Review: Clash of the Titans

by Tom Ingram

I didn’t have any great burning desire to see Clash of the Titans. The trailer for the film showed some pretty impressive CGI, but I wasn’t expecting it to be a terribly good movie. But I had a free evening, and after a stressful week a movie seemed like a good way to relax.

A bit of background on Clash: the original movie was released in the eighties, and made with stop-motion animation. One of the stars was Laurence Olivier as Zeus (this was during his “money, dear boy” period). It was standard cheesy B-movie fare, nothing mind-blowing but still respectable. It loosely followed the Greek myth of Perseus, liberally injecting giant squids and robot owls where it was convenient. The new movie is a remake of the old one, unfortunately lacking in Shakespearean actors.

So, is Clash of the Titans as bad as you think it is?

Short answer: Yes, definitely.

Long answer: This is easily one of the worst movies I’ve seen in recent memory. An exhaustive list of its faults would be a tiresome waste of time. Let’s get started.

The movie starts with a brief monologue about the creation of the world, and the fight between the Titans and the Kraken. I should take this moment to note that no Titans actually appear in this movie. This is a bit nitpicky, too, but the Kraken isn’t actually connected with Greek mythology at all. Apparently there was a similar creature called Cetus, I can understand the change–somehow “release the Cetus!” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

We then cut to a box mysteriously floating in the water. A ship draws near it, and a fisherman pulls the box aboard. This scene establishes an annoying trend that only gets worse throughout the movie–the damn camera moves around so much you can hardly tell what’s happening.

Cut to several years later. Perseus is a child, living on a deserted island with his mother and the fisherman. Nothing happens. We then cut to ten years after that, and Perseus is a full-grown man. He is aboard the fishing boat with the rest of the family when they see some soldiers knocking over a statue of Zeus. Hades appears out of a cloud of blackness and sends his freaky flying minions after the soldiers. He then inexplicably turns and attacks Perseus’ fishing boat, destroying it and killing everyone but Perseus.

The Hades effect is one of the more laughable things in the movie. It reminded me of Durza from Eragon. I hated Eragon. Ralph Fiennes looks menacing during this scene, and I thought there was still hope for him. That hope, as you’ll see, was later crushed. The winged minions, on the other hand, didn’t look too bad.

The soldiers who remain drag Perseus back to their city, Argos. They bring him before the king, who makes the unwise decision to insult the gods in a world where the gods regularly go around to atheists’ houses and break their windows. As you might expect, the gods get a little touchy about this and send Hades down to keep them in line. Hades speaks. This is where I realized for the first time how truly awful this movie would be. Hades’ voice is a melodramatic sickly whisper, combining Christian Bale with Brian Blessed for maximum hilarity. Hades demands that the king sacrifice his daughter, Andromeda, or else he will UNLEASH THE KRAKEN.

On Mount Olympus, the gods hold a council. Zeus, played by Liam Neeson in shiny clothing worthy of Elton John, loves the humans too much (which is why there are so many demigods running around), so they decide that Hades has to be the one to do it. They agree to his Kraken-licious plan.

Perseus finds out from the encounter with Hades that he is a demigod, the son of Zeus. The soldiers torture him for a while, but after a visit from Io they decide to make Perseus their leader and head out to see the Stygian witches, who will know how to beat the Kraken. The leader of the group is an old man who talks like Jean Chretien. There’s also another, similar-looking old man on the team who also talks like Jean Chretien, which leads to some confusion later. Two other men join the group, claiming to be experts in the art of killing things.

Here lies another problem with the movie. There are no characters in it. There aren’t even any stereotypes. The characters are complete nonentities, not fleshed out enough to be stereotypes. Most of them are never identified by name. Other than Chretien (whose name is Draco), Perseus, and Io, there’s just a bunch of bodies. The two mysterious brothers who join the group should have a backstory, or at least something to justify their existence. But they just sort of sit there for the rest of the movie before making a weak excuse to leave when things get tough. I don’t ask for that much in this department, especially not from Clash of the Titans. But some names would be nice. Maybe even a characteristic, if you’re feeling fancy. The only one of them who could actually be called a character is Perseus, and he’s whiny and melodramatic.

Hades speaks to King Acrisius, the original husband of Perseus’ mother. Hades wants to strike back against Zeus for tricking him into becoming king of the underworld. He can’t directly do anything, but he can send a mutilated, enraged, superpowered Acrisius to kill Perseus. Acrisius agrees, and the two of them exchange a sweet red laser kiss.

As the soldiers from Argos camp in a forest, Chretien decides to teach Perseus to fight. Despite having never used a sword before, Perseus kicks the shit out of Chretien, and runs off on his own into the forest. He finds a magic sword, but decides not to use it because he doesn’t want to accept help from the gods. Immediately afterwards, he is given the winged horse Pegasus in the forest, and curiously decides that it’s just dandy to accept help from the gods in this one case. However, before he can do anything, he hears shouts from the camp and rushes back just in time to fight with Acrisius. Here’s where the camera starts acting up again. Once anything happens in this movie, you can’t tell what’s going on because of the constant jumping around, shaking, and cutting. Chretien chops off Acrisius’s hand, driving him to retreat.

Perseus follows after him, and they quickly come to a desert. I’m not sure how the desert got there in the middle of the forest, but I’m not the one who makes these kinds of decisions. Perseus and company fight some giant scorpions. The CGI on the scorpions is excellent, but this is probably the most mutilated scene in the movie. It took me to the end of the scene to figure out that there were actually two scorpions, not one, and until I did a headcount afterwards, I wasn’t sure who had died and who had survived. By the time both scorpions are dead, the team has been pared down to just Perseus, the two mystery men, Io, Chretien, and Chretien’s clone.

At this point five or six bigger scorpions appear on the horizon but don’t attack. Some strange-looking people in blue robes appear behind the group, and turn out to be the ones commanding the scorpions. Despite the fact that this is supposed to be the myth of Perseus, these people are djinn. They decide that they like Perseus and help him cross the desert. With mounted giant scorpion cavalry. Sweet motherfuck, yes.

They finally reach the Stygian witches. The witches, in case you haven’t seen Hercules, are three old blind women with only a single eye between them, which they pop out and share with each other. This leads naturally to scenes that look like something out of a Three Stooges movie. Perseus holds their eye hostage until they tell him how to DEFEAT THE KRAKEN. The answer is simple: he needs the head of Medusa. Around this time, I found myself absentmindedly practising clarinet scales with my hands. When the various flavours of F# minor are more interesting than the movie, you know there’s a problem.

In order to find Medusa, Perseus needs to go to the underworld. Io and the two men who mysteriously joined the team are forced to leave. Io can’t come in to Medusa’s temple because she’s a woman, and the other two can’t because…well, they never give a reason, but I’m sure it’s a good one. But Chretien, the other three soldiers, and one of the djinn come with Perseus to see Medusa. This ends up happening more literally than they’d like. The whole crew, Chretien and all, everybody except Perseus, dies there. This was the part of the movie that bothered me the most. Medusa is not a snake-woman. She’s a woman with snakes for hair. Lamia, of Tales of the Punjab fame, is the snake-woman. For God’s sake, get it right.

Perseus kills Medusa and sticks her head in a sack. When he leaves the underworld, he is attacked again by Acrisius. Perseus kills him, but in the struggle Io is also killed. Now, of all the main “characters” in the story, Perseus is the only one who really remains. Boo hoo. He mounts Pegasus and speeds off toward Argos. But he’s too late–the moment we’ve been waiting for the whole movie finally comes. On Mount Olympus, Zeus orders Hades to RELEASE THE KRAKEN.

The Kraken, having been duly released, starts wreaking havoc on Argos. The opening monologue makes it out to be a primal force of pure destruction, but the Kraken is pretty much what we were expecting–a giant squiddy thing. This is something that bothers me about cosmic horrors in general. For all the talk about how they’re incomprehensibly vast and horrible (not to mention eldritch and chthonic), they usually turn out to be giant squiddy things. Now, five thousand tons of raging cephalopod is definitely a non-trivial problem, but solving it is a brute-force venture more akin to carrying a bunch of heavy crates than solving the Riemann Zeta hypothesis. You just take the solution to the problem of a very small raging squid, TNT, and scale it up. It’s nothing that can’t be fixed with the proper application of high explosives. Rather than being a deicidal engine of chaos, the Kraken is simply a very large, easily-defeated mollusc. It’s like the scene in The Call of Cthulhu when Cthulhu is defeated by being rammed with a ship. It tends to take away from the fear if it’s defeated by a relatively straightforward coup de grace.

This movie wasn’t good by any reasonable usage of the word, but it does have one thing going for it–an old-fashioned B-movie flavour that’s lacking in contemporary bad cinema. Clash of the Titans belongs alongside all the movies riffed on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Specifically, it reminded me of The Viking Women and the Sea Serpent. Clash might be boring, shallow, and ugly, but you can’t fault it for that. I eagerly await the Rifftrax.

In other news, the trailers were interesting. After the least appealing commercial for chlamydia I’ve ever seen, I saw previews for The Losers, Legend of the Guardians, Iron Man, and Salt. The Losers looks like it’ll be funny. The trailer can be found here. Iron Man II looks delicious. Iron Man has always been one of my favourite comic book characters, and I absolutely loved the first movie. This one looks like it’ll be just as good.

The other two were not quite so appealing. Salt looks like a generically awful action movie that has borrowed way too much from The Matrix Reloaded. All I could glean from the trailer of Legend of the Guardians is that it’s something about owls. And believing in yourself. I will laugh as it crashes and burns.