Friday, 23 April 2010

IQ Gamer's David Bierton reviews 'Clash of the Titans' (3D)

I'm quite conscious of the fact that most of my reviews on here are for rather “artsy” films, mostly as a by-product of working in an arts cinema (the Duke of York’s Brighton) where I can see these kinds of pictures regularly. Even when I have ventured into the multiplex of late it has been for relatively “high brow” fare, like Tim Burton’s take on ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or Drew Barrymore’s quirky, left-field indie flick ‘Whip It’. But I don’t want to entirely neglect the simple pleasure of the summer blockbuster (I probably wouldn't be a film critic if it weren't for 'Star Wars' and 'Jurassic Park'), and so David Bierton has again kindly left the sheltered haven of his pioneering video games review blog, IQ Gamer, to share his thoughts on one of this summer's biggest event movies: 'Clash of the Titans'. Regular readers may remember Dave turned in a fine second opinion on 'Kick-Ass' earlier in the month and he does a similarly fine job here, away from his usual field:

‘Clash Of The Titans’ is a remake of the 1981 Olympian cult classic, most fondly remembered for its stellar effects work by Ray Harryhausen, whose stop-motion models inspired a generation of special effects artists and directors. And whilst not being a particularly great movie, the fact that it presented viewers with a potentially epic tale of Greek mythology and wondrous creatures made it ripe for a 21st century reworking. This 2010 re-envisioning (directed by Louis Leterrier) is based loosely on that film, adapting the overall movie towards present day teen audiences and modern day culture, hoping to deliver a more epic, action-packed approach to mythological film making.

‘Clash’ begins with our hero (Sam Worthington as Perseus) witnessing the death of his family at the hands of the gods, and left almost for dead after a brief encounter with Hades the god of the underworld. He soon finds out that he himself is a demigod, and that only he has the power to defy the gods and save the Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos), who must be sacrificed in order to appease the gods, or mankind will suffer the consequences. Failure to do so, and Hades (Ralph Fiennes) will unleash the Kraken, a beast so deadly it is feared by Zeus (Laim Neeson) himself. Faced with this harsh reality the people of Argus decide to send Perseus to find a way of defeating the beast and gain an all-important victory for humanity.

The film sounds off like a great mythological epic, full of weird and fantastical creatures, along with a strong ensemble of characters intertwined in their turmoil through the fates that they have brought upon themselves. It should have been a rip-roaring adventure on a massive scale, with huge battles, long journeys to lands far way, and a battle of wills between man and the gods. Unfortunately the film fails in almost every respect to convey such notions, instead being stuck largely on autopilot through an extremely poor script and by the numbers direction which leaves at lot to be desired.

Despite an all-star cast of respectable and award-winning actors, the performances on offer are pretty mundane and uninspired to say the least. Sam Worthington feels distinctly out of place as Perseus, delivering his lines with the same deep gruff voice he used for his character in ‘Terminator Salvation’, whilst also failing to convey any believable sense of emotion, instead spending his time looking down at the camera, looking moody and squinting his eyes. His dialogue means to simply move the film forward rather than to engage the audience with his plight. The role requiring someone perhaps more charismatic and down to earth, rather than someone who seems like a hardened solider mismatched as a simple fisherman.

Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson as gods Hades and Zeus respectively, play their roles with far more conviction, although never stretching beyond a reasonable performance. Liam Neeson especially, as an actor, seems to hold the weight and gravitas to bring the role of the Greek ‘ruler of the gods’ to life with passion and a hard-edged dominance. And he does so on occasion, showing not only Zeus’s ruthlessness but also his more compassionate side comfortably, though never strikingly. As a result you never really come to fear him, or perhaps sympathise with him either. Ralph Fiennes on the other hand delivers the film’s best performance as Hades (although nothing particularly noteworthy), he brings a sense of deception and the feeling of isolation and hatred to the role, playing it almost like a pantomime villain reserved for the likes of ‘Harry Potter’. But, it works, perhaps, more so than anyone else in the movie.

The dialogue given to most of the characters is utterly forgettable, and most disappointingly, is delivered with a style which seems at odds with an adventure set several centuries ago. For example before entering Medusa’s lair Sam Worthington’s Perseus utters “just don’t look the bitch in the eyes” before venturing in for the kill, whilst Gemma Atherton’s Lo tells him earlier in the film that she is “cursed with the gift of agelessness”. These just break any illusion of the film trying to be an action movie steeped in Greek mythology, as it simply feels like its set somewhere in the present day but with old costumes and huge beasts roaming the land. Surely replacing the word “agelessness” with the likes of “immortality” would be far more in keeping with the nature of the source material and the film itself, just to point out what exactly I mean.

Much has been made of the CG battle sequences and creatures and how they compare to the 1981 original. Suffice to say they are much better on a technological level, but some fail to convey the same sense of believability or tangible reality present with the stop-motion animation of thirty years ago. The medusa for example was a wretchedly ugly, and wholly spin-shivering creation in the original film. In the remake however, she looks far too clean, and dare I say, far too pretty for such a feared and ghastly character. The CG used for her is also extremely poor and obviously fake looking, failing to bring any sense of terror or urgency to the proceedings. Other creatures such as the giant spiders fare a little better, as do the three witches donning the single eye between them.

Sadly the battle sequences are all rather uninspired and feel like the actors are simply going through the motions. Generic ways of killing the creatures, and a general lack of imagination in a film poised to be so imaginative, turns any potential action scenes into another boring section in order to further progress the movie. Also absent from the film, is any sense of time passing and distances crossed by the characters. Instead I simply felt that they were going through scene by scene just trying to cover a number of bullet points laying out the journey to be taken, and what adversaries they were to meet along the way.

Finally the use of 3D (added in post-processing) was perhaps the films biggest mistake, as not only does it look at odds with the source material itself, it is also delivered without any of the subtly and benefit given by actually being designed and shot on 3D. Most of all the film often looks perfect for a 2D transfer, with some soft focus scenes and traditional filmic camera work delivering just a little of that classical ‘feel’ (in some scenes) that accompanies so many of these movies based on ancient mythology. It also represents how a lot of us see this particular period in history displayed on film, without the harsh grain of untouched forty-year-old film stock, along with more dramatic camera work. The 3D effect just heightens instead, the modern day, popcorn-era nature of its direction, and lack of respect for producing a great genre movie.

‘Clash Of The Titans’ is a poorly scripted, badly directed, and thoroughly misplaced re-envisioning of classic movie which was never all that good to begin with. But while the 1981 original still manages to occasionally grip the imagination with it’s tangible but old fashioned special effects, this modern day take on the story fails completely to deliver any sense of excitement or wonderment, with a small scale, and none of the epic feeling required for such a movie to really work. ‘Clash’ isn’t anywhere near being the so-called blockbuster it claims to be, or the epic mythological adventure it should have been. I can’t really recommend anyone really going to see it, even fans of the 1981 original (which it’s likely to offend) and certainly not in its 3D incarnation.

On a somewhat lighter note, some of you may be pleased to know however, that the highly annoying mechanical owl, Bubo, is mostly removed from this films existence, sans a single scene in which he is discarded. It's a little nod to the dislike of this creature amongst long time fans of the original film...

Head over to IQ Gamer to read more of Dave's stuff (about video games rather than film), although most of it's rather too technical for me!

'Clash of the Titans' is still playing everywhere in 2D and 3D (it was number two in last week's UK Box Office) and is rated '12a' by the BBFC.

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