The filmmakers of the 2010 version of Clash of the Titans chose to remake the 1981 [M] screenplay rather than create their own version from the Greek myth, albeit with some major story modifications and character changes.
Bringing in Louis Letterier (The Incredible Hulk, The Transporter 1 and 2) ensured the emphasis was on action, and the 2010 Titans is far more kinetic than its predecessor, but it also reveals Letterier’s weaknesses with dialogue scenes; he doesn’t blow through them like Peter Hyams, but they are kept to a minimum - perhaps a trait leftover from his years as a second unit director for Luc Besson. Letterier also shows no desire to milk shots that convey epic or scope, let alone gradually revealing mountains, ruins, or interior sets in establishing shots.
Unlike the ’81 film, Perseus’ main foes have been split into variations. Instead of the goddess Thetis being the villainess in Zeus’ bedroom wars, it’s Zeus' jealous brother Hades (a wheezy, grubby Ray Fiennes) who makes a grand violent gesture, arriving in a swirling smoke cloud, since in the 2010 reboot, he can also reformulate himself into bat-like creatures.
Superficially, Hades' beef lies with the royal family of Argos – Andromeda’s greedy father and bitchy mother (Polly Walker) - but in the court of Olympus, Hades lies and manipulates facts, forcing Zeus (Liam Neeson, looking silly in his glued-on beard and an armor suit leftover from 1981’s Excalibur) to order the use of the Kraken in a finale that’s almost the same as the original. (In the new version, however, Andromeda is dragged to a sacrificial sling-shot instead of volunteering herself to the Kraken out of loyalty to her city.)
In addition to the Kraken, the familiar elements include the Medusa battle, the three blind witches, the winged horse Pegasus, and Thetis’ son Acrisius (disfigured instead of being transformed by Zeus into a cloven-hoofed creature). The scorpions that were created by the blood of Medusa’s head are now giant creatures that spawn from Acrisius’ blood, but the giant bugs are also creatures that a race of wooden humanoids - the Djinn - ride like Hannibal’s war elephants.
Where the connection between Acrisus blood and the pre-existing domestication of the giant scorpions comes into play is never addressed; it’s perhaps best regarded as a moment of unexplained logic in the shooting script. The big bugs and the Djinn, however, are pivotal, since they bring Perseus to the witches, and the Djinn leader is the lone member of his race willing to aid the group in Medusa’s lair.
Perseus’ arrival in the city of Argos (destroyed at the beginning of the ’81 film, but repositioned here as the main city) feels like a smash-cut under Letterier’s hands - the journey to the seaside metropolis is absurdly fast - and without the invisibility helmet in the ’81 version gave him stealth entry into the king’s court, Perseus is quickly taken prisoner. The demi-god is eventually released, and he teams up with royal soldiers in the hopes his ties to Papa Zeus will give them an edge in saving the kingdom and the Princess Adromeda from the Kraken.
Unlike the ’81 film, though, the soldiers are in fact memorable, and instead of Perseus being innately / instantly gifted in warfare, he needs some encouragement from leader Draco (Mads Mikkelsen, with cornrow hair). Sam Worthington (Rogue, Terminator: Salvation) is too old as Perseus, but he gives the immature character an edge that suits his conflicted state of preferring to be regarded as human in spite of sharing a genetic link to Zeus (who really behaved like a common incubus when he impregnated Perseus’ sleeping mum).
Among the fearless soldiers is wise-cracking Solon (Liam Cunningham), and two Arabs who later step away from Perseus’ dangerous quest for Medusa’s head (although they hang around long enough for the giant scorpion battle).
Solon's usually full of dry swagger and quick quips, but one simple moment perhaps illustrates the screenwriters' unnecessary need to indicate when a joke is a joke: as Solon enters Medusa's lair, he notices the stone figure beside him has the same defensive stance; the shot's visual pun is obvious, but Solon is forced to quip "Doesn't really inspire confidence." One joke that works brilliantly, however, has Perseus picking up the same robotic owl from the '81 film (Bubo) from a chest of weapons. Asking what the strange thing is, Solon flatly tells him 'It's nothing,' which is a cute jab at the most annoying character in the prior film.
Perhaps the strangest tweak in the remake is Perseus’ love interest. While he recognizes Andromeda is a hottie, he falls for a cursed human, newcomer Lo (Quantum of Solace's Gemma Atherton), an ageless woman-fighter who watched him grow into a man under the tutelage of his foster parents, played by Pete Postlethwaite (!) and Elizabeth McGovern (!). (In the ’81 film, Perseus’ mother survives the coffin ride in the ocean.)
That love interest is acknowledged in the theatrical ending in which she is brought back to life by Zeus as a reward for a job well-done and some companionship for his son, since Perseus declines Zeus' offer to live on Mount Olympus as a god.
In the alternate ending (archived on the Blu-ray), Perseus’ rescue of Andromeda from drowning during the Kraken assault is extended by a ridiculous underwater kiss / air exchange, and an extended beach scene where the two acknowledge a fondness – something wholly absent in the rest of the film, which makes their sudden devotion inane. Perseus then flies up to Mount Olympus, and harangues Zeus with a 'don't-mess-with-the-humans threat,' because 'he's watching' and will wreak his own kind of hell on the gods if the humans, whom Perseus regards as his true kin, are harmed.
It's an unusable finale (and certainly negates the chances of a sequel), but it does relate to the conflict the writers have instilled in the character of Perseus: he distrusts Zeus because he thinks of himself as a human, and clearly loved the foster family that was killed by Hades' giant fireball at the film's beginning. The anger and contempt he feels towards the gods remains constant, which is why he also distrusts the gifts left by Zeus, such as the powerful sword he refuses to carry until the battle with Medusa. As he states quite firmly to Draco before the group continue the journey, "If I do this, I do this as a man."
There are two additional deleted scenes, but they’re fairly negligible, since they’re blandly shot dialogue exchanges meant to detail the rivalries among the Olympians.
Titans is all-action, and it certainly delivers with multiple conflicts, spiraling camera moves, and a pulsing score by Ramin Djawadi. Letterier’s direction ensures the film has a snappy pacing, and action scenes are cut to impress video game fans who may feel ancient myth movies equal boredom, but the sacrifice is a lack of subtlety and elegance.
Note: Titans was among a handful of films converted to 3D in the wake of Avatar’s tremendous box office success, but from reviewer accounts, the spatial enhancements were ineffective, and fuzzy. Most of the visuals already put characters up front and soft-focused background details, so there really wasn’t much that could be tweaked to turn Titans into a crisp, 3D experience – which is probably why for now, the film has been released on DVD and BR in its original (and intended) flat version.
2012 sequel (released in both flat and re-rendered 3D: Wrath of the Titans [M].
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan