Review: Clash of the Titans (2010)

Even as a lad, I was not a fan of the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans. A grade school teacher, detecting some faint whiff of precocity, suggested that I needed to investigate Roman mythology. Not wishing to disappoint her, I checked out a 200-page book on Roman mythology from the school library. It contained striking illustrations and offered a kid-friendly overview of the gods. I spent several days alone in my bedroom, reading it over and over with more devotion than any variation on the King James Bible. Some of my mother’s wild-eyed friends, sensing that I was an uncommon reader, attempted to get me to read more ecumenical texts. But I was suspicious of these gestures. I didn’t understand then why one needed to choose a religion. If you had to select one, why not place your faith in these marvelous stories? Medusa! Cerberus! Narcissus! Prometheus! The tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice! These tales all captured my imagination so much that I found myself flipping through the Yellow Pages, wondering if there were any churches devoted to Zeus or Aphrodite.

Seeing no division for “Roman” or “Greek,” I nervously telephoned a few churches when my mother was away, asking where one could go to worship the gods. One man told me that surely I meant a singular one. “No, no, no,” I replied. “I’m talking about the Gods of Olympus!” There were efforts to steer me towards the “true” faith, but I proved recalcitrant. I concluded that religion was not for me, but I still begrudgingly went to church when I was asked and I did my best to keep my mouth shut. Although one congregation member would later say, “There’s something of the devil in that boy.” For all I knew, he was probably right.

So when the Clash of the Titans lunchboxes started showing up in the cafeteria, and when some of the kids began speaking of this “great” film, and when I continued to wonder about the mechanical bird (who reminded me of Tick Tock from the Oz books), I felt obliged to figure out a way to see this movie. I knew the name “Ray Harryhausen” from the amazing stop-motion effects seen in the Sinbad movies that repeatedly aired on UHF stations. And while the Medusa sequence impressed me, the Perseus depicted in Clash (played by a doe-eyed Harry Hamlin) reminded me of the sleazy and self-absorbed men — some strange phase between disco king and yuppie — who drove loud sportscars when I looked out the car window. This Perseus couldn’t possibly compare to the one I had imagined from the books. What was the big deal?

So it’s safe to say that the original Clash didn’t make much of an impression. And now that I’ve had the misfortune of revisiting the original film, I can safely say that it contains very little of value aside from Harryhausen’s effects. Even with the prominent matte lines and the inconsistent lighting between the animation and the live action, Harryhausen remained a consummate master of the tiny gesture that spelled out everything you needed to know about a creature. The specific way that Pegasus kicks up his forelegs or the manner in which the giant hawk waits for Andromeda’s soul to enter the cage. And, most impressively, the way that the Kraken burrowed his three claws into the rocks and peeked his menacing head over the ravine. This attention to detail made these seemingly one-dimensional characters live in my mind.

So it is my sad duty to report that the Clash remake, while not nearly as terrible as I expected, doesn’t possess a singular creature gesture to match Harryhausen’s. Gargoyles flap about into a giant mass. There are a few giant scorpions that prove somewhat enthralling. Pegasus, who is referred to not as “Pegasus, the last of the flying horses” (as he was in the original) but merely “the Pegasus” (well, if he isn’t unique, then what’s the big deal?), has been integrated, by way of jet hide, into some strange affirmative action program. It’s clear that the animators are inputting coordinates into a computer. The time for careful attention to monsters is now mostly finished.

Which is too bad. Because Sam Worthington is better as Perseus than that dreadful slab of inexpressive meat (the suitably named Hamlin) cast in the original. While there’s something more than a bit odd about seeing a 33-year-old actor referred to as “boy,” and Worthington appears remiss to show off his pecs in the exhibitionist manner that Hamlin (or director Desmond Davis) was all too eager to practice, Worthington is never insufferable. Alas, his Perseus is less committed to taking charge. He bitches about going back to his old life as a fisherman. He is never given an invisible helmet, as he was in the original, much less a shield from the gods.

Instead of Burgess Meredith, Perseus is accompanied by two mercenaries, who speak some bad dialect that is vaguely Russian and vaguely Slavic, but ultimately the product of lazy Hollywood acting. (When this duo first appears, the film is quick to insert some gypsy music track, as if we won’t notice just how terrible they are. All that money for the effects and the filmmakers couldn’t hire a dialect coach?) Indeed, one of this movie’s curious qualities is that there is no uniform dialect. Some actors speak with an Australian dialect; others, Santa Monica; still others, British. And this slipshod attention to language should give you a sense of where director Lewis Leterrier’s priorities are.

Perseus is constantly under the tutelage of Io (played by the inexpressive Gemma Arterton), who has been watching him all his life. (Never mind that we don’t see her until midway through the film.)

In other words, 2010’s Perseus reflects the vitiated masculinity often found in the insufferable hipster too intoxicated with his own indolence.

But that’s the least of the film’s problems. Given that the original film featured Ursula Andress’s ass and a breastfeeding moment, I was surprised that the remake’s eleventh-hour upgrade to 3-D (reportedly assembled in eight weeks) didn’t take advantage of these Z-axis possibilities. It becomes very clear early on that this movie was never designed with 3-D in mind, and that audiences are being gouged. Clash‘s 3-D “experience” merely involves accentuating planes of focus. One would get livelier surprises from a pop-up book. And the film’s reticence to display blood and visceral fluids (much less the nude form) makes one wonder how this movie landed a PG-13 rating. Yes, there’s a scene in which Perseus cuts his way out of the inside of a computer-generated scorpion. But it all seemed artificial to me. Not just because the film never lets a creature have even ten seconds of camera time to offer some personality, but because we are never given a gesture in which we can believe in the scorpion.

I should probably also mention the remake’s casual misogyny, which comes courtesy of screenwriters Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, and Matt Manfredi. The original film, you may recall, was somewhat careful with the gender balance. There was Thetis’s statue that came alive. Athena and Aphrodite were given some moments. When Perseus declared that he was going to pursue the Stygian witches on his own, Andromeda stood her ground, saying, “No, we will ride with you as far as their shrine. It is a long and perilous journey.” And when Perseus busted out some macho swagger, Andromeda pushed back. Then, with a schmaltzy music cue from Laurence Rosenthal, Andromeda rode forth with her horse, shortly announcing, “We follow the North Star.”

This may not have been much, but at least the women in the original Clash got the chance to engage in a little action. By contrast, the remake has pushed all the goddesses out of the narrative, leaving only Zeus (Liam Nesson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes) to duke it out with humans as pawns. In the remake, Andromeda doesn’t accompany Perseus on his quest. And it isn’t too long before Io, in a preposterous moment aboard Charon’s ferry, soon becomes little more than a sex object, urging Perseus to “ease your storm.” And it was here that the film lost me. Granted, defenders of this remake (will there be any?) will no doubt respond to my criticisms by pointing out that Io tries to teach Perseus some moves to battle Medusa. But Io never makes any real effort to put Perseus in his place. The film’s anti-women attitude can also be found in the Medusa sequence. Medusa, in the original, was an ass-kicking serpent who fired arrows at Perseus’s comrades. She was a formidable villainess whose omnipresent rattle was enough to command attention. But in the remake, all Medusa does is offer random laughs and slither around her lair. And if that isn’t enough for you, consider the needless explanation for Medusa’s transformation in both films. The original simply mentioned that Aphrodite punished her. The remake offers a description of rape, painting Medusa as a once very beautiful woman. It’s almost as if the filmmakers are suggesting that the bitch had it coming.

So if some kid is coming into this movie, hoping to find some halfway house with which to move onto the likes of Edith Hamilton, then the Clash remake is mostly futile. As my pal Eric Rosenfield was adamant to observe, the film doesn’t even get the mythology right. (Perseus does not marry Andromeda in this movie.) It doesn’t even have the decency to give us Dioskilos, the cool two-headed dog that Perseus’s army fought before Medusa. It does wisely divest itself of Bubo, the mechanical bird from the original, giving it, quite literally, a throwaway cameo. And again, I cannot stress enough how anticlimactic the 3-D is.

I’ve seen movies that are worse. But when you’re dealing with mythological wonder, why settle for less?

Digital Evangelists Form E Party

Tired of having their publishing speculations ignored by the general public, an angry group of digital evangelists have formed a new movement known as the E Party. Led by Peter Brantley, the E Party is expected to march on Capitol Hill in full force this afternoon, protesting against the public’s failure to understand that ebooks are the wave of the future.

THE PRINTED BUK IS DEAD read one of the many misspelled signs being prepared in a heavily secured bunker. Another sign compared Random House to Hitler, with a crude mustache painted over a blown-up photograph of Markus Dohle. To get the E Party worked up for today’s events, Brantley led the throng in frightening shouts directed at anyone reading a paperback on a park bench, with those who still enjoyed reading print books accused of being socialists.

But things got ugly very fast when a graduate student carefully studying a fat copy of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest was spit on by several E Party protesters. The student, who still hasn’t been identified, was reportedly trying to explain that Infinite Jest‘s many endnotes weren’t easily rendered by an e-reader. But the E Party wouldn’t listen. They proceeded to beat the poor student over the head with their Kindles and used this violence to demonstrate just how sturdy the Kindle was. The student was rushed to Washington Hospital Center, but is expected to pull through.

The E Party has appealed to FOX News to serve as a propaganda arm for a future series of protests. And Brantley has invited Glenn Beck and Jon Voight to appear at this afternoon’s rally. But FOX News, Beck, and Voight have remained uncommitted.

Paris Review and Granta Merge Due to Tight Economy

With both literary journals facing financial difficulties in a tough economy, incoming Paris Review editor Lorin Stein announced this morning that his quarterly would be merging with Granta to form a new publication called The Grantaris Review.

“We figure that most people subscribe to both.” said Stein. “So why not give our readers one big fat quarterly instead of two skimpy ones? It’s less embarrassing for everyone.”

Asked about the transition, Stein reported that The Paris Review would be absorbing most of Granta‘s staff. Granta editor John Freeman will be given a new role as Stein’s personal assistant. Freeman’s new duties will involve giving Stein regular foot massages, as well as making many trips to Starbucks to ensure that Stein and his staff remain fortified with chai tea lattes.

The unexpected move emerged when Granta owner Sigrid Rausing surprised the literary world earlier this week by filing for bankruptcy protection, the apparent victim of one of Bernie Madoff’s bad investments. To ensure that the Swedish publisher maintains some dignity after her fall from grace, Stein has ordered several paintings of Ms. Rausing to be hung around the Paris Review offices. Subeditors will be expected to supplicate before the paintings and perform daily prayers.

Former Paris Review editor (and current editor of A Public Space) Brigid Hughes expressed distaste for these surprising religious practices, pointing out that A Public Space would still be a happy home for “the atheistic pagans of the literary world.”

“Clash” Producers Sue Classics Professor

Classics professor Noel Johnson, the acclaimed author of Perseus and Andromeda, was surprised to find herself on the receiving end of a lawsuit on Thursday morning. She’s being sued for copyright infringement by Clash of the Titans producer Jon Jashni, despite the fact that Ms. Johnson has taught dozens of graduate classes on Mycenaean myth since 1985.

“I don’t understand,” said the University of Virginia professor. “I thought Apollodorus was in the public domain. I know they made that lame Ray Harryhausen movie in 1981, but this is ridiculous.”

Jashni’s office would not return phone calls. But in a legal battle that will almost certainly raise new questions about copyright, several legal experts now believe that Warner Brothers owns all rights to every character from Greek mythology. And because the studio remains jittery about whether the forthcoming Clash remake will rake in cash this weekend, Warner has been filing lawsuits and issuing C&D letters to protect the characters that it now claims to be its property. In addition, all copies of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology have been removed from bookstores, replaced by a special Clash of the Titans tie-in that features glossy photographs of Sam Worthington.

Electric Literature Announces One Word Fiction Contest

Hot off the success of its Stuff My Muse Says Twitter contest, the innovative literary journal Electric Literature has announced an even briefer fiction writing contest that confines a story to one word.

“Fiction isn’t concise enough,” said Electric Literature editor Andy Hunter. “We want to prove that you can tell a story in less than 140 characters.”

To add sauce to the goose, Electric Literature has offered several prizes and arranged for the famed editor Gordon Lish to personally berate any fiction writing aspirant who dares to write a story including two or more words. But this second part of the contest, called Stuff My Lexicon Says, has proven problematic. There have been numerous reports of Lish running around New York, setting fire to unabridged dictionaries in libraries and bookstores and screaming at confused kids staring at laptops in cafes.

“We were glad to get Gordon to do it,” said editor Scott Lindenbaum, “but if we’d known how much of a closet nihilist he was, we probably would have asked somebody else.”

Asked if one word could sufficiently convey a narrative, Hunter and Lindenbaum both pointed out that you got a little story every time you looked up a word.

Added Lindenbaum: “And if you stare at a word long enough…”

Borders Sets Up Innovative Slavery Program

Shortly after securing $42.5 million to repay its loans and taking on additional credit to stay alive in a particularly troubling economy, Borders Group Inc. announced that it will be issuing a payroll freeze, enrolling 90% of its employees into an innovative Slavery Program. The program is legal, thanks to a little-known clause contained within the Borders Employment Agreement that none of the workers thought to read.

A memo from the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based company, intercepted by The New York Times, revealed that the Slavery Program would begin in mid-April. Borders stores are now being remodeled to provide slave quarters in the back. Several ringlets will be placed in convenient locations to shackle up employees at various points within the store. Clerks will be lashed if they don’t restock shelves fast enough.

“We had to cut costs somewhere,” said interim CEO Michael Edwards, “and this seemed the best way to secure a profit. After all, didn’t Aristotle say that slavery was a natural part of civilization?”

Asked if the slaves would prove unsettling for regular customers, Edwards pointed out that the employees were never noticed anyway.

Edwards pointed to several tall piles of job applications to buttress his viewpoint, observing that several desperate people had offered to work for free after a long and unsuccessful job search.

“So you can see it’s a win-win situation,” said Edwards. “And if other corporations follow, we can keep up a very good slave trade.”

Borders managers have begun a grueling fast-track Slavemaster Training Program, presently taking place in Arizona. Here, they will learn how to issue corporal punishment whenever a Borders employee gets uppity. Thankfully, employee behavior has proven infinitely adaptable. The new slaves have already started bringing glasses of lemonade for the managers without being asked.

Edwards expects to face legal resistance to his plans — in large part because nobody has thought to challenge the 13th Amendment for quite some time.

“You say ‘slavery’ like it’s a bad thing,” said Edwards. “But we’re more civilized than we were in the 19th century. At least they now get healthcare.”

Sinatra’s Corpse Disinterred for BEA Keynote

Facing considerable indifference shortly after the announcement of has-been Barbra Streisand as a headliner, Reed Exhibitions announced that they had disinterred Frank Sinatra’s corpse to replace Streisand as BookExpo America’s opening night act.

“We recruited some mob guys in Hoboken to dig up the corpse,” said BEA spokesman Lance Fensterman. “They were very helpful and worked for a reasonable price, but there were a few other agreements we reached that I can’t discuss on the record.”

Sinatra, who has been dead since 1998, will be asked to perform a series of rousing numbers to awaken the increasingly dwindling booksellers and publishers who will be attending this year’s event. It is not yet known precisely how Sinatra will perform before this crowd, given that Sinatra has spent the past twelve years being chewed on by the maggots. But an expert team of touchup artists has been recruited to make Ol’ Blue Eyes look a little less like a corpse. But efforts to clear out the stench of death on Sinatra’s corpse haven’t started yet.

“They’ve got a lot of work ahead of them,” elaborated Fensterman. “But we remain confident that Sinatra will be in fine shape before the end of May. If we can’t reconstruct his face, we’ll simply replace it with a large watermelon.”

Fensterman’s audacious publicity move has attracted hostility from the Sinatra family, who have expressed a strong desire not to undergo a second round of bereavement. Nancy Sinatra has entered negotiations with Reed, offering to perform a version of her famous song called “These Books Were Made for Reading,” in an effort to keep BEA’s opening night tasteful.