRINCIPAL RULE OF 3-D EDITING? As I understand it, the main thing one needs to consider while editing in 3-D is that no single shot can be shorter than 2 seconds. Any shorter than that and the brain doesn’t have time to adjust to the new 3-D surroundings and cannot properly process the information, leaving you confused and a little off balance if you cut away too soon.
One of the great things about AVATAR is that they went into the movie understanding this. You can have fast moving action, but it needs to be in sustained shots. Think back on the most stunning shots of that movie – they are fluid, but not rapidly edited. Instead they are more classically edited. Now imagine if those action sequences were directed by Paul Greengrass in full on BOURNE SUPREMACY-mode and you begin to get an idea of what watching action sequences in CLASH is like. There is a real, honest to god reason people like Michael Bay are resistant to 3-D – because it changes the way you are allowed to make movies. You have to frame them differently; color them differently; edit them differently. You cannot just take any old film and add 3-D to it, just like you can’t take any old Black & White film and colorize it. But that’s exactly what they did here.
And it positively destroyed the fucking film. To add insult to injury, they didn’t even color correct it to account for the sunglass-effect of the polarized lenses, making the experience very much like…watching a movie while wearing sunglasses. BRILLIANT!
So how was the film itself? It’s alright. The story has some serious issues, but the action is fun and the production design is exquisite. Harry and I differ greatly on the look of the film. He’s a big Harryhausen nut (much moreso than I) and thus has a hard time separating himself from the original designs. As a hardcore fantasy/Dungeons & Dragons nut, I loved seeing a gritty, but truly mythical Greece under attack, in which our heroes are practically tripping over monsters. From the scorpions, to the harpies to the Kraken on down, I loved the various designs of every creature that showed their ugly face in this thing. It has its own look and feel unlike anything else, and never feel like it is aping some else’s vision of Mythic Greece.
But it’s not CLASH OF THE TITANS. And it certainly isn’t close to the original myths.
Look, I can give it some leeway when it comes to the mythology. The original CLASH was a terrible sinner in that department as well. Perseus was never the rider of Pegasus; Bellerophon was. But Bellerophon’s story isn’t remotely cinematic. He ends up believing he is worthy to live with the gods, flies Pegasus up to the heavens and Zeus knocks him off to plummet to his death. Not exactly the stuff of cinematic legend; not that Perseus’s is really much better – textually that is. So I can forgive the liberties taken in constructing the story of Perseus and the merging of mythos. BUT, there are some key elements you need to get right in order to tell the story properly. And that’s everything they get wrong here.
This shouldn’t have been a remake of the original CLASH OF THE TITANS, because it is clear that they didn’t want to tell that story; they simply wanted to reuse the name and the imagery. The original CLASH is a love story, an adventure about a boy, born of a god and a mortal, who sets out to find his destiny only to find it in the eyes of the world’s most beautiful woman. So he sets out to win the heart and hand of that woman by going on one of the greatest adventure’s ever embarked upon. He must, when all is said and done, kill a fellow demi-god, behead a Gorgon and slay the Kraken – all in the name of love.
This version of CLASH, on the other hand, is not at all about love. It’s the story of a boy who is very angry at his dad. After watching his loving adopted father killed by his real dad’s evil brother, he sets out to murder the gods – which tangentially causes him to want to save Andromeda – but not because he likes her. Instead, killing the Gorgon will weaken Hades and allow Perseus to kill him personally. What follows is a series of action sequences in which Sam Worthington (playing Jake Sully without the wheelchair) runs around bitching about his dad and refusing the gifts and favors of the gods while everyone around him (essentially substitute Argonauts) are killed off brutally while begging him to stop being such a whiny bitch and just accept their help.
Ultimately, this is where the movie suffers its biggest folly. It is about a man who is half god denying the advantage of birth to be a man; but ends up every bit as petty and self-centered as the gods themselves. Of course, that is not the film’s intent; it is all rock and roll and rock-the-fuck-on-with-your-bad-self-Perseus and it isn’t even remotely self-aware enough to realize that they’ve created such an apt and potentially tragic character. They’re more interested in rewarding the common man for plunking down $15 to see a story about how a demi-god wishes he were more like you. It’s an interesting take, sure; but not a good story. All of the pathos and romance gets tossed out for anger, while all the adventure is replaced by bitterness. The result is a grim, gritty, dark story without the high sense of adventure that people want from an epic fantasy film that, at the same time, doesn’t have enough character development to make all that grim, gritty, fantasy work on its own.
What do I love? Everything in Olympus. Liam Neeson is great as Zeus. I absolutely love that Ralph Fiennes is not only a great Hades, but that he actually looks like Neeson’s brother. Never before have I seen a version of Olympus in which the three brothers actually look like…brothers. It’s a nice touch in a brilliantly conceived Olympus that feels absolutely fucking mythical. I’ve never seen Mt. Olympus portrayed in such a wonderfully convincing way. The gods are truly beautiful; the architecture is evocative and the center of the god’s main hall is just plain incredible.
I think Gemma Atherton is mesmerizing as Io, a character that sadly doesn’t belong in this film; while Alexa Davalos does her damnedest to leave her mark on the screen as Andromeda in a film that doesn’t give two flying rat shits about Andromeda. In fact, I feel that everyone in this film is perfectly cast except for Worthington himself, who would have been really great as any number of Greek heroes not named Perseus. Seriously, had this plot been centered around a demi-god hero at the end of the mythic age on a quest to sever the link between Olympus and Earth – thus bringing about an end to the era of the gods - a lot of this could have worked. But by trying to take the elements of a classic adventure film, the title of said classic adventure film and characters associated with high adventure, then sloppily shoehorning it all into this kind of story, well, everything ends up lost in translation in a very pretty, but ultimately hollow film.
Until next time friends,