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It’s OK to laugh at these gods

POSTED: March 31, 2010 11:30 p.m.
Warner Bros. Pictures/

Demigod Io (Gemma Arterton) helps lead a band of warriors into battle in "Clash of the Titans."

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Somewhere, stop-motion animation legend Ray Harryhausen is shrugging his shoulders and saying, "Is that the best you whippersnappers with your fancy computers can do?"

"Clash of the Titans," this week’s big 3-D release, is a remake of the 1981 classic of the same name. While the original featured an all-star cast and epic story, the real draw was Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation.

I greatly admire all of Harryhausen’s work, but even I would admit that the original was due for an update — if only it had been a genuine update rather than this charmless, cold rehash.

Perseus (Sam Worthington) is the son of Zeus and a mortal woman, but he is orphaned as an infant. A fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite) and his wife (Elizabeth McGovern) rescue and raise him. Later when Perseus is a young man, Hades (Ralph Fiennes) kills his parents. Soon after, Perseus learns who his biological father is and hears the rather demeaning tale of his conception.

Perseus understandably develops an intense hatred for Zeus and Hades and vows to live as a man rather than the selfish, vain gods. See, Zeus created man in the first place so they would pray to him, which increases his power. But man no longer reveres Zeus, believing themselves as powerful as the gods.

Hades convinces his brother Zeus that they should threaten man with the Kraken so man will be scared into praying to Zeus again. Man has 10 days to either sacrifice the beautiful princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) to the Kraken, or kill the big bad sea monster.

With a great deal of help from fellow demigod Io (Gemma Arterton), Perseus leads a small band of warriors on a quest to kill the Kraken, fighting giant scorpions and Medusa along the way.

This movie is chee-zee, with a capital "Z," and that stands for Zeus. Every time we see Zeus on Mount Olympus, he sports long, teased up hair reminiscent of Patrick Swayze in "Roadhouse" and aluminum armor that shines and sparkles like something out of "Xanadu." All the gods except dark Hades look similarly ridiculous.

I suppose the filmmakers were aiming for a superhuman look, but the result is laughable — just when the gods are supposed to look most powerful. All the visual effects are second-rate, and this movie looks only marginally more sophisticated than Harryhausen’s nearly 30-year-old film.

The cast does fine, but they’re forced to spew an endless stream of predictable one-liners. Worthington is a bone fide star after "Terminator: Salvation" and "Avatar," but he has to give so many hero speeches in this movie that people might mistake tedious writing for a bad performance.

The only actor whose career will benefit from "Clash" is Arterton, whose classical features and ethereal presence make her perfect for Io. Arterton also plays the lead in the upcoming Disney epic "Prince of Persia" opposite Jake Gyllenhaal, so she will soon be as well known as Worthington.

Even though there are ample occasions to do it, the film doesn’t use the 3-D format to any great effect, suggesting that they chose the format just to rake in the inflated ticket prices. Moviegoers should expect more of this crass strategy.

Hollywood keeps touting recent movies like "The Dark Knight" and "Avatar" for their record-breaking box office numbers, but the dirty little secret is that those records reflect nothing more than rising prices, because audiences are steadily shrinking.

Studios will no doubt milk the 3-D craze as much as possible, which means "Clash" is just one of many upcoming films that would be just as good in 2-D with lower ticket prices.

Every big-budget blockbuster sets up the possibility of a sequel, so it shouldn’t be any big spoiler that "Clash of the Titans" does, too. Warner Brothers might be sorely disappointed, though, because it’s a long shot that the movie will gross enough to merit a second installment, even with the titanic prices.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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