When it comes to summer popcorn action movies, you can't go into them like you're looking at a contender for Best Picture at the next year's Oscars. Think of the classic image of the guy with the sunglasses sitting at home getting blown away by his RCA television. That's how you go into an action flick. Of course, it helps to have something going on that makes sense, and Clash of the Titans does manage that. It's a classic quest story, with Perseus (Sam Worthington) facing off against the agents of his father, who also just so happens to be the father of the gods, Zeus (Liam Neeson). The gods are bitter because the humans don't worship them as they used to, so Hades (Ralph Fiennes) decides to scare them into worship by releasing a massive beast from his domain upon them: the Kraken!
While Clash of the Titans is still very much based on the 1981 film of the same name, director Louis Leterrier went with a much more streamlined story for this update. Is it a statement about modern audiences that our blockbuster action flicks have much simpler storylines than their 1980s predecessors? It does make it easier to just sit back and enjoy the pretty colors (or, if you saw it the theater, the 3D). Even in 2D, though, the visuals are absolutely stunning on this Blu-Ray edition. The creature effects look flawless, from the pegasi, harpies, witches, and giant scorpions all the way up to the Kraken itself. Only Medusa is rather obviously CGI, but by the time she appeared, I was having too much fun to get all that worked up by it. At least the stone transformations look great.
The 2010 remake focuses almost entirely on Perseus' quest to destroy the Kraken, simplifying the backstory in order to get the audience invested in the worthiness of his cause so we can get through it as quickly as possible. The quest itself, in its attempts to be epic and grand, take on more than just cursory similarities to the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The sweeping vistas and the formation and subsequent breaking of the fellowship that form around Perseus seem a little too familiar. I kept waiting for Ozal and Kucuk (Persian monster hunters who provide some comic relief) to start complaining about missing "second breakfast." Gemma Aterton, as Io, does her best interpretation of Liv Tyler's Arwen, while the disfigured Calibos (Jason Flemyng) lurks behind, following the party in hatred like Gollum.
Putting all that aside, the film is a slick production and very well put together. It moves swiftly through its nearly two-hour running time, building up the tension appropriately as we progress. Ralph Fiennes may be channeling Harry Potter's Voldemort a bit more than necessary in his Hades, while Liam Neeson more than hams it up as Zeus, but it's still fun to watch these two great actors cutting loose together -- they were far more serious and brilliant opposite one another in their last collaboration, Schindler's List. I've seen it argued that the actors were phoning it in, but I think there's a difference between having fun and working for the paycheck. There's definitely no doubt Worthington is having a blast, jumping around dramatically and pouting defiantly in the face of destiny.
The film offers some fantastic fight scenes, as well. Particularly memorable are the showdown with the giant scorpions and the tragic battle against Medusa. I appreciated the creature design on that last one particularly, as they managed to make her both beautiful and frightening at the same time. Medusa is one of those iconic characters that's been visually interpreted a thousand times, but the team behind Clash of the Titans pulled off a rather innovative interpretation that was still true to her character.
The Kraken itself is an incredible achievement in special effects. Even on Blu-Ray on a big-screen television, it looked virtually flawless. The water effects, the destruction, and the creature itself are rendered so meticulously, it couldn't have looked more real. Here's an example of how our progressions in CGI have really improved the movie-going experience. At no point did I get ripped from the drama by pixelation or a guy in a rubber suit. What Titans may lack in gravitas, it more than makes up for in beauty and dedication to the visual aspect of the film.
If you're going to spend the extra dollars for Blu-Ray, you want more than just the crisp picture and sound. It's all about how to enhance that moviegoing experience. "Maximum Movie Mode" offers one of the most immersive "commentary" experiences I've ever seen. Even more involved than picture-in-picture commentary bits we've seen on other Blu-Ray releases, "Maximum Movie Mode" is a fully created presentation that includes the movie itself in a thorough examination of the film-making process that touches on everything from stunts, effects, makeup, costuming, direction, and more. At times the film takes up the whole screen, then it will shrink down to a smaller picture so we can see the special effects, or talk to the cast and directors about certain sequences. Everything is fluid, moving about the screen as we transition from vignette to vignette.
Also included as part of the "Maximum Movie Mode" are short films spotlighting various characters and aspects of the creative process that can be accessed at key points in the movie. They're also available separately for anyone who doesn't want to find them within the film, which is nice. There's a more extended short, "Sam Worthington: An Action Hero for the Ages," that explores his hands-on approach to the action sequences.
Interestingly, the additional scenes add layers to characters scarcely seen in the film, while altering the plot slightly. Then, the Blu-Ray exclusive "Alternate Ending" changes the tone of the entire film, and in many ways changes the film completely. I don't want to give anything away, but coupled with the scenes that were cut, this ending would have left you with an entirely different feeling about what you'd just seen, and not necessarily a bad one. It takes several relationships in the movie and flips them on their heads, changing the drama and dynamics of many of the encounters we did see. Certainly an interesting alternate look at what could have unfolded.