Call them “reboots” or “re-envisionings”, for the past decade or more, the film industry has been entranced with remakes of old ideas, be they well-established comic books, novels, video games, or epic films. It seems as though, at least when it comes to big-budget productions, moviemakers would rather err on the side of caution and produce movies that are guaranteed to have an anticipatory audience, hoping to see established characters and storylines rehashed with modern-day special effects and marquee stars.
Such seems to be the case with 2010’s Clash of the Titans, a remake of the 1981 cult classic of the same name – which itself, of course, is a retelling of a classic Greek myth. So little remains of the original Greek material that this new revision bears little resemblance either to the ancient Greek storyline nor the 1981 cinematic original – nor, even worse, does it bear any semblance to good filmmaking.
Clash of the Titans attempts to retell the legend of Perseus who, in Greek mythology, was the original demigod hero, ancestor of Hercules, and son of Zeus and Danaë (the only child of Acrisius, king of Argos). Due to a prophesy, which forewarned him that he would die by Perseus’s hand, Acrisius cast Perseus and his mother into the sea in a wooden chest. Washing ashore on the island of Seriphos, Perseus was raised to be a fisherman.
Adoptive uncle Polydectes wanted Danaë for his wife, so he hatched a plot to get rid of the overprotective Perseus by demanding from him the head of Medusa. Helped by Athena’s guidance and polished shield, Zeus’s adamantine sword, and Hades’ helmet of invisibility, Perseus eventually decapitated Medusa. It was on his way back home that he came upon the city of Joppa and slew a sea creature let loose by Poseidon to revenge Queen Cassopia’s vanity and freed the sacrificial princess Andromeda, whom he later married. The incorporation of the winged-horse Pegasus and the scorpions born from the blood of Medusa’s head, both of which are featured in both Clash of the Titans, came centuries later, in medieval retellings.
Desmond Davis’s 1981 Clash of the Titans stayed relatively true to the original Greek telling, with Perseus (Harry Hamlin) aided by the gods in his attempts to win the hand of Andromeda (Judi Bowker). The most notable inclusion into the 1981 film was the division between Zeus (Sir Laurence Olivier), who favored Perseus, and sea goddess Thetis (Maggie Smith), who had grown jealous of Zeus’s infidelities and pompousness (characteristics, which in Greek myth, are normally attributed to Hera [Claire Bloom]). Despite her depiction as an antagonist to Perseus’s endeavors, Thetis’ motivations inspire sympathy in a period when women’s rights were on the forefront of social consciousness.
Her son, Calibos (Neil McCarthy), who is nowhere found in Greek mythology (perhaps based on Caliban from Shakespeare’s The Tempest), because of his hatred and hunting down of all things beautiful, is transformed by Zeus into a satyr-like figure and Persueus’ main enemy. The 1981 film seems mostly informed by the male/female dichotomy and a few tropes from other successful epics of the time, like Star Wars, with its robotic owl Bubo, reminiscent of R2D2, and time-honored theme of wishful youth finding purpose and glory.
This year’s Clash of the Titans, directed by Louis Leterrier, clearly owes its version of the legend of Perseus to the 1981 film rather than to Greek mythology, which is even further obscured. Here, Perseus (Sam Worthington) is a reluctant hero, more along the lines of the Illiad’s Achilles rather than the traditional Jason or Hercules. Ironically, he is the only one capable of appeasing the gods with whom humanity has grown estranged.
The 2010 remake’s most striking divergence from its predecessor is in the switch in Olympian antagonists. Thetis, Hera, Athena, and Posiedan are essentially forgotten while Hades (Ralph Fiennes) takes on the role of Zeus’ (Liam Neeson) (and, therefore, Perseus’) main rival. Clash of the Titans focuses on humanity’s diminishing worship and love of the gods, which Hades uses as an excuse to unleash the Kraken, a beast now attributed to the loins of Hades (instead of Poseidon), who has taken on a role akin to that of Satan in a story reminiscent of the Biblical Book of Job. The chasm between Zeus and Hades (a conflict never really found in Greek myth) is mirrored on earth by the conflict between Perseus and Calibos (Jason Flemyng), who in this film is a transfigured Acrisius, Perseus’ vengeance-minded step-father who holds a personal grudge against Zeus for divinely impregnating his wife, Perseus’s mother Danae (Tine Stapelfeldt).
As for Perseus, he has taken on the role of the reluctant hero, a demigod who wants nothing to do with his divine roots, embodying the chasm between mortals and their concerns and their divine overseers’ motivations. The whole film reeks of an inversion of the Christ myth and centers itself around conflicts between father figures and their sons (i.e., Zeus/Acrisius versus Perseus) and male sibling rivalry (Zeus versus Hades). Any woman in the film, be they the doomed Danae, sacrificial Andromeda (Alexa Davalos), or watchful Io (Gemma Arterton), is relegated to purely passive characters, secondary assets to this male-dominated hero tale. Oddly, the nearly 30 year-old original film, while casting female characters such as Thetis and Cassiopeia (Sian Phillips) in an antagonistic light, offers them some measure of power, while this latest version treats its female characters, even the fearsome Medusa, as little more than props while the boys play with their super-toys and CGI powers to duel it out to figure out who is king of the mountain.
Despite the film’s attempt to depict Perseus as a torn anti-hero with depth, he comes off mostly as a whiner who refuses to take up a challenge he’s clearly the most suited to tackle, while Zeus seems ambiguous as a representative of divine goodness. In contrast, Hades, clad in black and pale in pallor, is an over-the-top bad guy who inspires absolutely no sympathy. The film is just another case of an overly simplistic good versus evil marathon, with misinformed mortals clueless as to what they should do – just as any savvy viewer would be clueless as for whom he or she should root.
Even the special effects, while epic in scope, are limited in vision. The Kraken, for all its teeth and size, seems laughable in this day and age as a major adversary, especially in light of such creatures as the Balrog in Lord of the Rings and even Godzilla in its most recent incarnations. In all, this new Clash of the Titans serves only to remind audiences that some movies were not meant to be remade.
Surprisingly, even with its fair-to-middling box office profits (earning under $164 million in domestic sales total), a sequel is already slated to be in the works for 2012. Only the gods know that Hollywood is thinking.
Aside from being available in both a traditional DVD and in a Blu Ray combo pack, including DVD, Blu Ray, and digital copy), all versions 2010’s Clash of the Titans provides bonus footage. The Blu-ray edition also includes an alternate ending, in which Perseus confronts Zeus on Mount Olympus; a featurette, Sam Worthington: An Action Hero for the Ages, which chronicles the actor’s transformation into a typically dedicated performer into a muscular action star; and Warner’s Maximum Movie Mode — Harnessing the Power of the Gods, a Blu-Ray-specific “immersive viewing experience” in which Worthington, Neeson, Fiennes, and Leterrier discuss the film’s production using enhanced picture-in-picture, enhanced scene and VXF breakdowns, on-the-spot vignettes, and close-ups of Medusa, the Kraken, stuntwork, film location, etc., as one watches the film (sort of a take on directorial commentary, but taken a few steps further