Archive for April, 2010

I’ve heard it said that “Clash of the Titans” has no plot. I think that the opposite is true – it tries to cram so much into 1:40 that it often feels like a decent looking, 3D version of Cliff Notes for Greek mythology. Even the opening montage of constellations comes with a prologue that basically wipes out the first generation of deities , the titans, and explains the complex relationship between their children, the gods Posieden, Hades and Zeus, in about 2 minutes flat. Which left me wondering about the movie’s title. Shouldn’t it be called “Clash of the Gods”, or “Olympic Smackdown” or something? I mean, the titans are already gone when the film starts.

The back story goes something like this: Zeus tricks his brother Hades into birthing the Kracken, so as to kill their parents. The plan works, but as a consequence Hades gets stuck with the underworld when the gods are dividing up the world.  Of course, Zeus comes out of it smelling like roses, and sibling rivalry is born. Much hilarity ensues. 

Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes add some weight to the proceedings as Zeus and Hades respectively, but you can’t help comparing these characters to previous roles they’ve played. In Fiennes’ case, Lord Voldermort is scarier and more menacing than the ruler of the underworld.  For a god, Zeus is nowhere near as arrogant as Qui-Gon Jin, although he seems to be  nearly as passive-aggressively tranquil and equally dim, letting Hades easily seduce him into a plot that could destroy him, playing on the emotional letdown he naturally feels since, long after creating man, man never calls anymore to offer his adoration.

But the gods are supporting players in what is really the story of Perseus, bastard son of Zeus, who is captured and imprisoned by Argos, and eventually (five minutes later) becomes the leader of a band of its soldiers against the Kracken, Hades and, by extension, that whole uppity Olympus crowd. Argos is desperate, being on a deadline (literally), but Perseus has his own revenge issues with Hades. 

Perseus is joined on his quest by about a dozen of Argos’ finest and hardest, two mercenaries for comic relief (I think), the token blue alien, and a woman named Io who must have something to do with tech support. Each character has exactly one minute fifteen seconds to make an impression or die. But alas, most of the characters have fewer dimensions than the film does.

Sorry to bring classical education into it, but you’ll enjoy this film more if you know something about Greek mythology before walking in the door. Once inside, you’ll get little background about any of the villains or heroes, and some characters barely get a name check. You may spend a lot of time asking, “Who is this? What was that ?“. And good luck trying to bond with any of the characters in the same way you might have with those from, say, Lord of the Rings. The film goes from scorpions to witches to Medusa to the Kracken with barely enough time in between for the characters to say, “We’re lucky to be alive. Here we go again.”

But The film does have its moments. The best ones come in the set pieces, such as the well-realized melee in Medusa’s temple. And there’s something about the scorpions that seems to wink in the direction of Ray Harryhausen, who is renown for the visual effects in the original version of this film from 1981, back when we were more easily impressed. The current version replaces stop-motion models with CGI to give us some spectacular images.

On the other hand, the 3D effect wavers between enhancing and hindering. I have to be honest – This is my first experience with a RealD 3D film, and I expected better. On the other hand, the trailer for Toy Story 3 looked pretty good, and the RealD promo with the dog that runs just before the film looks fantastic, so I’m willing to leave the jury sequestered until I see a few more features.

In “Titans” the 3D effect sometimes works quite well, especially in some of the long shots. At other times the effect seems to consist of several layers of 2D images, like cardboard cut outs arranged in a room. The perspective can be skewered, and the effect can be a bit distracting. If 3D is going to be all pervasive, and that seems inevitable, then I hope someone resolves the issues in short order. Otherwise, I think we’re better off rationing 3D to big-budget animation and keeping the live action to a relatively more realistic two dimensions.