Monday, April 19, 2010

Movie Review: Clash of the Titans

Better late than never, eh?

After the disappointment of the first installment of Percy Jackson, I had pinned some high hopes on this return to Greek mythology. The trailer looked pretty amazing, but I didn't see much plot underneath all that action, even though they had an already-established movie to draw from (the original Ray Harryhausen creature classic of the same name has a cult following).

I wasn't disappointed about the action, that's for sure. They promised action via the trailer, and they delivered it almost all movie long. There's very little downtime in this film. Perseus and his crew spent most of the movie trekking across the countryside avoiding being stabbed or eaten in various exciting ways. Nice job there.

I find, however, that as a writer I learn best from what isn't in a movie. What's missing from this one is the human story. It's your basic summer action film with all the emotion stripped out of it. There's a nod to Perseus's angst about his dead family, but for the most part there is no pause to feel in this film. The love story between Perseus and Andromeda (for me, one of the driving forces behind the myth and the original film) is conspicuously absent. Instead, Perseus is paired with a woman called Io, who was cursed with agelessness.

Grand. What's that got to do with Andromeda?

There's a sense of scratching the surface in this movie - a brotherhood of men with their own backstories, which might have been interesting if they spent more time on it. Even the performances of the gods (Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes as Zeus and Hades, respectively) lacked the magic of the original. The interaction of the pantheon was a big draw in the first movie for me, and it was missing here. Their names are not given - with an exception or two - so they're left sitting there, a backdrop that's rolled out without delivering on what could have been a great thing.

And on the subject of great things wasted ... Sam Worthington, who did such an incredible job emoting in "Avatar" even as a CG, nine-foot blue tiger, was given so little to work with here in the emotion department. And this guy can emote and make you care even while kicking arse. Watch "Terminator: Salvation" if you still don't believe me. His performance in that movie blows John Connor out of his combat boots.

Lacking the emotional element, this movie does have some unexpected highlights. The Scorpiox and the Djinn were interesting. I did find it odd that Pegasus was a Friesian (a horse of the Netherlands), while his herd was your standard white flying horses. The fact that he had a herd bothered me, since Calibos (another human story stripped down to bare bones) was supposed to have killed them. I like Friesians though, and Sam Worthington on a Friesian is even better. Yay, me.

The Kraken was another highlight, of course. They spent a lot of time and effort on making the big battle look good, and it shows. There's also a town fanatic in Argos, who believes (erroneously) that sacrificing Andromeda and returning en force to worshipping the gods will make everything all better. It's a nice commentary on the folly of any sort of blind fervor, and I did like that about the movie. The battle with Medusa was notably terrific, too.

In short, "Clash of the Titans" was one of those "almost" movies. Almost the outstanding piece of cinema that it could have been, if only they'd rounded it out with the emotional draw it should have had. I'll still buy it, I'll still watch it on a rainy Sunday, but I still love my Harryhausen classic best. :)

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