Archive for May, 2010

Clash of the Titans

Posted in Review with tags , , , on May 19, 2010 by JonH

Clash of the Titans tells the story of Perseus (Sam Worthington), a demi-god who just after birth was cast into the ocean along with his mother after she’d been duped into sleeping with Zeus (Liam Neeson) and becoming pregnant. Perseus is rescued by the fisherman, Spyros (Pete Postlethwaite) who then raises him as his own. Fast forward a few years and the Spyros family happens upon some soldiers from Argos who, under orders from their king, are putting their collective foot down and striking back at the capricious Gods by chopping a giant statue of Zeus off at the ankles. The statue plummets into the ocean as the incredulous Zeus watches on from high atop Mount Olympus. This is the final straw for the big wheel and he informs his pantheon of co-gods that humans must be reminded of the order of things. He calls upon his flaky-scalped brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) to descend to Earth and wreak havoc. Hades agrees, but he also has plans of his own. (Gotta love sub-plot . . .)

COTT has the requisite special effects essential for the success of a blockbuster, but it struggles nearly everywhere else. The movie doesn’t create any sort of tension, or suspense, and it utterly fails at making the viewer sympathetic to the characters. Most moments where a little character development could have evoked sympathy were passed over too quickly, or dealt with in ham-handed fashion.

Two prime examples of this are exemplified in the trailer. The first is where Perseus’s adopted father declares that someone must take a stand – someone must say enough. In the trailer you get the sense that this line is spoken at some impactful point in the movie when a rousing, defiant speech would give the viewer goose bumps – kind of a Braveheart sort of thing, you know. But in Director Louis Letterier’s world that wasn’t the case. In fact this defiant phrase doesn’t come when humanity has gotten their posteriors handed to them on a platter after doing battle with the gods, but rather when Spyros and his son reel in their empty fishing nets.

Now I understand superstition and that any act could be perceived as a result of offending the gods, but this? Come one. Yawn . . . Curse the gods! No damn fish.

The second moment comes in the grand palace of Argos when the king boldly declares that it’s no longer the age of gods, but the age of man. Everyone in the royal court is milling about, drinking wine and celebrating the fact that they’re so brazen in their contempt for Zeus and his pals that the princess takes issue and compels them to think about what’s going around them. Obviously, she suggests, the gods are responding to man’s defiance with spite.

Defiance? The only act of defiance that we’re aware of was the lopping off of the Zeus statue at the feet.

That’s the action that released the ensuing carnage?

No, I’m sure it wasn’t. But the problem is that’s all we’re shown – everything else is implied. That’s fine in some movies, but it doesn’t work in this one. For it to be effective we should have been given more reasons why man should want to break free of the gods. We needed to feel that people were justified in rebelling for living as slaves or for being unjustly subjugated to Zeus’s will. But we don’t. In fact, on more than one occasion we hear Zeus tell another of the gods how much he loves man. He’s just bummed out that people are no longer praying to him. We’re left to think that the people of Argos are just getting too big for their britches. Unfortunately, hubris just doesn’t cut it. The original COTT was much cooler, albeit campier, with its storyline of jealous gods playing with the lives of men. Now that’s enough to incite an uprising.

One interesting facet of the film is the idea that emotion, whether through love or fear, provides strength to the gods. This is embodied by the religious zealot that becomes a cult leader for those citizens of Argos who feel the need to continue appeasing the gods through acts of violence and sacrifice. This could have formed an interesting sub-plot by providing commentary on contemporary religion’s use of emotional manipulation to convert, or eradicate, non-believers. Unfortunately, that falls flat because in the world of the movie people interact with gods on occasion. There is no question as to their existence. In reality, however, they’re existence is questioned. The movie does nothing to reconcile this, probably because it’s not interested in reconciliation. This seems to be a very large lost opportunity to provide a bit more depth to the movie.

Ultimately, as Perseus and the rest of the gang go through the motions to save Argos, the princess from the Kraken, and Zeus from Hades we’re left mildly disinterested because we have nothing riding on any of them emotionally. But if emotional investment’s not your thing, check out Sam Worthington’s line delivery. If that doesn’t drive you nuts maybe the ever-present-token-pouty-lipped-pseudo-goddess Io that follows him around will. (The picture to the right shows a rare non-pouty moment.)

It’s sad to say that even though the trailers look good, not even the prospects of Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes with cool beards and even cooler outfits can save Clash of the Titans from being a titan of a stinker.