CLASH OF THE TITANS - Blu-ray review

Sometimes it's best to leave well enough alone, even if well enough is not perfect.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio
TimRaynor's picture
Tim
Raynor

Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review, John and Tim provide their opinions of the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Shots.

The Film According to John:
"Release the Kraken!"

When Warner Bros. released the original Kraken in the 1981 version of "Clash of the Titans," it marked the last hurrah for master stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen, and it's a shame he went out on a less-than-perfect note. Not that his creations were anything less than worthy; it's just that his type of animation was already passé by the time "Titans" arrived on the scene, and it wouldn't be long before the computer graphics we see today would take over. Despite all the positive nostalgic feelings the old "Titans" generated, the movie suffered from a mediocre script, too much wooden dialogue, too much stiff acting, and that old-fashioned, herky-jerky, stop-motion animation style.

So with WB's release of its 2010 remake of "Clash of the Titans," the studio had a chance to make amends and finally get it right. Did they? Not quite. While the new film is not awful, it's almost as tedious as the original. Sometimes it's best to leave well enough alone, even if well enough is not perfect.

Let's start, though, with the best things about this new "Titans." Let's mention that the sets are extravagantly realistic; the locales, filmed in the countrysides of Wales, Spain, and Ethiopia, look splendid; the costumes appear quite authentic; the special effects are realistic, if understandably exaggerated; the cinematography is often breathtaking; and the CGI work is more than adequate.

OK, now that we've got that out of the way, what do we have left? First, there's still that muddled script to contend with. The god Zeus (Liam Neesan) is forever quarreling with his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes), whom Zeus has tricked into ruling the underworld. Mankind worships Zeus but fears Hades. Meanwhile, Zeus's mortal son, Perseus (Sam Worthington), is raging against all the gods for the death of his parents, and he wants to get even with Hades in particular. In ten days Hades says he will destroy the Greek city of Argos by unleashing the dreaded Kraken on them unless the people of the city sacrifice the Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) to him. Io (Gemma Arterton), Perseus's personal muse, guide, and protector, persuades him to help the people of Argos and get revenge for the death of his parents by leading an expedition to stop Hades and the Kraken. Or something like that.

All of it as long-winded as in the original movie, and at least some of it is actually based on Greek legends, with bits of other folklore thrown in, and the whole Kraken business constructed around a mythological Norse critter said to have caused whirlpools off the coast of Norway. It's just an excuse for a clunky revenge quest and a lot of monsters along the way, which director Louis Leterrier ("The Transporter," "The Incredible Hulk") to his credit handles as efficiently as possible in the least amount of time (the film is only a little over an hour and a half long).

The acting is about what one would expect from an old-time Saturday-morning serial, with Neesan and Fiennes puffing up and strutting their best Irish and English accents, and Danish superstar Mads Mikkelsen playing the tough-guy general who leads the expedition. Unfortunately (or fortunately), all of them take their roles so seriously, there isn't the least ounce of humor in the picture. You can look at that from several angles: It's good the actors don't drop into tongue-in-cheek spoofing; or it's too bad the script didn't at least give the actors a line or two that might have lightened the otherwise dreary mood; or we can be thankful the actors play it so straight because it makes the silliness all the more appealing. Who knows.

All I know is the one actor who should have carried the show, Sam Worthington as Perseus, doesn't (carry the show). He's a fine fellow, I'm sure, and a good actor, and he gives it his best shot, but there's just nothing there for him to get hold of. Worthington has the distinction of starring in two big blockbusters in a row, "Avatar" and "Clash of the Titans," and never letting the audience know it. He is simply overwhelmed by the CGI and special effects in both movies. (And before that he was in yet another blockbuster, "Terminator Salvation," where at least he escaped relatively unscathed.) I tell you, if you just walked out of a theater having seen "Clash of the Titans" and ran into Worthington on the street, I'd be willing to bet you wouldn't know who he was. Not that he isn't handsome or well built or well spoken; it's just that his role in "Titan" is bland. Think about just one example: The filmmakers chose to make the poor guy wear a crewcut. Now, I don't care if a crewcut was a common haircut for men in ancient Greece or not, it doesn't look right on a Greek demigod. We expect to see a legendary hero with flowing locks, not someone who seems ready to step into the ring for a UFC match. Then, there's his demeanor, all sullen and angry and overly proud, without a glimmer of humor or a spark of imagination in his personality. Unless you call glowering for 100 minutes a personality. I'm sure it's not Worthington's fault; it's that mediocre script getting in the way again.

Finally, we've got the CGI replacing stop-motion animation for the creatures in the new film. Is it really any better than what Harryhausen gave us? Yes and no. Yes, it looks more naturalistic, if you can call mythological beasts like Krakens, giant scorpions, the winged horse Pegasus, or the snake-headed woman Medusa natural. At least they're not quite as herky-jerky as Harryhausen's old creations. The trouble is that we've all seen so many CGI beasts by now, there's nothing new here to astound us; there's no gee-whiz factor at play, merely more of the same.

Which is about all "Clash of the Titans" can offer: more of the same. Yet maybe that's all people expect from it; namely, another go-round with the monsters of their youth. Well, there's nothing about the movie to anger or infuriate a viewer. Instead, the movie simply sits there shaking and shifting and scrambling every minute with action and adventure that never really comes to life, leaving the viewer oddly dissatisfied by much of it.

John's film rating: 5/10

The Film According to Tim:
I'll admit to partaking in the joys of watching old classic fantasy films in my youth. Saturdays were laden with my own "Our Gang" of friends watching "Godzilla" destroy Tokyo, then watching "Sinbad" fight villains and monsters in the Middle East, followed by a little Greek mythology with "Jason and the Argonauts." You can only imagine that in 1981 when the original "Clash of the Titans" hit the big screen all us teens were jumping for joy. And why not? After "Star Wars" we all figured the visuals were going to be way better than those fake-looking effects from the 1960's. Granted, and looking back at it, the effects were still as atrocious as ever, but that didn't keep us kids from wearing it out once it hit VHS. In the 1980's, though, subpar-effects never mattered, because if it was new, it was automatically up-scaled into "cool" territory.

Needless to say, I have visited the 1981 version of "Clash of the Titans" more times than I care to mention. I never found it to be too compelling a film, nor was it really meant to be. There were several fantasy films of the time that I enjoyed much more in comparison, but what can I say? I was a kid and fascinated with all the eye-candy moments, even though I found the pacing a bit dull at times. Nevertheless, it was a film that offered the monsters of Greek mythology, giant scorpions, Medusa turning men into stone, and the Greek gods eating fruitfully and drinking fine wine while they toyed with humans and their horrific fate. What could possibly be more fun to watch?

Therefore, I found myself very willing to check out director Louis Leterrier's 2010 version of "Clash of the Titans." The production level of this new edition I can only assume was run by Prof. John Hammond from Jurassic Park: "We spared no expense." Aside from all the new bells and whistles and a few alterations in the screenplay, 2010's "Clash of the Titans" plays a little more entertainingly than its parent version of 1981. However, that in no way implies the film achieves fantasy greatness and is certainly not meant to shift the Earth's axis as a film like "Avatar" has done.

Speaking of "Avatar," our main man, Perseus, is played by "Avatar" star Sam Worthington. Perseus was brought to Earth by his father, the Greek God Zeus (Liam Neeson), to be the defender and salvation of humanity. Of course, there is this whole journey thing where he needs to get in touch with who he is. While finding his purpose, he is reluctant, to the extent of anger, not to accept any help from the gods. To make things even more difficult for Perseus, Zeus's brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes)--keeper of the dead--is set loose to extend his powers of chaos.

While the journey is full of the monsters of mythology and the gallant battles fighting them, the tone feels serious at taking stabs at the foundations of faith, religion, and the separation of man from gods. Zeus, Apollo (Luke Evans), Hades, and Athena (Izabella Miko) are painted to look like selfish, childish tyrants who are not worthy of a prayer written on a napkin. The message is very clear that humans should live life more self-sufficiently and not rely on the worship of gods who, in the main, do not exist. There certainly is an agnostic message here, if not one completely drenched in atheism. The message sets a tone for thought, but it feels pointless in a film that should be a bit silly, campy, and overindulgent in cheese.

Underneath all the updates of visual pleasure and making the tone even darker and more serious, there is the sense of entertainment that can be fun. This new version still has the action of giant scorpions, the Kraken, and the excitement of chopping off Medusa's head. We even get a short, humorous cameo from the golden owl of the 1981 version. Of course, all the action sequences are stretched a little more to address the attention span of today's audience. While I did find this new, updated version a little more up-tempo compared to its old retired version, I still didn't find it any more compelling. Is it simple fun, mindless entertainment? Absolutely, and pretty harmless, really. Will it bend space and time to form a wormhole into a parallel dimension? Not in our lifetime. It's a fun film for the moment, but nothing more than your average affair in the fantasy genre.

The Good:
Why, all that Greek mythology is good! If you grew up in my time, there's nothing better than some good old Greek mythology. I mean, how can anyone resist giant monsters, ghoulish villains, and arrogant gods? 2010's "Clash of the Titans" undoubtedly delivers the goods for your typical, action-packed fantasy movie. The motion picture is unquestionably not making any promises or promoting the good health of filmmaking. What it does offer is popcorn entertainment that will pollute the cable channels in another year. It's really pretty harmless if you don't go in expecting much, and if you're a fan of the 1981 version, you should know not to expect much in the first place.

The Bad:
What's bad here is the film never attempts to be anything better in its narrative when compared to its counterpart of 1981. We get elaborate touches of CGI; however, that is about the only thing going for it. We have the stage set for some silly, campy fun, but the narrative keeps attempting to take us somewhere darker and more somber in tone. I honestly have to say, a few more funny moments and a few more inside jokes on the old movie would have gone a long way in this new version. Instead, all the actors are too busy looking larger than life and taking their roles much too seriously.

The Ugly:
At least the Blu-ray is not in 3-D.

Tim's film rating: 6/10

Video:
I have to admit I liked the movie a lot more on high-definition Blu-ray disc than I did in a theater, probably because the Blu-ray picture is much sharper and clearer than I remember it from the theater. I had heard before going to see the movie that the 3-D version didn't look so hot, so the Wife-O-Meter and I purposely sought out a 2-D showing. Still, the 2-D theatrical release looked rough, dark, fuzzy, grainy, and washed out. Not so with this Blu-ray transfer.

Which also leads me to suspect that WB's video engineers probably did some modifications of the picture for the disc release. On the dual-layer BD50, using a VC-1 encode, the 2.40:1-ratio picture certainly shows up easier on the eyes than it did in a theater, the results looking splendid, in fact, with a touch of fine grain remaining to provide the image with a film-like quality. Still, purists may feel the engineers processed the picture too much, and some facial close-ups do appear rather soft.

In addition, we get solid black levels, vibrant contrasts, and realistic hues, even if the color palette runs high to earth tones--dusty browns, tans, and yellows. Flesh shades are lifelike, too, without being overly dark. The PQ should satisfy most viewers.

Audio:
"Clash of the Titans" is a big blockbuster of a film, and the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack doesn't let us forget it for a minute. The sonics are loud and dynamic, with a strong impact throughout the film. There is reasonably good information passed on to the surround speakers in the way of ambient musical bloom, crashing waves, whirling winds, clanging swords, voices, and creature noises. Add in a good, taut, deep bass, and you have prodigious audio to match the prodigious action on screen.

Extras:
The movie comes with the usual assortment of extras, most of them intended to promote the film. First up, because this is a new and major Warner Bros. production, we get with the Blu-ray disc a "Maximum Movie Mode," a picture-in-picture affair with the director, the producer, the cast, and the crew all offering their comments on the film as we're watching it. In addition, the "Maximum Movie Mode" provides ten focus points, brief making-of featurettes within the movie, which the Special Features menu allows you to watch separately if you so choose (thirty-five minutes' worth). Then there's another featurette on the star of the movie, "Sam Worthington: An Action Hero for the Ages," eight minutes; a five-minute alternate ending (Blu-ray exclusive) we're lucky they didn't use; and eleven deleted scenes totaling about eighteen minutes.

Things wind down with seventeen scene selections; several trailers and promos at start-up; BD-Live access; an embossed slipcover; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages; French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Finally, because this is a Blu-ray Combo Pack, it includes not only the high-definition movie on Blu-ray, but the movie in standard definition on a DVD, plus a digital copy of the movie for iTunes or Windows Media, the offer expiring July 25, 2011.

Parting Shots:
If the Wife-O-Meter had been watching "Clash of the Titans" at home when we first saw it, she probably would have walked out on it before the halfway point. She said she found it boring in the extreme and refused to watch it when it arrived on Blu-ray disc. I, too, thought the movie lacked vitality when I saw it in a theater, despite the movie's constant flow of action and adventure. Yet on disc, I enjoyed it more than I expected, the home-viewing experience elevating my rating from below average to average. Go figure. Although the film won't win any awards for its thought or characters, it easily passes an hour and half with its Saturday-morning heroics, and maybe that's all one should expect of it.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
8
Extras
7
Film Value
5