The best one can say about the remake of 1981 popcorn adventure flick Clash of the Titans is that it’s like a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel with less stuff — less running time, less mess, less camp and less wit. What it gains by keeping one foot on the sturdy foundation of Greek mythology, it loses by not getting sprightlier when it panders to modern tastes. Still, if you just want to see a flying horse in 3-D, or have an opportunity to tell the kids everything you remember from D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, it’ll do.
There’s no point in detailing the deviations from mythological canon in Titans, because poets and entertainers have been pillaging this source for millennia. If there’s one constant in Western civ, it’s that people like to watch guys in leather tunics killing monsters.
Still, one wishes the writers had stuck to the original backstory of Perseus (Sam Worthington). Here, the demigod hero is engendered when Zeus (Liam Neeson) punishes an errant king (Jason Flemyng) by posing as him and getting busy with his wife. In the myth, the god penetrated Danaë’s locked chamber and ravished her in the form of a shower of gold. Now, that sounds like a scene that would benefit from 3-D.
The film’s premise is that humans have finally got fed up with the gods’ habit of harassing mortal women in various creative guises. The citizens of Argos have rebelled by toppling their statue of Zeus into the ocean — a token measure, one would think, against a guy who can toss lightning bolts.
But not in this version. The gods and goddesses, who live in a glowy, green-screened Olympus, seem relatively weak without the assistance of Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and his nasty big pet, the Kraken. (The Kraken actually originated in Scandinavian folklore, but whatever.) Sad to say, the screenwriters have eliminated the inter-god bickering that makes these stories so much fun and replaced it with a dualistic brotherly rivalry between the king of heaven and his counterpart in the underworld. Neeson sparkles irritably, while Fiennes steals the show with his raspy voice and hunched posture — the only outré elements in the film.
From here, Titans proceeds to a traditional hero-comes-into-his-birthright story, with the salient difference that Perseus’ divine dad is kind of a rapist jerk. Maybe that’s the reason for Worthington’s dour performance, though it’s pretty similar to the one he delivered in the non-blue parts of Avatar.
Speaking of Avatar, its shadow looms long over Titans, which was converted to 3-D in a last-minute attempt to cash in on the profitable craze. From his Olympian throne, James Cameron has already pronounced the film’s look subpar. He has a point — the action scenes in the 3-D Titans have a blurry, bleeding look, like a busy watercolor. If you want to know what’s happening, flat may be a better bet. In other scenes, actors seem to pop out against flat backgrounds like figures in a museum diorama.
Question is, does the realism of 3-D (if a movie stuffed with computer effects can be called realistic) outweigh the loss of brightness and precision? For moviegoers who want a thrill ride, it probably does, and director Louis Leterrier makes good use of real locations to give natural beauty to his spectacle.
Visually, Titans makes 300 look like the painstaking work of a Renaissance master. (Was it only three years ago that flat CGI spectacles seemed so crass?) But on a story level, it’s got an old-fashioned dumbness that’s endearing. You won’t remember it next month, but this is no epic fail.