Clash of the Titans’ special effects feel as dated as those in the movie it’s remaking. That might sound like a good thing if you’re nostalgic for the now classic, Ray Harrhuasen movie, but it’s not. Though they look generally ridiculous now, back in 1981 Clash of the Titans’ stop-motion special effects were groundbreaking. They had to be, because there wasn’t much of a story. This new version throws a lot of CGI at the screen, but hasn’t done much to improve either those now clunky special effects or the film’s even clunkier story. The result is an action adventure movie with questionable action and a useless plot. It’s laughable at worst and a boring at best.
It starts out promisingly. There’s a great little intro in which a narrator tells us the story of Greek’s gods, re-enacted by constellations whizzing by the camera in three dimensions. It’s a nice exposition, and if the movie had stopped there they might have been on to something. But then there’s another exposition in which Sam Worthington tries and fails to convincingly play the son of a fisherman. Sorry Sam, I don’t buy the weak-willed peasant thing. Even wearing a potato sack, you look ready to kill something. That’s why we’re here isn’t it? Like the original, Clash of the Titans is pure, special effects, slay the monster escapism. Forget the story, let’s get to the monsters.
The monsters take awhile to show up but we meet the Gods right at the outset. Liam Neeson makes a passable Zeus though Ralph Fiennes makes a strangely unscary Hades. Both gods are less about the performances of actors than the special effects used to make them glow or ooze about the screen. Those are largely successful, with Hades burning his way into existence like hot coals and Zeus zapping around on a lightning bolt. One day while hanging out on Olympus, Zeus comes up with maybe the worst plan in the history of theocracy. As near as I can tell it mainly involves letting Hades have all the tools to destroy him, and then waiting to see someone can stop the god of the underworld before he does it.
While the gods plot and scheme, Sam Worthington’s Perseus arrives at a Greek city state warring with the Gods. Hades has promised to send the Kraken to destroy them and when the city’s panicked king discovers for no particular reason that Perseus is actually a demi-god (half man, half god) they latch on to him as their savior even though he’s just a fisherman who has no idea what he’s doing.
Rather than training him to fight, Perseus is sent on a journey to meet some witches, whom we’re told hold the key to defeating the Kraken. Really this is just an excuse to get Perseus out of the city and fighting a bunch of monsters. By then you’ve sat through so much exposition that you’ll be more than ready for some slaying.
Unfortunately, most of the monsters look terrible. To be fair, maybe these special effects didn’t start out awful, they may only look bad because they’ve been post-processed into a 3D mess. Unlike movies such as Avatar where the film is shot in 3D from the start, or movies like Alice in Wonderland where 3D is planned from the beginning and added at the end, Clash of the Titans appears in 3D only as a last-minute, gimmicky, careless money grab. Spend ten minutes with those glasses on and it’s obvious.
In the movie’s better moments, those last-minute 3D effects are unnoticeable, except as what can only be properly described as a 3D haze which makes it harder to watch the movie. I walked out of Clash of the Titans exhausted, as if I’d just fought the Kraken myself, after the struggle of squinting through it. I found relief only in the moments when I took off my uncomfortable 3D glasses to take a break. Weirdly, the movie was entirely watchable without the glasses, its 3D effects so slight that with or without eyewear it made little difference. And people are paying extra for this?
In the movie’s worst moments, 3D turns everything into a series of bad, cardboard cutouts. It’s the backgrounds that really suffer, turned into the equivalent of hand-drawn matte paintings, or like something taken out of a 1998 videogame cut scene. The other effects in Clash of the Titans do little better. Medusa is one of the worst CGI creations I’ve seen since The Mummy Returns slapped The Rock’s face on a scorpion. And speaking of scorpions, the movie’s giant killer bugs might be kind of impressive if the fight scenes involving them were shot in a way that you could tell what’s going on. Yes, a lot of these big effects shots suck on their own, but the movie’s miserable 3D makes them even worse.
In spite of its failings, it’s hard not to have at least a little fun with Clash of the Titans. In spite of all the bad CGI, it does get a few things right. The Kraken, once it emerges from its watery hole, is every bit as impressive as you’d expect. Pegasus, though he makes almost no sense in the context of the story, looks fantastic. The soldiers who accompany Perseus are a series of played out stereotypes, but fun stereotypes, well acted by a group of gifted performers. Clash of the Titans makes no attempt to be anything other than a big, dumb action movie and there’s entertainment value in seeing something like that when it’s done right. But too much of the time, Clash of the Titans gets it all wrong.
The thing is, we should have seen this coming. Didn’t the people at Warner Bros. who hired him, see director Louis Letterrier’s last film? It was called The Incredible Hulk and though it does many good things, the film’s biggest flaw is a computer-generated mess at the end which is every bit as bland and uninteresting as everything in Clash of the Titans only, imagine Hulk’s CGI blather stretched out over 90 minutes. Incredible Hulk had complex story and characters to prop itself up on. Clash of the Titans does not.