Friday, April 16, 2010

Clash of the Titans

The original Clash of the Titans is one of my all time favorite movies ever made of all time ever ever ever. It's just... fun, has lots of monsters, great characters, amazing special effects, and oodles of charm. It's probably in my top twenty favorite films or so, and is the kind of film I can rewatch anytime, anywhere, over and over again.

So this remake had some pretty big shoes to fill. And, no, it didn't entirely live up to the original, but it was a pretty good attempt all things considered. I liked it and thought that had it not been a remake -- or, at least, if I wasn't such a huge fan of the original -- it probably would've worked great when taken on its own, completely in a vacuum. But it was a remake, and therefore comparisons are going to be made.

Just to see how well (or poorly) it compares, I'm going to break things down into the most memorable (to me) story components that define a Clash of the Titans film:

Our Heroes:
To be honest, both films have duds for leading men. Sam Worthington has been in every movie I've seen lately, just like back in 2002-2003 when Colin Farrell was in every movie that came out and nobody really understood why. Seven or Eight years from now, we'll probably look back on this whole Sam Worthington business with the same confusion as we now look back on Colin Farrell. What's the last movie that guy did anyway? And Harry Hamlin is Harry Hamlin. He was a soap opera caliber actor who somehow lucked his way into a starring role, albeit in a silly action movie about Greek mythology.

I'm guessing both actors got the roles because they look good in togas. But Hamlin looks a little better in togas, and even though he's no better an actor than Worthington, at least he has charm and charisma in spades.
Winner: Classic

The Supporting Cast:
Both films make up for the poor casting of the hero by having awesome supporting actors in various roles, both big and small. The original film spent all over their budget on the incredible pantheon of Gods: Laurence Olivier as Zeus, Claire Bloom as Hera, and Maggie Smith as Thetis, and Ursula Andress as Aphrodite. But best of all was Burgess Meredith as Ammon, giving a stellar, almost Shakespearean performance in a film about stop motion monsters.

The remake has Liam Neeson as Zeus, who I suppose is as good a replacement for Laurence Olivier than anybody else working today. Ralph Fiennes is fun to watch as Hades. And... that's it for the Gods. There were some other gods walking around -- I even saw Dr. Bashir at one point dressed as... somebody! -- but nobody else had anything to do. Missed opportunities there. No Angelina Jolie as Aphrodite? No Kevin Costner as Poseidon? At the very least they should've had a cameo by Maggie Smith, who is still a great actress. Maybe she was too busy making the next Harry Potter movie.

The remake fared better in the casting of the soldiers I guess, with an awesome performance by Mads Mikkelsen as maybe the best bad ass Greek solider in the history of toga movies. He was awesome. And we also saw Pete Postlethwaite for about five seconds, which wasn't nearly long enough. When I saw him make an entrance, I thought for sure he was going to play the Burgess Meredith role, which would've been awesome. But, alas, he didn't, nor did anybody else for that matter, which is a shame because he added a depth and sense of humanity to the storty that kept it grounded in some kind of realism.
Winner: Classic

The Story:
For the most part, both have similar stories: Perseus has to kill Medusa to stop the Kraken from killing Andromeda and destroying all of Argos. The original kept things pretty simple as a hero's quest to fulfill his destiny and stop the big monster. The remake added a lot of subtext, additional characterization for the heroes and gods, and layered the conflicts so you were never quite sure who was right, who was wrong, and what was going on. And none of that really worked in my opinion.

To begin with, Perseus is a demigod in both films, having Zeus for his father and a human for his mother. The original film deals with this as the myths do: Like this is a perfectly normal thing that happens, albeit making Perseus special and blessed by the gods and humans alike. In the remake, they approached it with a 21st century mindset that he should be conflicted about which side to choose, wanting to prove himself as a human wile denying his godhood, etc. This is a very clever and brilliant addition to the story that works perfectly on paper but is completely pointless. I don't want to watch a guy struggle with his emotions, I want to watch him slice and dice gorgons. And the whole plot about the god letting Hades torture humans to rally them to pry for help made little sense too, especially since it made both Zeus and Hades the villains, even though only Hades was actually the villain because Zeus was secretly helping Perseus along... or something. I don't know. It made no sense.
Winner: Classic

The Babes:
The original film has Ursula Andress as Aphrodite, which is perfect casting. Have the most beautiful woman on the planet play the most beautiful of the goddesses. And even more radiant was Judi Bowker as Andromeda. I fell in love with her as a kid and I'm still in love with her today.

The remake has Alexa Davalos as Andromeda, who serves no function in the story and isn't even the love interest of Perseus. So when the chain her up to be sacrificed to the Kraken, we have no real reason to care. How did they mess that up so bad? She was very pretty, but she was no Judi Bowker, and she looked a lot hotter in that Chronicles of Riddick movie. Much better, and more lovely, was Gemma Arterton as Io. I never really understood her character, but at least she was given a lot to do and even got to kick some ass.

Oh, and Attia from that HBO show Rome was in it. For about five seconds. She got real old and kind of chubby. Sorry.
Winner: Classic

The Monsters:
And here's what we all really care about, right? Which film has the best monsters. What wins, the CG or the stop motion effects by Ray Harryhausen? Let's look at each set piece in more detail:

The Scorpions:
Giant scorpions are disgusting and horrifying, but I have to give the nod to the remake, since this was definitely the best sequence in the movie. The CG was perfect and the entire scene was exciting and action-packed. Also, the scorpions were absolutely terrifying and gross. They looked real.
Winner: Remake

Cerberus wasn't in the remake, so the classic wins by default.
Winner Classic:

This one is tricky, since the Medusa in both films looked awesome and terrifying. The CG version in the remake definitely looked more "real," and the decision to make her face still look beautiful was interesting and quite effective. The Medusa in the original was just a grotesque monster. The CG version actually had a bit more life and personality. However... the classic scene was better because the setting was better, the sequence was better directed, and the suspense was killer.
Winner: Draw

The Kraken:
The Kraken in the finale of the original Clash of the titans wasn't Ray Harryhausen's best work. It was well done and had his signature look and charm, but the design just looked like a reptilian King Kong. It's an awesome scene, but it just wasn't up there with the best work of his career. But the Kraken in the remake was off the hook. Now that was a monster! Also, the sequence was just a bit more exciting, with an areal battle between Perseus and some harpies flying in and around the Kraken's writhing tentacles. It was cool. The only problem was how the director kept the camera in so close we never really got a good establishing shot showing the Kraken's true size. He should've pulled back just a bit.
Winner: Remake

Overall Winner: Classic

The remake had amazing special effects, great, creative design work, and a fun cast, but the story was too muddled and the suspense just wasn't there for the most part. They overthought things and tried to be serious when they should've been more fun. But it as still a cool movie that was exciting and cool. But it just didn't have the heart of the original.


Justin Garrett Blum said...

Costner as Poseidon. Funny.

Donald said...

Thanks. I actually wrote this entire post just to make that one joke. And I'm only *kind* of kidding.