Director Louis Leterrier (the second “Hulk” movie) says that he was a big fan of the 1981 Clash of the Titans when he was a child. Perhaps that is why he has remade the wrong parts of that film. Nearly 30 years later, fans of the film are willing to overlook its essential cheesiness because of their affection for its special place at the apex of old-school analog special effects before the rise of computer-generated images. People did not watch the movie to see classically trained British actors slumming for a paycheck; they watched it to see the last creatures created by special effects superstar Ray Harryhausen. Each one was meticulously crafted and, as often happened in Harryhausen films, they often seemed more alive than the human performers. Note, too, that the movie was shot in 2D and then reconfigured after the fact for 3D, a very different effect than the fully-realized, fully-immersive experience of a movie conceived and shot in 3D.
This remake is bigger and grander but it is missing just that sense of life that Harryhausen brought to his fantastic creations, which were always astonishing and unique. Instead, we get the same CGI-fest we have seen so many times, with nothing especially imaginative or memorable.
The same can be said for this generation of classically-trained British actors, including Liam Neeson as Zeus, in a shiny (and anachronistic) Joan of Arc-style suit of armor and Ralph Fiennes as Hades, the god of the underworld, dressed like a Norwegian death metal band member trying to play Richard III. They are the titans who clash by proxy.
The gods need the loyalty of humans to survive. Zeus insists that they will get more fealty with love; Hades, still bitter and jealous that it is his brother who is king of the gods, believes in ruling by fear. The winner of their battle will be decided by a fight to the death of their progeny. Perseus (Sam Worthington in an even more anachronistic buzz cut) is Zeus’s son; the sea monster called the Kraken is the child of Hades. The arrogant king and queen of Argos have committed the sin of hubris, thinking they are more important and powerful than the gods. So Hades tells them that he will destroy the city unless they sacrifice their daughter, Andromeda to the Kraken. Perseus is determined to fight the Kraken and save the princess. And he is determined to “fight as a man,” not to use any of the powers or tools of the gods because he blames Zeus for the death of his mother and his adoptive parents.
With a small band of allies, Perseus travels to the three Stygian witches, who share one eye, to find out how to defeat the dragon. The journey involves battles with giant scorpions and trip into the underworld to fight the serpentine Medusa, the snake-headed lady whose eyes can turn a person to stone. And then, he must make it back to Argos in time to save Andromeda and defeat the giant sea monster, to the tune of some even more anachronistic rock chords.
The effects would be more impressive than the original’s only if you were still living in 1981. Today we take for granted that anything is possible on screen. But possible is not good enough; there has to be something truly striking. The witches and desert djinns look like they are wearing Halloween masks and the creatures look like variations on one predictable theme. There is a demigoddess whose powers seem to vary from scene to scene. The liberties taken with the original myths and the 1981 version’s story seem purposeless. And Worthington just seems lost, as though he wandered in from the set of “Avatar” and is looking around for the exit. I know how he felt.