Friday, April 2, 2010

Review: Clash of the Titans: the 2D 35mm Experience (2010)

Clash of the Titans
2010
106 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Filmed in revolutionary 2D with 35millimeter film, this groundbreaking epic allows you to view a technological breakthrough using just your own two eyes. Using the most up-to-date filmmaking techniques, this 2.35:1 adventure contains every bit the action and suspense that you can find in Clash of the Titans 3D, but without the need to wear screen-darkening eye-glasses. Plus, due to the cost-cutting measures of producing the picture in the '2D format', the consumer actually saves between $3 and $5 per ticket. As a result, viewers gets to see the film that way the director intended, and the consumer gets to save valuable legal tender in the process. Wow...

All snark aside, Louis Leterrier's remake of the 1981 camp classic was never intended to be seen in 3D. As most of you know, it was a last minute attempt by Warner Bros. to 'up-convert' a 2D film to would-be 3D in order to justify charging extra for a ticket. Fair enough, but one shouldn't want to watch 3D effects slapped onto a 2D movie anymore than they'd want to watch Casablanca in color. And since the 3D paint job was apparently a botch (everyone who saw it had nothing but scorn for the cheap, rushed results), I thought I'd do my readers a service and discuss the film as it was intended. So, here is a quick review of Clash of the Titans: the 2D 35mm Experience!

A token amount of plot: The Greek gods are pissed. Poor Zeus (Liam Neeson) is sad because the people that he created don't love him anymore, all because he allows misery and strife to occur in his presence (that he wears a glowing white suit of armor that severely inhibits his movements probably doesn't help his mood either). Why, the ungrateful people have even taken to knocking over giant statues of their gods in anger. That just can't stand. Like Candyman, the Gods will not exist if no one believes in them. So, sensing an opportunity for a power grab, Hades (Ralph Fiennes) convinces Zeus to allow Hades to threaten the land of Argos. Basically Hades demands that the city sacrifice the noble princess (Alexa Davalos) or face the wrath of Hades's personal killing machine, the Kraken. But there is hope... for in the city of Argos lays the noble Perseus (Sam Worthington), demigod bastard son of Zeus. For shits and giggles, the noble Zeus raped a woman by pretending to be her husband. Said husband didn't take it well, tossed Arthur Pendragon... er Perseus... in a coffin, and sent him to sea. But the infant survived, before being found by Ma and Pa Kent and... I mean Pete Postlethwaite and his wife. So Moses/Kal-El/Perseus lived as a mortal before being forced by the hands of destiny to attempt to end this madness of the gods. Will he fulfill his destiny and slay the Kraken, or will he... oh who are we kidding, of course he will.

If that seems like a longer than usual plot synopsis, you can thank me. I just saved you from having to watch the relatively boring first half of Clash of the Titans. I'm all for holding back on the action in order to establish plot and character. But when the characters are relatively uninteresting and the exposition is not delivered with grace, the efforts are for naught. And there is precious little incident in the first forty minutes of ninety-five minutes (without credits) in the movie. Sure Pete Postlethwaite brings gravitas and warmth as Perseus's adapted father, but he basically sticks around just long enough to deliver Glenn Ford's speech from the first Superman ("And one thing I do know, son, and that is you are here for a reason. ARGH!"). And there is high camp value in watching Neeson and Fiennes (seventeen years after Schindler's List) attempting to chew scenery and maintain some token amount of dignity. But the rest of the characters barely register. Sam Worthington does what he can, but his Perseus is endlessly noble, relentlessly tough, and consistently not fun. In fact, the whole picture has a certain gloom and darkness that seems out of place, since the violence is bloodless enough to have won the picture a kid-friendly PG if not for the intensity and fatalistic atmosphere.

But let's be honest, no one goes to Clash of the Titans to see an engaging story with compelling characters. They want to see umm... Titans, uh... clashing. And the pay-off does eventually arrive nearly halfway into the film. And while the action scenes are of a mixed quality, they do look quite expensive. And Leterrier resists the urge to hack the action scenes to pieces in the editing bay, as most shots do last for at least a second or two. But this doesn't stop the big scorpion fight from becoming just a little confusing; as I didn't realize that there were multiple scorpions attacking until the battle was half over. The showdown in Medusa's lair is more engaging, as there is genuine suspense (lots of red-shirts to spare) and I'm always game for people falling into fiery pits of lava. The Kraken himself is a sight to see, although it won't be a surprise to anyone who has seen Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, the original Clash of the Titans, and/or the poster for this film. While what we're seeing is obviously computer-generated-imagery, I must confess that this somewhat sea-creature-phobic critic was just a little impressed. So while the picture does eventually deliver the action goods, most of the set pieces are in the last half hour and they aren't entirely worth the wait. The official budget is just $85 million, which may explain the dearth of action set-pieces.

Visually, the film looks gorgeous when the image is allowed to breathe. While the main colors are somewhat muted, that just makes the occasional bright images (IE - red lava) that much more potent. Oddly enough, much of the film tragically feels claustrophobic, as much of the picture (action scenes and otherwise) seems filmed in tighter-than-necessary close-ups. Leterrier certainly knows how to take advantage of the wide-screen when he wants to, but there are times when the film feels almost framed for 1.85:1 televisions. The special effects are pretty decent, but there is always a disconnect when you know full-well that what you're seeing cannot be real or even practical effects. In the end, Clash of the Titans is a relatively un-engaging action spectacle that feels oddly restrained when it should be bursting at the seams. The main characters barely register, and the plot is convoluted without being compelling. The action occasionally delivers, but it's just not worth sitting through a relatively bad movie to get there. But hey, at least it's presented in glorious 2D, just as it was filmed.

Grade: C-

11 comments:

Michele Simon said...

Why do I get the impression you haven't seen the original? The original was ahead of it's time and when it came out it was awesome. What I really wanted to know in a review of this film is how it compared to original. Your review seems to compare it to every other recent movie. Don't you know that sci-fi classics like this tend to have a devoted following? Is it better than the original? Is it the same story?

Scott Mendelson said...

I have not seen the original. Those that have are mixed on which version is better.

Ada said...

I watched the original repeatedly when I was a kid....I thought it was awesome. I saw it again this year and obviously it's very dated and flawed. That said, it was still a fun experience. The 2010 version is a bit of a disaster.
Thank you Scott for pointing out other works of the director. Now I am not surprised at how it turned out. The director of "Transporter" should certainly not be on the short-list for directing this movie. At the hands of a director with experience in epic mythology movies, I'm sure it would have been amazing.

Anonymous said...

Apparently the "reviewer" does not know anything about Greek mythology or the story of Perseus. The story was engaging and truthful. There is no camp between Fiennes and Neeson. Also, comparing the original to the 2010 release is like comparing apples to oranges. You simply should not do it. It was a different time and place. Story wise- the 2010 release makes the story clearer. 1000's times better than repackaged Pocohantas, oops, I mean Avatar. The story is supposed to be a dark and Gothic movie- it's Greek mythology. One more thing, when you write something to post on the internet please use spell check. Not being able to spell correctly makes the reader dismiss any opinions you may have, since we now think you are not intelligent.

Anonymous said...

The previous anonymous reader sounds snarky and defensive. I, personally, enjoy reading Mr. Mendelson's honest and in-depth reviews on all things cinematic, even if I do not always agree with his opinions. By the way, what is the definition of an opinion again? Hmmm. . . As for the spell-check comment, I am constantly impressed with how few errors I see in his memos which are often lengthy and posted many times per week. He even has a standard disclaimer requesting that readers who find errors or inconsistencies should notify him so he can correct them. The occasional minor error is so inconsequential. This is not a college paper, it is an on-line movie review. Chill out, 'Anonymous'. Mr. Mendelson, thank you for the review of this movie. I will tell my husband to save his money and take the kids to "How to Train Your Dragon" instead.

N S said...

I found the New 2010 movie to be a disaster compared to the original I watched it in 3d by the way.
and just wanted t to finish as it just drags.
There was nothing in this film that made you say wow!!
there is a saying that you cannot beat a top Movie and i'm afraid the Remake is far off!
guys save your money and have a meal instead.

JohnH said...

And there is high camp value in watching Neeson and Fiennes (seventeen years after Schindler's List) attempting to chew scenery and maintain some token amount of dignity.

One of my first thoughts when I read about this one and its cast was "Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes reunited onscreen for this?" Granted, modern Hollywood isn't exactly overflowing with richly written parts for classically trained thespians, but really.

And this whole "crudely graft sub-par 3D onto perfectly fine 2D movies" by greedy studios is going to kill the 3D resurgence before it even gets off the ground.

Jimmy Limo said...

Saw Titans last night in 3D (seemed more like 2 1/2 D)…
It’s easier to convert a movie like “Alice” to 3D because so much of the foregrounds and backgrounds were CG and can be perfectly manipulated in the computer, but in “Titans” there were so many shots filmed “live” in the real world you could see some marked raggedness around the edges of the main characters in each shot, especially facial close-ups and fast action scenes (the battle with the scorpions). After shelling out $14 for a ticket, $8 for popcorn and $6.75 for a Coke I felt quite ripped off… Thank goodness I smuggled in a half-pint of Bacardi 151… didn’t help much, though… ;-) … Shrek 4 should be a lot better…

Jimmy Limo said...

Saw Titans last night in 3D (seemed more like 2 1/2 D)…
It’s easier to convert a movie like “Alice” to 3D because so much of the foregrounds and backgrounds were CG and can be perfectly manipulated in the computer, but in “Titans” there were so many shots filmed “live” in the real world you could see some marked raggedness around the edges of the main characters in each shot, especially facial close-ups and fast action scenes (the battle with the scorpions). After shelling out $14 for a ticket, $8 for popcorn and $6.75 for a Coke I felt quite ripped off… Thank goodness I smuggled in a half-pint of Bacardi 151… didn’t help much, though… ;-) … Shrek 4 should be a lot better…

Ada said...

I watched the original repeatedly when I was a kid....I thought it was awesome. I saw it again this year and obviously it's very dated and flawed. That said, it was still a fun experience. The 2010 version is a bit of a disaster.
Thank you Scott for pointing out other works of the director. Now I am not surprised at how it turned out. The director of "Transporter" should certainly not be on the short-list for directing this movie. At the hands of a director with experience in epic mythology movies, I'm sure it would have been amazing.

Michele Simon said...

Why do I get the impression you haven't seen the original? The original was ahead of it's time and when it came out it was awesome. What I really wanted to know in a review of this film is how it compared to original. Your review seems to compare it to every other recent movie. Don't you know that sci-fi classics like this tend to have a devoted following? Is it better than the original? Is it the same story?

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