More properly, “Crash of the Bores.” The 1981 “Clash of the Titans” wasn’t a top-notch fantasy by any stretch of the imagination—in many respects it was a sort of sad postscript to Ray Harryhausen’s career—but at least it was unpretentious fun. This new version of course boasts far more modern computer-generated effects—far too many of them, as it turns out. But as directed—energetically but without inspiration—by Louis Letterier, it’s dark, grim and (apart from some juvenile macho banter) overly serious, a plodding, chaotic affair more likely to induce headache than a feeling of exhilaration.
Once again the script focuses on the exploits of Perseus, the half-human son of Zeus who becomes a champion when he aims to save the city of Argos, and its princess Andromeda, from divine anger. But the original script, by Beverley Cross, was a much more complicated business, with many more episodes. The refashioning by a trio of scribes strips things down to the basics, sometimes excessively—not all the threads are tied together cleanly in this telling. But the overall arc is clear. Here Perseus, played rather woodenly by Sam Worthington, is raised by a kindly fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite) after the boy and his mother and consigned literally to a watery grave. When the ruling establishment of Argos initiates a campaign against worship of the gods, Zeus and his brothers Poseidon and Hades counterattack, and Perseus’ family is killed in the process. He’s enlisted as the leader of the city’s effort to save itself—and Andromeda (pretty but vacuous Alexa Davalos), who’s doomed to perish to stave off the gods’ wrath. But to succeed he must find a way to defeat the deities’ ultimate weapon—the Kraken, a fearsome creature originally fashioned by Hades to overthrow the Titans and establish the reign of the Olympians.
Perseus’ band includes a number of generally bland warriors, the most notable of them the stalwart Draco (Mads Mikkelsen), as well as the beautiful Io (Gemma Arterton), who serves as a luminous guide. They have to deal with Calibos (Jason Flemyng), the Argive king Acrisius who’s been transformed into a surly satyr for his impiety, from whose blood spring giant scorpions, and then—after a parley with some gruesome witches—travel to the underworld with Medusa, whose gaze can turn men and beasts to stone. The idea, of course—as in the recent “Percy and the Olympians”—is to use her severed head as the ultimate weapon, this time to solidify the terrible Kraken. Also involved is the winged horse Pergasus, which Perseus gets to ride in the final confrontation.
Characters play a distinctly secondary role to the action in the movie—which could be said of the original, too, of course, but not quite to the same extent. Much is made of Perseus’ disinclination to use any sort of divine assistance in his quest—the result of his hatred of the gods, including his daddy, and which is of a piece with Argos’ decision just to stop worshiping the Olympians. (The general anti-religious attitude is peculiar, to say the least, although the stern, uppity attitude of Zeus and Hades, played dully by Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, might explain it.) But if that’s meant to humanize the hero, it really doesn’t work; Harry Hamlin, who played Perseus in the original movie, happily used all the divine stuff and came across as a much more likable figure than the stolid Worthington. And apart from him and Postlethwaite, who’s an avuncular presence but disappears early, none of the other people are any more human than the computer-generated figures like Medusa or the vampiric-looking desert race the troupe comes in contact with.
All of which might not matter if the elaborate action sequences were much good, but they aren’t. It’s not just that the CGI isn’t always top-drawer (some elements, like the scorpions, are fine; others, like the Kraken, aren’t). It’s that—perhaps because of the use of the 3-D format, which is apparently becoming a requirement for “family” films—the images look oddly desaturated, gray and gloomy (and the 3-D itself, moreover, is oddly unimpressive). And to make matters worse, the effects are so busy and overdone that they inevitably grow murky and visually tiresome; the Medusa segment is a perfect example. This is not, quite frankly, a film that’s at all pleasing to the eye, and the effort to gin up the excitement level by multiplying and extending the “wow” moments winds up having exactly the opposite effect.
The technical side of Harryhausen’s movies might have been relatively primitive, but his effects provided a joyous charge, however unreal they looked. Those overseen by Nick Davis here may look better, but they aren’t actually much more realistic. And they’re certainly less fun. And since they’re really all “Clash of the Titans” has to offer, it’s basically an adventure movie that proves decidedly unadventurous.