Friday, April 2, 2010

Old vs. New: "Clash of the Titans"

***Warning: May Contain Spoilers***

Remakes, you could say, comprise a large portion of the movies Hollywood produces year after year. Add in sequels and adaptations of books, TV shows, comics, games, and of course classical mythology, and you might think Hollywood had no imagination anymore. Not so fast, there.

This latest offering, for example, has been and is being met with skepticism from fans of the original masterpiece by legendary producer and special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen. From the 50s all the way to early 80s, Harryhausen was responsible for the creature effects of such epic films as "Jason and the Argonauts", "The 3 Worlds of Gulliver", several "Sinbad" movies, and of course, the 1981 version of "Clash of the Titans". The comment I've heard/read most often is they expect the new movie to be all special effects and no real plot. That's funny to me; and not funny "ha ha". In my own humble opinion, the same criticism could very well apply to the original movie.

That's not to suggest the first "Clash" lacked a plot, mind you. In the style of classic Greek myths, it featured a hero, the classic Greek hero Perseus, the mortal son of the King of the Gods, Zeus. Perseus embarks on a quest to save the princess Andromeda and her home city from a fearsome sea monster. Along his way, he faces gigantic scorpions, a trio of hideous witches, a rejected beast of a man named Calibos, and the cursed creature Medusa. It's an interesting enough plot, and one that the new movie emulates to a degree; but the pacing of the original movie and the unfolding of the plot were both rather ... haphazard.








Perseus' presence in the city is the doing of the sea goddess Thetis, who is jealous of the fact that Zeus' son is blessed with everything her son, Calibos, is not; including, apparently, the love of the princess. Thetis transports Perseus to the city, apparently on a whim, where he learns of Calibos' efforts to ruin Andromeda's happiness and the city's future. When he intervenes and frees Andromeda of the deformed man's influence, and when Andromeda's mother Cassiopeia suggests that her daughter is more beautiful than any goddess, Thetis places a curse on the city which can only be lifted if Andromeda is sacrificed to the dreaded Kraken.








There's nothing wrong with a hero traveling from here to there, rescuing cities, slaying monsters, and marrying princesses; in fact, it's kind of the entire job description. On the other hand, it's not very imaginative. Harry Hamlin, who plays Perseus in the 1981 version, goes from scene to scene with all the intensity of a teenager on a scavenger hunt. Sam Worthington, on the other hand, adds something Hamlin's Perseus was lacking: motivation. Worthington's Perseus didn't arrive in Andromeda's city by chance; his adopted family were caught in the crossfire of a rebellion between Men and Gods, and only his own divine heritage kept him from dying with them. His quest is fueled by a desire to avenge their deaths on the God Hades, who stole their lives and (in this version) called for Andromeda's sacrifice.







As a writer, there's nothing I can stand less than when a character does something, anything, without a "good reason". Worthington's Perseus had good reason to hate the gods, or at least be suspicious of them. His love of his adopted family and grief over their deaths at the hands of a god led him to reject any connection to the gods, even his father Zeus. Played in the 2010 version by screen great Liam Neeson, Zeus is sympathetic to the plight of humanity. However, his anger at the rebellion, which culminated in a group of soldiers tumbling a colossal statue of him into the sea, led him to allow his brother Hades to remind mankind "of the order of things". Nevertheless, he does try to help his son on his quest. There are overtones of an almost Christian relationship between Zeus, Perseus, and humanity at large in this remake.

A few of the more obvious differences between the original and the remake include Perseus' companions in his quest. Originally, most of the soldiers who accompanied him had neither names nor much character development. Now, Perseus follows the soldiers, rather than leading them. They all have names, backgrounds, and their own personal feelings about a "demi-god" joining them in their efforts to save their home.




Another character who is "between" Men and Gods is the immortal Io, played by lovely British actress Gemma Arterton. Cursed to stay young while those she loves grow old and die, her extended lifetime of acquired wisdom and knowledge makes her an invaluable guide for Perseus. She fills two roles from the original movie: the wise mentor, originally filled by Ammon, played by film legend Burgess Meredith; and the love interest, originally filled by Princess Andromeda herself.

I must say, that second revision came as somewhat of a relief to me. Perseus had hardly any time (or reason) to become as heavily invested in Andromeda as he did in the first movie. Certainly, when you save someone's life, it's expected that a bond will form between you; but for Hamlin's Perseus, it was apparently love at first sight. I'm romantic enough to let that slide (usually), but Worthington's onscreen romance with Arterton was much more believable, in both my mind and my heart.

Now, let's tackle the "purist" objections. It's usually my position that, in the case of sequels at least, you should adhere to the source material as closely as possible. Remakes, however, are supposed to stray where it is reasonable to do so. Did Perseus and Io have a relationship in the previous movie, or even in the original Greek myths? No. On the other hand, Perseus didn't ride Pegasus, the winged horse, in the original Greek myth, as he did in both movies; he wore winged shoes given to him by the gods. The thrilling line "Release the Kraken!", delivered by Zeus in both movies, was never uttered by classical Zeus, simply because the Kraken wasn't a creature from Greek myth. Was Hades ever an actual villain, as he is so often portrayed in film? No; he was simply the God of the Underworld, a position he was never "tricked" into accepting.

It's called artistic license. If remakes were supposed to be "faithful", then we wouldn't need them, would we? We'd just watch the original again, which I did before watching this one. With all due respect to Ray Harryhausen, I prefer the remade "Clash of the Titans". Director Louis Leterrier did a fine job diagnosing what worked from the original film and what didn't, cutting scenes here and amending them there. What he ultimately produced may fit the label of a "rock 'n roll epic", but it also fits the label of a "classic epic", one with a believable hero, courageous companions, and pulse-pounding adventure. More than just an action flick, it is a portrait of one man's journey to discover his true heritage.

(Read the original review here.)