Tribute to Richard Matheson – Plus BYZANTIUM & 100 BLOODY ACRES: : CFQ Spotlight Podcast 4:26

Richard Matheson
Richard Matheson

Genre film lost one of its most influential forces last week when author and screenwriter Richard Matheson passed away. Whether writing originally for the screen, as with the STAR TREK episode, “The Enemy Within,” adapting his own work, which he did for such classic TWILIGHT ZONE episodes as “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and the archetypal 50’s horror film THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, or adapting others, including bringing Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife to the screen as BURN WITCH BURN (a.k.a. NIGHT OF THE EAGLE), Matheson was able to embue his scripts with a contemporary outlook and an incisive inquest into the human condition that helped define genre film for the latter half of the twentieth century, and on into the twenty-first.
Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons sit down to discuss Matheson’s contribution to the world of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, weigh his overall influence on popular cinema, and discuss favorite examples of his work. Also in this show: Steve and Dan discuss the recent limited releases BYZANTIUM and 100 BLOODY ACRES. Plus: What’s coming to theaters next week.

HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS: CFQ Spotlight Podcast 4:04.1

Yup, It's That Pretty: Jeremy Renner (left) in a characteristic action sequence from HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS
Yup, It's That Pretty: Jeremy Renner (left) in a characteristic action sequence from HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS

It’s a childhood classic, seen in a whole new light. For clarification’s sake, CFL bulbs are whole new lights, too, but you don’t see anyone buying tickets to watch them. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton are the titular brother and sister team in HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, all growed up and battling Famke Janssen as a super-witch with a plan to alter the balance of power between automatic crossbow-wielding siblings and the practitioners of dark magic. All-in-all, a fun idea, but unfortunately, in the hands of director Tommy Wirkola, execution does not rise up to what’s on the page. Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons take a look at this latest attempt to revise and update classic literature, and discuss what went wrong.
Also: What’s coming to theaters next week.

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Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters – Video Interviews & Clips

Check out video clips, interviews, and trailers from HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, the R-rated action-oriented updating of the Grimm Fairy tale, which Paramount Pictures opens on January 25, 2013. Writer-director Tommy Wirkola (DEAD SNOW) explains the genesis and production of the film, which he conceived years ago.  Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner discuss playing adult-aged versions of the familiar characters – no longer lost little children but formidable heroes who make a living destroying witches. Famke Janssen checks in with a few words about her role as their nemesis, Muriel.
Also included are some clips from the film. You can few all the videos in the embedded player, or find them on Cinefantastique’s YouTube Channel.

Clash of the Titans sequel hires writers

Sam Worthington as Perseus
Sam Worthington is expected to return for the sequel.

The Hollywood Reporter reveals that Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures are hiring two new writers for a sequel to CLASH OF THE TITANS: Dan Mazeau and David Leslie Johnson. Greg Berlanti is already working on a treatment; Mazeau and Johnson will collaborate with him, then write the screenplay.
The hiring of multiple writers is not uncommon for blockbuster films. Studios like to avoid putting all their eggs in one basket, fearful of spending months developing a story only to end up with a script that has great action scenes but terrible dialogue or vice versa. Different writers are brought on to finesse certain elements; however, the typical procedure is to have them working separately or even serially, with the the final draft later cobbled together from the various efforts. In the case of CLASH OF THE TITANS 2, Warners is putting the writers together, with the hope that Mazeau (who penned the upcoming THE FLASH and JOHNNY QUEST) can supply the action with Johnson (THE ORPHAN) adding the drama and characterization.
The plan is for Sam Worthington and Gemma Arterton to return. CLASH OF THE TITANS 2 will be shot in 3D (rather than adding 3D in post-production). Expected release date is spring 2012.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)Viewed from the Olympian heights of Cinefantastique – the Online Magazine with a Sense of Wonder, which maintains a reputation for demanding dilettantism, even outright pretension, in its assessment horror, fantasy, and science fiction films – PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME seems virtually made to be derided.  Its package of elements is less a brightly wrapped present than a glowing new security gadget, flashing multiple warning lights: It’s another big-budget, CGI-heavy action-fantasy flick, based on a video game no less. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal, who hardly seems cut out for action-hero theatrics. It’s directed by Mike Newell, who has two great movies to his credit (ENCHANTED APRIL and FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL) but has shown little sense of wonder when working on fantasy material (his work on HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE was anonymous at best). And it’s produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, who gave us the increasingly insane PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN sequels and the unwatchable G-FORCE. With all this stacked against it, one may understandably wonder: What could possible go right? The answer, surprisingly, is: More than you would expect.
Make no mistake: almost everything that you would expect to be wrong with PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME is, in fact, wrong. It takes that Hollywood generic approach to costume epics, in which British accents (including one from Gyllenhaal) are used to suggest a past time and place, regardless of the actual setting. Despite its Middle Eastern setting, the cast is filled with fair-skinned American and English actors, who are obviously not Persian. The running time is overloaded with action scenes thrown in for their own sake. The screenplay  features a love-hate relationship between the male and female leads that grows wearisome in its effort to recreate the chemistry of Princess Leia and Han Solo. And the dialogue is bogged down with tedious exposition.
And yet somehow it works more often than not. How?
Well, it’s all presented as an enjoyable lark, a light-hearted popcorn flick that makes few demands on the audience and expects few in return. The goofiness of the things you might hold against the film actually becomes part of the fun, like little signposts indicating not to take the proceedings seriously. As often as not, PRINCE OF PERSIA‘s mistakes are clouds with silver linings. [WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW]

L to r: Steve Toussaint, Gemma Arterton, Alfred Molina. Guess which one dies?
L to r: Steve Toussaint, Gemma Arterton, Alfred Molina. Guess which one dies?

For example, when we see the lone prominent black character, the knife-throwing Seso (Steve Toussaint) give up his life so that his master and the other white heroes can succeed in their mission, it’s a tired, racist cliche as old as silent cinema – you may flinch when you realize the film is going to roast this old chestnut again, but when it’s over, you have to give the sequence an exemption, because in its own cornball, melodramatic way, it’s a memorably good moment that gives a supporting character a chance to steal the show, and you’re sorry to see him go.
Likewise, the script’s uncertainty about what to do with Princess Tamina (CLASH OF THE TITAN’s Gemma Arterton) during the action set pieces is actually a stroke of good fortune.  She is not allowed to sit on the sidelines like a damsel in distress, but she doesn’t really do anything, either. Sure, she is always reaching for a sword, but we see little evidence that she can actually handle one. In this day and age, the reluctance to morph her from pampered princess into the obligatory warrior-heroine  feels almost as if it’s preserving the character’s integrity. (And she does finally get a good moment when she sneaks up behind a villain with a pet snake, grabbing the serpent from behind and plunging its fangs into its master’s face! Way to go, girl!)

POLITICAL SUBVERSION?

PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME doesn’t use its popcorn pedigree as an excuse to be deliberately arch or ironic, nor is it completely empty-headed. It’s a confection but not a completely flimsy one; its attempts to add a little substance to the souffle – which should have been disastrous – actually ground the film in – if not a sense of believability, then at least a sense that we should invest enough to care about what’s happening for a couple hours instead of just hurling candy wrappers at the screen and waiting for the next fight scene.
On top of that there is a little more – just enough – to engage our interest on something more than a video game level. In fact, PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME even dares to question the underlying assumptions of the video game aesthetic, in which action is everything, suggesting that being heroic in battle is not always enough.This last element is not necessarily the most insightful stance ever taken in a feature film, but hey, you take what you can get, especially when it arrives in the form of a thinly veiled attack on Bush’s Iraq adventure.
After a brief prologue showing how Dastan, a young orphan, was adopted into the royal family, we flash-forward a couple decades to see the adult Dastan (Gyllenhaal), aiding his brothers in a battle against the holy city of Alumet – against the previously expressed order of their father, who is back home, tending the Persian kingdom. The motivation for this attack is the discovery that Alumet is supplying arms to Persia’s enemies. Unbeknownst to his older brothers, Dastan mounts a separate raid that breaches the walls of the heavily fortified city, leading to victory.
So far, so dull – or so it seems. PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME has us deep in familiar territory: we’re supposed to think the warfare is fun because our guys win, and we’re supposed to think  Dastan is cool because he came up from the streets and he does things his own way – even though he doesn’t follow the rules, we expect he will be rewarded for his successful results. The first surprise comes when his adoptive father King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) praises Dastan for being a good soldier but then points out that a truly great soldier would have prevented the unnecessary battle in the first place, even if it meant defying his superior.
What? You mean there’s more to war than winning? Maybe even there are times when we should rely on discretion rather than force? What kind of commie, defeatist talk is this, anyway?
Well, it turns out that the accusations against Alumet were based on faulty intelligence; even worse, the intelligence was not merely faulty but  deliberately fabricated in order to fool otherwise well-meaning people into opting for a war that was not necessary. In a delicious dig that couldn’t be more obvious if PRINCE OF PERSIA had a flashing sign pointing at it, the post-battle focus becomes an off-screen search for the alleged weapons (as in, “Weapons of Mass Destruction”) that were the casus belli for the battle. (That this plot element has not ignited a firestorm of controversy from right-wing pundits is little short of miraculous, but hey, that’s why popular entertainment is a great medium for indoctrinating the masses – right, comrade?)

DARING ESCAPES AND ANTI-TAX RHETORIC

Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton
Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton

In any case, now that the filmmakers have had their little joke at the expense of the previous White House administration, it’s on with the story, which is frankly a bit weighted down with its set-up. After being framed for murder, Prince Dastan escapes, reluctantly taking Alumet’s Princess Tamina with him as he seeks to clear his name. Of course she hates him because he helped sack her city, but they need each other – at least until they don’t. This provides opportunities for the screenplay to indulge in the sort of monotonous back-stabbing twists that muddled the Bruckheimer’s PIRATES sequels. Yawn.
The Dastan-Tamina relationship is hardly helped by PRINCE OF PERSIA‘s screenplay, which seems unsure whether to portray her as she sees herself (noble and pure) or as Dastan initially sees her (spoiled and pampered). Consequently, she emerges as not much of anything in particular. But this hardly matters, as we are safely in the land of make believe, where princess and princesses are familiar archetypes. We know we are supposed to like them, and we know they will end up liking each other, even if they bicker along the way. All that’s required is that the actors look good going through their paces and let us in on the fun they they are having while playing dress-up. Arterton struggles to imbue the character with some gravitas, and she at least manages to look like someone who should be taken seriously – not just a pretty face -even if the script offers little to support this appearance. Arterton and Gyllenhaal may not light up the screen together, but they seem to be having fun, without winking at the audience of camping it up.
Fortunately, Alfred Molina shows up as a tax-hating and rather shady entrepreneur, who sounds like a mouth-piece for anti-government Tea Bagger sentiments (gotta give credit to the film for working both sides of the aisle). Although Molina at first seems too good to be wasting his time in this sort of nonsense, he’s actually good, and the film sells his character to us in such a way that even when betrays Dastan, we know it’s all going to work out in the end – we just like him too much for him to remain a villain.
This is a key part of what makes PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME succeed in spite of everything stacked against it: it gets us to like its characters, even some who seem initially antagonistic. Instead of hating or dismissing them and tuning out, you want to see them do the right thing, and as predictable as the change-of-heart scenes may be, as much as your cynical inner self may recoil from these moments, they do indeed work.
Buoyed by this mid-film boost, the rest of PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME coasts along at a fairly painless clip, at least until the film gets around to explaining what the plot’s about. You see, Tamina is the keeper of a sacred dagger that can turn back time as long as the sand within its glass handle runs out (i.e., about a minute). Somebody wants to get their hands on that dagger and take it back to the source of the sands, in order to reset history years back, and…
Oh well, I intend to be kinder to you than the film is to is audience, which just about nods off during the exposition regarding the sands of time and how the  dagger came to exist and what the catastrophic consequences will be if the villain is allowed to go through with his nefarious plan. No one really cares, yet at least one of the credited screenwriters seems to have felt the need to work overtime justifying his paycheck, sending viewers into Lotus-land. Apparently, no one realized that the dagger is just a plot device – a huge MacGuffin – and all we care about is that it gives the characters an excuse to dodge arrows, leap off buildings, and outwit the villain, whatever his ultimate goal may be.
Ben Kingsley as Nizam
Ben Kingsley as Nizam

Said villain turns out to be Nizam, played by Ben Kingsley. Revealing this is hardly a spoiler, since for mysterious reasons of their own, the studio gives this away in PRINCE OF PERSIA‘s theatrical trailer, undermining Kingsley’s achievement, which was convincing you of his sincerity until the moment when Dastan begins to suspect his duplicity, at which point some subtle little light goes off in Kingsley’s eyes, just enough to confirm your suspicion. It’s an amazing acting moment because it’s hard to see exactly what has changed in the man’s face, and yet it’s there, clear as the bright desert sun without anything obvious to explain why we haven’t seen it all along. It’s nice to see a fantasy film villain who avoids scenery chewing; Kingsley seems to be taking it all seriously, but not too seriously – he never risks overstepping into campy melodrama.
As for Gyllenhaal, his boyish charm is really his meal ticket here. Not much is demanded of him, but for someone who seemed the least likely heir to the Errol Flynn’s and Douglass Fairbanks’s, he acquits himself quite well; even if you go in dead set against the idea of him as an action hero, you have to laugh along with him and enjoy the ride. In a way, it’s a bit like watching your best friend in the high school play: you know he’s not Hamlet, but you want to see him do well, and you enjoy watching him anyway.
And ultimately, the thrill ride is what this film promised – a promise so often unfulfilled – or fulfilled only at the cost of story-telling and characterization – that one has come to regard it with innate suspicion. When a film offers nothing but fun entertainment, “fun” and “entertainment” become almost the last things expected.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Almost in spite of itself  PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME earns audience goodwill, and that buys a lot of slack to get away with gambits that would otherwise fail miserably. The ending features what could have registered as ultra-lame contrivance, based around one of the worst science-fiction-fantasy cliches: turning back the clock to set things right. Yet unlike the ending of, say, SUPERMAN (1978), this sequence feels justified, partly because the entire plot is built around the time-twisting powers of the mystical dagger but mostly because the film has earned its right to hit the reset button. Consequently, instead of groaning in derision, you may be surprised to find yourself sighing in satisfied relief.
PRINCE OF PERSIA achieves its modest goal – supplying the derring-do that one expects from a glossy action-adventure – without succumbing to the pitfalls of the soulless Hollywood manufacturing process. What’s surprising is that, when the film makes the obligatory attempts at generating some genuine feeling, it actually works better than when it’s just running, jumping, and defying death at all turns. The themes are  basic stuff about loyalty, bonds of brotherhood, and doing the right thing instead of mindlessly following orders; fortunately, the cast sells it with a pleasing semblance of sincerity.
This helps redeem the more unpleasant elements of PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME, which occasionally s border on misogynistic. Our hero’s noble brother at one point order Dastan to kill Tamina if she refuses to join Persia and Alumet through marriage. Dastan himself threatens to break Tamina’s arm at one point; at another he sells her into slavery to get himself out of a bad situation. These mismanaged moments turn out to be attempts to present characters who do not live up to21st century standards of behavior; these people are not automatically chivalrous or merciful toward their defeated enemies, but throughout the film we see glimpses of them evolving; they’re not perfect, but they are trying to be better. And by the end, they succeed.
Making improvements requires an admission that there is room for improvement. Too often movie heroes are a bit smug in their own self-satisfaction and deep conviction in the rightness of their cause. For what could have been a dumb summer movie to come out in favor of self-reflection and self-improvement, instead of the mindless jingo-ism of war and victory – my country, right or wrong – deserves at least a small nod of respect.
Prince of Persia The Sands of Time (2010)
PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME (2010). Directed by Mike Newell. Written by Boaz Yakin and Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard, screen story by Jordan Mchner, based on his video game series. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred MOlina, Steve Toussaint, Toby Kebbell, Richard Coyle, Ronadl Pickup, Reece Ritchie, Gisli Orn Garoarsson.
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Clash of the Titans (2010)

Clash of the Titans (2010)Coming across like a mythological hybrid of its official source material and GLADIATOR, the remake extracts the essence of the 1981 CLASH OF THE TITANS and updates it for the new millennium, enhancing not only the special effects but also the story. Some of the simple, innocent charm of the original is lost in translation, but the benefits are more than ample compensation. The new CLASH strives for greater depth and complexity, and even though it does not fully succeed, the serious approach enhances the entertainment, which is wrapped up in an action-packed scenario that seldom succumbs to the pitfalls of its own higher ambitions. The result is a satisfying adventure movie that manages to strum a few emotional and thematic chords as well.
Almost all the familiar characters are here:* Zeus (Liam Neeson), Perseus (Sam Worthington), Andromeda ( Alexa Davalos), Calibos (Jason Flemyng), the Stygian Witches, the giant scorpions, Medusa, Pegasus, the Kraken, along with new ones such as Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Io (Gemma Atherton). However,the elements have been reconfigured in an effort to maintain a more mature and sophisticated tone.
This CLASH OF THE TITANS announces its intentions most clearly in a brief throw-away moment when Perseus (Sam Worthington) finds a mechanical owl while prepping for his epic journey. We in the audience recognize it as a replica of the comic relief sidekick that marred the second half of the original CLASH. Its significance eludes the new Perseus, who asks innocently, “What’s this?” A comrade replies disdainfully, “Just leave it.” Thankfully, that is the last time we see the metalic fowl, freeing this CLASH from the antics that morphing the 1981 film from Greek mythology into a kiddie fairy tale. Instead, we get an action-opus aimed at slightly older boys – teens and young adults, who prefer their heros tough, strong, and slightly cynical.
If there is a weakness to this boy’s adventure approach, it is that the female roles are slightly down-graded, with Andromeda pushed mostly off-screen. The script attempts to compensate by inserting Io, a woman cursed with immortality after offending the gods (apparently a variation on the legend of the Immortal Roman or the Wandering Jew). Unfortunately, Io is less of a character than a plot-device, her ageless status qualifying her as an expert on just about everything, allowing her to act as a mouth-piece for exposition. Strangely, Io is ignorant of the one essential piece of information that Perseus needs (how to kill the monstrous Kraken). Presumably, this is just a weak writer’s device, in order to retain Perseus’s quest to find the Stygian Witches, three cannibalistic old crones who will reveal the necessary tactic.
The script occasionally succumbs to its episodic nature, which is reminiscent of a videogame (strange since the original CLASH was made before videogames had quite such a big influence on films). Perseus must go to the witches to get a piece of information, which leads him to Medusa, whom he must defeat in order to use her head against the Kraken, but only after overcoming Calibos. After a strong opening that involves the viewer in Perseus’s plight, the linear narrative eventually bogs down in the middle.
Fortunately, the story revives for a rousing ending, and many of the screenplay’s innovations represent improvements upon the old CLASH OF THE TITANS. For example, the scorpion battle now takes place before – rather than after – the confrontation with Medusa; the scene always felt like an anti-climax in the original.
There is also a worthwhile attempt to inject small touches of characterization into the supporting cast, most notably the soldiers who accompany Perseus on his quest; unlike the mostly faceless extras who die in the Ray Harryhausen production (with little or no emotional impact), each of these characters gets at least a moment to make a small impression. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to make their deaths register.

Ralph Fiennes as Hades
Ralph Fiennes as Hades

The script is aided by some strong casting. Postlethwaite especially shines in a brief role; as Perseu’s adoptive father, he makes you understand Perseus’s defiance of the gods even better than Worthington does. Worthington himself is solid as an action hero, but he doesn’t quite have the charisma to portray a demi-god: when he insists on acting as a human, you don’t feel he is denying another part of himself; he is simply stating what is visible to us. Mads Mikkelson (CASINO ROYALE) makes a memorable impression as Draco, initially skeptical of Perseus, and Liam Neeson cuts a fine figure as Zeus, by turns angry and forgiving (as Freud said, God is the ultimate father figure). But the stand-out performance comes from Fiennes as Hades: in the grand tradition of movie villainy, he is not only threatening but insinuating; resentful of his devious treatment by Zeus, he even engenders a small amount of empathy.
The character relationships have been reconfigured in an effort to tighten up the plot threads and to develop the thematic undertones. For example, the mis-shapen Calibos is no longer a suiter of Andromeda but the former King Acrisius, struck down by the gods for casting his wife and her child, Perseus, son of Zeus, into the ocean, from which the boy is rescued by fishermen Spyros (Peter Postlethwait).
In effect, Perseus is given three father figures: a god (Zeus), a mortal (Spyros), and a mortal who has been touched by gods (Calibos). The only fully sympathetic one is Spyros, and his death at the hands of Hades (collateral damage when Zeus decides to humble arrogant humanity) fuels Perseus’ desire to challenge the dictates of the gods. The irony, of course, is that Perseus’s only chance of succeeding is that he is himself a demi-god, who receives an occasional bit of divine intervention on his behalf; although allegedly acting of his own free will, he becomes a weapon in the fued between Zeus and Hades, and eventually has to reconcile himself to his own personal God, the Father.
If this sounds a bit theological for an action pic, we should remember that the ghost of the idea exists in the 1981 CLASH OF THE TITANS, in which mortal heroes were able to triumph as much in spite of as because of the gods, human courage serving as a marked contrast to the petty infighting of the inhabitants atop Mount Olympus. This echo of a theme underlying Wagner’s Ring operas even led to the film’s own suggestion of a “Twilight of the Gods,” with a closing narration suggesting that the legend of Perseus’s deeds would outlast the gods themselves, turning the hero into the true immortal.
The new CLASH OF THE TITANS infuses this idea throughout the narrative, beginning with Spyros’s refusal to thank the gods (whose whims have led to nothing but hardship for him and his family), leading eventually to Perseus’s full-scale defiance. The anti-religious tone is at once engaging and amusing – it’s obviously safe to spit in the eyes of the Greek pantheon without risking too much back-lash from conservative Christians, even though the screenplay is obviously the one as a stand-in for the other. (Perseus, son of a god, is at one point referred to as “our savior,” and his life as a fisherman reminds us of the occupation of the New Testament apostles, who Jesus made “fishers of men”).
Ultimately, the film backs off from its apparent intentions, settling for a more moderate, less radical thematic statement. Zeus, who is initially angered by Perseus’s defiance, has an off-screen change of heart (presumably motivated by the need by a combination of paternal love and a need to defeat Hades) and lends a helping hand to his would-be mortal son, appearing to him initially as a cloaked figure, rather as Wotan appears to Siegfried in Wagner’s Gotterdammerung. The scene in the opera represented the end of the authority of the gods, as Seigfried shatters Wotan’s staff; in CLASH, on the other hand, Perseus learns to accept the help of his heavenly father, even as that father admits his own mistakes and encourages his son to be “better” than the gods have been.
The message may ultimately be a bit muddled (one wonders if this is the result of rewrites to tone down possibly controversial elements), but it’s strong enough to give a sense that CLASH OF THE TITANS is about something more than a monster battle every ten minutes – even while the film serves up all the special effects action that any monster-loving kid could ever want.
The computer-generated effects display a dynamism missing from Harryhausen’s old stop-motion work – which, fine as it was, tended to be staged in proscenium arch style, with the camera at a safe distance. Here, the viewer is right up in the action, nose to nose with mythological beasts that may lack some of the personality of Harryhausen’s unique creations but offer instead greater speed and agility.
The action and special effects are “enhanced” by 3D this time around, but at least in the Real 3D process, the enhancement is minimal. There is some small sense of depth to the image, but the effect is hardly immersive. For example, the flying scenes with Perseus riding the winged horse Pegasus are nicely handled but lack the visceral thrill of similar 3D scenes in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, and little would be lost by watching the film in 2D.
For the most part, even hard-core Harryhausen fans should be pleased by the new approach. Pegasus, seen less often, displays more power, the stead canter of the original replaced with speed and agility. The Kraken, especially, is a big improvement, conveying immense size and raw power of an apocalyptic nature that far exceeds the original beastie (who never quite lived up to his build-up in the ’81 flick). It’s also amusing to see the harpies from Harryhausen’s JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS show up here and there – a nice nod from the filmmakers, indicating that they are knowledgeable fans of the retired special effects artist, not just paid hacks cashing in on a pre-existing property.
The new Medusa is a super-charged version of the gorgon
The new Medusa is a super-charged version of the gorgon

The one exception, perhaps, is Medusa. The gorgon’s scene is now augmented with sinister, mocking laughter that adds an extra shivery layer of fear, and her snake-like appearance is obviously inspired by Harryhausen’s design. The problem is that the filmmakers lack the wisdom to know that just because you can do something different with computer-generated imagery, doesn’t mean you shoulddo it. The 1981 Medusa is a perfect example when the limitations of stop-motion were actually perfectly appropriate for achieving the desired effect; her  scene is a model of slowly building suspense. The new Medusa is a super-charged serpent that moves with the speed of a champion thoroughbred hopped-up on amphetimines, hurling her body over chasms in a gravity-defying manner that simply screems “CGI!” She is not quite as bad as the snake in ANACONDA, but the problem is similar, the lack of inertia reminding us that we are not watching something real, not even watching something stylized; we are simply watching something digital.
The original CLASH OF THE TITANS was a bit of an auteur piece – uniquely, not from a director but from a special effects supervisor. The film as a whole is imbued with Harryhausen’s personality, for better or worse, making it an artistic statement that should be read as the culmination of a long and fruitful career (it was Harryhausen’s swan song in cinema). The remake is more of a studio effort, with various craftsmen brought onto to exploit a pre-existing property. Fortunately, love of the original shines through powerfully enough to render this new CLASH as something more than a soulless exercise in mass-market filmmaking.
If the original was somewhat schizophrenic (suspended somewhere between spectacular epic and kiddie fantasy), so is the remake (talking out of both sides of the mouth regarding whether we are better off with or without the gods). Neither is perfect, but both have their own kind of integrity, pitching themselves toward their intended audience with satisfyingly entertaining results. The new CLASH OF THE TITANS aims higher than the original, and even if it does not fully ascend to the intended Olympian heights, it does manage to reach the clouds.
The Kraken rears its ugly head
The Kraken rears its ugly head

CLASH OF THE TITANS(April 2, 2010). Directed by Louis Leterrier. Screenplay by Travis Beacham and Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi, based on the 1981 film written by Beverly Cross. Cast: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Jason FLemyng, Gemma Arterton, Alexa Davalos, Mads Mikkelsen, Liam Cunningham, Vincent Regan, Polly Walker, Pete Postlethwaite, Elizabeth McGovern.
FOOTNOTE:

  • Dioskilos, the two-headed dog, and a giant vulture are nowhere to be scene in this CLASH OF THE TITANS.

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