When I was a kid, a local theatre used to have these children film festivals and I lived right down the street, so I would go all the time during the summer. One fateful week, they had a Ray Harryhausen film festival, and I got to see the Sinbad flicks, “One Million Years B.C.,” (aka the one with Rachel Welch in a fur bikini- an effect unto itself), “Jason and the Argonauts” (aka the one with the skeleton army that Sam Raimi ripped off…er, paid “homage” to in “Army of Darkness”), and last but certainly not least, “Clash of the Titans.”
For those who don’t know, Harryhausen was an amazing stop-motion artist that did cool animated models of monsters the same way they do those “Rudolph” Xmas specials and “Nightmare Before Christmas” and the like- frame by frame, inch by painstaking inch. In some ways his work will never quite be paralleled, if only because hardly anyone does it like that anymore. It’s all computer technology these days, for better or worse- not that computers aren’t painstaking in their own way.
So, when I heard tell of a new remake of “Titans,” I was both excited and nervous. Would everything I loved about the original be jettisoned in exchange for one of these typical, humorless, pieces of grade-F Hollywood crapola? Or would it be the rare instance they got it right?
Thankfully, it’s not a total train wreck, and parts of it are pretty darn enjoyable. The giant scorpions are present and accounted for, although I don’t recall anyone riding one like an elephant in the original. (Actually, cooler than it sounds.) Medusa is also duly represented, although she looked less like a Russian supermodel in the face in the original. Still, the results are nicely surreal and Medusa can definitely do cool stuff she couldn’t the first time out, like snake up pillars and smack people with her tail and the like.
And, but of course, the Kraken is released! It looks a bit like a buff version of the freaky monster in the Korean monster movie “The Host” and is pretty way-a cool, if I do say so myself.
The stuff left out from the original is negligible, unless you prefer your Toga-fests campy. The robot bird is given the boot in a dismissive- if funny- throwaway gag. Reportedly, grumpy-pants star Sam Worthington was dead-set against the not-so-beloved Bubo, but I think it was for the best. It’s not that kind of film.
Not that there aren’t some jokes here and there, but they stay just to the left of being campy, or as un-campy as a movie with a tag line like “Release the Kraken!” can be. I can’t decide if that was for the best or not.
You also lose the star power of the Gods and the Goddesses of the first film, save Liam Neeson (“Taken”) as head honcho Zeus- he actually volunteered for the film and brings a zesty swagger to the role- and erstwhile Voldemort Ralph Fiennes as Hades. The rest are a faceless lot, including the main cast, for the most part. All the better to keep the budget down, no doubt.
Another lost cast-mate is the multi-headed dog that guards the gates of Hell. I knew my Greek mythology, and I remember being up in arms that they renamed the dog something other than Cerberus in the original film, and cold took away one of his heads to boot! Well, they had the technology, to be sure, but everyone’s favorite literary evil dog this side of Cujo is, alas, not present and accounted for.
Worthington does basically the same thing he’s been doing for the last two movies he’s done (“Avatar” and “Terminator Salvation” ), which is to adopt a gruff demeanor that splits the difference between Christian Bale’s Batman and fellow Aussie Russell Crowe’s growl. He was made for movies like this, but it will be interesting to see if he can expand his range in the future. If not, he’s certainly got an assured future in action films, a la Jason Statham (“Crank”).
Also worth a mention is the literally luminous cutie Gemma Arterton (“Quantum of Solace”) as female sidekick/love interest/occasional butt-kicker Io, who I assume takes the place of the original’s Burgess Meredith. She’s certainly nicer to look at than Rocky’s manager, and will be cropping up in the potentially-promising summer Blockbuster contender “Prince of Persia.” Alexas Devalos (“The Mist”) plays the suitably attractive Kraken bait, Andromeda, who must be sacrificed when mom compares thee to a Goddess, a big no-no in Greek times. So, it’s up to demi-god (that would be half-human, half-God, and not to be confused with Demi Levato) Perseus, son of Zeus to save the day and the virgin. You know the drill. When you think about it, Zeus and Co. are kind of the creepy rapist-types in Greek mythology. Those wacky Gods, sneaking off into hot girls’ bedrooms disguised as their husbands, knocking them up with demi-babies! Ick.
The one big letdown is the 3D, which was retrofitted after the fact to cash in on the current craze, and adds nothing whatsoever to the proceedings. In fact, sad to say, the preview for the shot-in-3D from the get-go “Piranha” remake packed more fun 3D effects into about two minutes than Clash of the Titans does in its entirety. Or maybe that’s just me.
That’s not to say the film isn’t fun in its own way, just that the 3D was unnecessary. If they had shot it that way in the first place, fine, but this after-the-fact thing gets on my nerves, because the results are middling at best. Now that “Avatar” has raised the bar, it’s time for people to step it up. Don’t just make it 3D to make more cash, deliver the goods.
Beyond that, Greek mythology sword-and-sandal fests are either your thing or they’re not.
Personally, I could watch this sort of thing all day, so I enjoyed it, but those nostalgic for campier flicks will just have to wait for the inevitable “Beastmaster” remake. Oh, you know it’s coming! Will Kodo and Podo make the cut, or will they go the way of poor Bubo? Stay tuned!