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Clash of the Titans

Contributed by Sean McGrath

I saw Clash of the Titans tonight. For those who don’t have time to read a whole review, I’ll summarize for you: “Don’t bother.” But if you have a few minutes, let me tell you why.

The Tyranny of Slavish Devotion vs. Just Call it the Fuck Something Else

No one loves deconstructed stories more than I do. Being able to take a familiar story and inject it with new and surprising elements is a skill that few people have, but more people should practice. Greek myths are, what, closing in on being two
thousand five hundred years old now? Can we count how many times the stories have been told, re-told, embellished and spun? Doubtful. To tell the story of Perseus as one might find it in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology to a modern movie audience would invite sudden critical box-office death, which no one in the studio wants. Even to re-shoot the 1981 Clash of the Titans might cause audiences to wonder why a script with more 21st century sensibilities wasn’t used. In and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with these approaches to updating movies (whether one should update movies in the first place is another issue altogether), but every once in a while, something like 1995’s The Scarlet Letter rises from the brew.

Clash of the Titans is 2010’s The Scarlet Letter.

Again, one does not have to be tied down to the source material – Lord knows the original CotT wasn’t – but why mess with the relationships between the characters? Hades is out to rule Olympus? Danae is not Acrisius’ daughter, visited by Zeus in the form of a golden shower (ahem…), but his wife, visited by Zeus in Acrisius’ form a la Uther meets Igraine? Djinn? Perseus loves Io? Wasn’t she a cow? Should someone tell Perseus or will he discover her udders for herself (speaking of which, what an odd costume choice that was for Cassiopeia)? If that much re-arranging is going to be done, why even bother with the CotT name-recognition? Make up some mythical land with its own pantheon and released it under a different title altogether. Maybe Dungeon Siege is in need of a sequel.

“Getting to Know Nothing about You”

How is it possible that in the scope of a two-hour movie, almost nothing exciting happened? Wait. Let me qualify that: there was lots of destruction and things exploded and monsters were around every corner. But I could have cared less. I didn’t have the slightest interest in the problems of these characters because I didn’t know who they were. Thinking back, I can’t recall most of the names of the characters who I watched for most of the film. Frankly, I’m not even sure their names were said. I searched vainly on IMDB for a picture of the youngest member of Perseus’ party, first, cuz “woof!”, and second, because that was the only was I could hope to locate him: by his looks. I don’t have the slightest clue what his name was, though I’m guessing it ends with “-us”. Not that it matters because every character died in the Underworld anyway. Talk about Princess Parking.

The Schizophrenia of God

To look around these days, religion is getting kicked in the nads. Hard. Mostly through the fault of church leaders who, from all available reports, are in it for either a.) the tax-free donations, b.) the love of power, or c.) child-raping with impunity. The situation is exacerbated by the screaming devoted who on one had are a little too quick and a little to proud to make sure everyone knows they’re Christian, yet on the other are some of the biggest assholes around. Jesus loves you, but God will punish you. Do as I say, not as I do. Obama is a dark-skinned socialist, not at all like who Jesus was. God obviously needs a better PR machine than the one he has now because one doesn’t have to look any further than them to see why His stock is swirling the drain.

The Olympians are much like that. Zeus wants the love of the humans he created, but isn’t above terrorizing them to get it. He has a bastard son whom he’s willing to sacrifice because he’s not showing Dad any love, but then goes out of his way to help this son whose goal is to topple Olympus, and somehow doesn’t see that or doesn’t care. Because family is just that important. All of which makes it easy to believe than an entire country has gone anti-god, and that a rabid pro-god cult has sprung up to fill the vacuum. Maybe it’s me and how I view religion, but the underlying message of “religion bad” was more pointed than an honor student’s pencil collection the morning of the SAT.

I’m torn between to possibilities: this was just part-in-parcel with the rest of the slopping writing and editing in the film, or this was an on-the-nose condemnation of organized religion. I lean towards the latter because I’m a devoted anti-theist: I believe in a God of one nature or another, and I believe God’s true believers need to go find their own planet to live on. My proof, if one can call it that, is V for Vendetta. As soon as it was (relatively) safe to release an on-the-nose metaphor for the Bush Administration, they did. Better late than never, I suppose. Is CotT taking aim at the religious bedlam that has placed itself on the largest, yet most beleaguered (they say) soapbox in the public forum? No doubt Bill Donohue would be all over this cinematic lion, sending out poison e-missives to whomever still listens to him if he weren’t so busy making excuses for all the child-raping.

“Bitch” is the New Black

There is exactly one adult word in Clash of the Titans: “bitch”, as in speaking of Medusa, “Now let’s go kill this bitch!” After Perseus said this, I had a moment of déjà bolus. I had choked on this word before. Then I remembered from where: X3 with its now iconic “I’m the Juggernaut, BITCH!”

It was just as distasteful now as it was then.

Moments. Mere Moments.

Despite what I’ve said, not everything was terrible. Of course, there were Sam Worthington’s calves (sadly, he never took off his shirt. Not. Once. What the hell kind of sword-and-sandals movie is this?), but there was also a glimmer of a larger story. When Perseus and company arrived at the lair of the Stygian Witches, Io explained the ruins were the site of the battle between the Kraken and the Titans. Just like that, I wondered where the temples and personalities and nymphs and fauns and gods were. The one thing missing from this movie about Greek mythology was the mythology.

Another treat was the Bubo-shaped Easter egg that was in the movie for 15 seconds, though sadly as the butt of a derisive joke. Despite what could have been done with that moment, Clash of the Titans took time to mock its better.

“Re-make” ≠ “Better”

I saw Clash of the Titans at the Alamo Drafthouse South, where they showed classic “Dynarama” trailers spotlighting Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects work on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and Jason and the Argonauts, and the original Clash of the Titans. Even with the clunky monsters and their sometimes awkward interactions with real people, I just added the gift set to my Amazon.com wish list (hint hint). I can say with no uncertainty that will not happen with 2010’s CotT.

The And

Of course, this is just me. I’m a firm believer in “Go and see”. Once you do, let me know and we’ll talk. I’m eager to hear what others think. A final dire thought: as everything else goes these days, is it impossible that a sequel is in the works already?

This review (originally appearing here ) appears here thanks to Sean’s kindness. Please visit his Orthocomics blog where Sean muses about comics, language, gay stuff, and politics among other topics.

April 2, 2010
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