Arts and Culture

'Clash of the Titans'

Why just in time for Easter? And do Greek gods look better without glasses?

By Steve Burgess 2 Apr 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess is a Tyee contributing demigod whose columns run every other Friday.

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Titan, your seatbelt!

During the 1950s there were two big advances in special effects -- 3-D and Ray Harryhausen. The creator of "Dynamation" broke through in 1953 with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and went on to provide stop-motion effects for movies like Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts, with its fabulous fighting skeletons. 1981's Clash of the Titans marked the end of the Harryhausen Era (which had then overlapped the Harry Hamlin Era).

Now Clash of the Titans returns, tricked out with new 3-D technology, computer-generated creatures, and even a decent cast. As the god/man Perseus, Hamlin is replaced by Sam Worthington, the new king of 3-D extravaganzas. Liam Neeson plays Zeus, inspiring far less pity than poor, slumming Laurence Olivier did 29 years ago. Ralph Fiennes is Hades and Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace) is the ageless Io.

The theme is war between gods and men. Perseus, the bastard son of Zeus and a mortal, must rescue the city of Argos from the wrath of Hades, who is playing a double game as he attempts to simultaneously punish humanity and topple Zeus. Perseus and his band (which seems to include some sort of wood-faced Wookie) must visit prophetic witches, battle Medusa in the Underworld, and then destroy the mighty Kraken. Finally they must go head-to-head with the evil James Cameron to become the new Gods of 3-D Spectacle.

Um, we forgot the 3-D thingy

That last fight's going to be a doozy. Clash of the Titans doesn't feel as essentially 3-D as Cameron's big blue epic. With good reason -- in this case the 3-D effect was added after the film had already been shot, in an attempt to jump the Avatar bandwagon. It shows. Take off your glasses and the film looks brighter and more colourful. You might even be better off going to a 2-D presentation.

One striking aspect of the 1981 Clash of the Titans is how much it looks like the movies Harryhausen worked on 20 years earlier. That's partly an indication of the kinds of productions he worked on -- Harryhausen was always the poor man's option for directors who wanted big screams on a small budget. But it also shows that the close of Harryhausen's career really was the end of an era in special effects. There were already two Star Wars films out by then, and George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic was beginning its takeover the effects business.

Harryhausen did not work in 3-D (perhaps excepting Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C.). Nor did he toil in the age of computers. It's no surprise then that Harryhausen reportedly declined an offer from director Louis Leterrier to participate in this remake. At any rate, the new Clash of the Titans bears little resemblance to the old. The filmmakers don't abandon it entirely though -- they keep a distinct B-movie feel to sets like the home of the gods on Mount Olympus, and the shining armour of Zeus, looking like a hand-me-down from a King Arthur flick. They also allow an affectionate cameo by a favourite star of the 1981 version. Not Hamlin -- Bubo, the mechanical owl.

Not your usual horse opera

Belated 3-D aspect aside, Clash of the Titans is a surprisingly likeable popcorn accessory. It's certainly a lot more fun than a joyless epic like Troy. I particularly liked the winged Pegasus. Sometimes he flies, sometimes he gallops. Much more versatile than those Day-Glo pterodactyls on Pandora.

Just as Avatar ticked off supporters of the U.S. military, those who are so inclined can find some controversy in this action fantasy. The humans in Clash of the Titans cry out against the gods for their capriciousness and cruelty, and decide to rebel. Anyone familiar with the Old Testament knows that deities frequently deserve a swift boot in the ass. It's just safer to say so when the deities are of the ancient Greek variety.  [Tyee]

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