Clash of the (critical) titans 2.0

Way back in 1981, the Critical Advisory Board approved a review of that year’s version of Clash of the Titans for a film history textbook. But, given that this entry is now dated — especially due to the release of a 2.0 version in 2010 — the Critical Advisory Board voted to revise this entry in its new Film Criticism History Textbook.

After much heated debate, the Critical Advisory Board, an elected body of the Critics Society, made the following changes to this chapter in the textbook (the underlying text is authored by Roger Ebert; and edits are shown in strikethrough; additions in ALL CAPS):

Clash of the Titans
Starring Harry Hamlin SAM WORTHINGTON AS A HEAD-SHAVEN, PENCIL-LIPPED PERSEUS, Laurence Olivier LIAM NEESON AS A STOIC, WOODEN ZEUS WITH A SUIT OF ARMOR INSTEAD OF A DRAPING TOGA, Neil McCarthy JASON FLEMYNG AS CAILBOS, A SNEERINGLY DISFIGURED MAN OUT TO SEEK VENGEANCE ON PERSEUS AND ZEUS, Judi Bowker ALEXA DAVALOS AS A HELPLESS ANDROMEDA, Maggie Smith, Clair Bloom, Ursula Andress OBSCURE AND RELATIVELY UNKNOWN ACTRESSES PLAYING GODS, RALPH FINNES (HADES), GEMMA ARTERTON (IO), AND MADS MIKKELSEN (DRACO)

Directed by Desmond Davis LOUIS LETERRIER LIKE A VIDEO GAME; with stop-motion and animatronics COMPUTER GRAPHIC special effects by Ray Harryhausen COMPUTER TECHNICIANS WITH THIN, DISTRACTING, AND TACKED-ON 3-D EFFECTS

“Clash of the Titans” is a grand and glorious romantic FACILE adventure, filled with grave AND SULLEN heroes, beautiful YET PASSIVE heroines, fearsome YET FRENZIED AND VISUALLY CONFUSING monsters, and awe-inspiring duels BATTLES to the death. It is a lot of fun NOISE INTERSPERSED BY PERIODS OF DULLNESS. It was quite possibly intended as a sort of Greek mythological retread of “Star Wars AVATAR AND HARRY POTTER” (it has a wise little mechanical owl in it who’s a third cousin of R2-D2 HERO WHO VANQUISHES POWERFUL EVIL FOES THROUGH THE USE OF MAGIC AND BY ALIGNING HIMSELF WITH VIRTUOUS ALLIES), but it’s also part of an older Hollywood tradition of special-effects fantasies, and its visual wonderments are astonishing PASSABLE IF YOU CAN GET BEYOND THE THIN, DISTRACTING, ADDED-ON 3-D EFFECT LAYER TO HELP TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE POPULARITY OF THIS UBIQUITOUS TECHNIQUE AND OSTENSIBLY ENHANCE THE BOX OFFICE TAKE FROM INCREASED TICKET PRICES.

The story, on the other hand, is robust THIN and straightforward INCONSISTENT CAUSING CONFUSION AND DISINTEREST. Perseus (Harry Hamlin SAM WORTHINGTON) is locked into a coffin with his mother BY HIS MOTHER’S ANGRY HUSBAND and cast into the sea, after she has angered the gods BEEN IMPREGNATED (RAPED?) BY ZEUS. SUCH BEHAVIOR BY A NON-CHRISTIAN GOD IS NOT SURPRISING AND IT SHOWS HOW BELIEF IN SUCH OTHER GODS IS MISPLACED. But Zeus (Laurence Olivier) takes pity and sees that the coffin washes ashore on a deserted island, where Perseus THE COFFIN IS FETCHED FROM THE WATERS BY A HAPLESS FISHERMAN WHO FINDS THAT THE MOTHER IS DEAD AND COLLECTS PERSEUS AND TREATS HIM AS A MEMBER OF HIS OWN FAMILY.
THAT HE WOULD NOT ATTEMPT TO LOCATE PERSEUS’S RELATIVES AND RETURN HIM TO THEM AND INSTEAD ESSENTIALLY TURN HIM INTO AN INDENTURED SERVANT IS WHOLLY INAPPROPRIATE AND NOT IN KEEPING WITH LAW AND PROPER MORALS. HE grows to manhood and learns of his mission in life LOVES AND ASSISTS HIS NEW FAMILY LIKE A GOOD CHRISTIAN UNTIL THAT FAMILY IS KILLED BY POSEIDON, ANOTHER PAGAN GOD DEMONSTRATING THE FOLLY IN BELIEVING IN SUCH NONSENSE. The AFTER HIS FAMILY IS DROWNED BY POSEIDON, his NEW mission, in a nutshell, is to return to Joppa and rescue Andromeda (Judi Bowker ALEXA DAVALOS) from a fate worse than death: marriage to the hideously ugly Calibos, who was promised her hand in marriage before he was turned into a monster by the wrath of the gods BEING SACRIFICED TO A GIANT SEA MONSTER CALLED A KRAKEN AS PART OF A BYZANTINE PLOT BY THE UNDERWORLD GOD HADES TO DETHRONE ZEUS BY INVOKING HYSTERIA AND FEAR IN THE HUMAN MASSES AS FEAR FEEDS AND EMPOWERS HADES AND WEAKENS ZEUS, WHILE PRAYER AND DEVOTION BY HUMANS STRENGTHENS ZEUS. THAT A GREEK GOD DEPICTING THE DEVIL WOULD STOOP TO SUCH TACTICS IS UNDERSTANDABLE, BUT IT SHOULD IN NO WAY BE SEEN AS A LAUDABLE POLITICAL GOAL. HOWEVER, THE DEPICTION OF A WARRING AND TUMULTIOUS HUMAN CONDITION DUE TO THEIR “TURNING AWAY FROM GOD” IS AN APT WARNING FOR ANY SOCIETY FOUNDED ON RELIGIOUS PRECEPTS. Calibos lives in a swamp and dispatches a gigantic, scrawny bird every night to fetch him the spirit of the sleeping Andromeda in a gilded cage. If Perseus is to marry Andromeda, HE MUST DEFEAT CALIBOS, THE HUSBAND OF HIS MOTHER WHO SLEPT WITH ZEUS, in combat and also answer a riddle posed by Cassiopeia, Andromeda’s mother DEFEAT THE GIANT SCORPION-LIKE CREATURES THAT EMERGE FROM THE GROUND WHERE CALIBOS’S BLOOD IS SPILLED. THAT CALIBOS IS DEPICTED AS EVIL AND HIDEOUSLY UGLY WITH SUCH NASTY BLOOD IS NO DOUBT DUE TO THIS SOCIETY’S LOOSE, ADULTUROUS MORALS (NO DOUBT DUE TO FAITH IN MANY VAIN GODS), AND THAT HE BLASPHEMOUSLY SEEKS TO KILL THE SON OF A GOD. Those who answer the riddle incorrectly are condemned to die. Love was more complicated AND VAUNTED in the old days BEFORE MODERN SOCIETY BECAME CRASS AND TOO BEHOLDEN TO SECULAR HUMANISM.

There are, of course, other tests. To follow the bird back to the lair of Calibos, t The resourceful Perseus must capture and tame IS OFFERED HELP FROM THE GODS VIA A SWORD, A DEMIGOD NAMED IO, A GROUP OF VALIANT YET EXPENDABLE WARRIORS, AND A FLYING HORSE CALLED Pegasus, ONE OF the last of the great winged horses THAT HAS BEEN ROUNDED UP AND FORCED TO SERVE MAN. He must also enter the lair of Medusa, A SINGLE WOMAN LIVING ALONE, who turns men to stone with one glance THAT IS LIKELY ALSO A METAPHOR FOR LOOSE MORALS, and behead her so that he can use her dead eyes to petrify the gargantuan monster Kraken THAT REPRESENTS THE WRATH OF GOD AND NATURE FOR HUMAN’S ARROGANCE IN TINKERING WITH THE CLIMATE, RAMPANT CONSUMPTION OF RESOURCES, AND POLLUTION, who is unchained from his cage on UNLEASHED FROM THE ocean floor BY AN ORDER FROM ZEUS DELIVERED WITH GOOFILY HIGH CAMP so that he IT can ravish Joppa in general and Andromeda in particular IN A VISUALLY CONFUSING AND CLIPPED SCENE THAT HAS PERSEUS AND PEGASUS FLYING ALL AROUND THE KRAKEN’S TENTACLES WHILE BEING CHASED BY A NUMBER OF HADES FLYING MINONS.

All of this is gloriously CHEESY AND silly. But because the movie respects its material SHOWS WHAT CAN HAPPEN WHEN PEOPLE TURN AWAY FROM RELIGION AND TAKE LIBERTIES WITH HISTORICAL FACT AND EMBRACE MYTHOLOGY, it even succeeds in halfway selling us this story; movies that look like “Clash of the Titans” have a tendency to seem ARE ridiculous, but this film has the courage of its convictions. It is also blessed with a cast that somehow finds its way past all the monsters and through all the heroic dialogue and gets us involved in the characters. Harry Hamlin SAM WORTHINGTON is a completely satisfactory PENSIVE AND UNINVOLVING Perseus, handsome and solemn and YET charged with his own A mission TO GET US TO SEE THE ERROR OF OUR CURRENT SOCIAL SYSTEMS. Judi Bowker ALEXA DAVALOS is a beautiful YET NONDESCRIPT princess and a great screamer, SHE IS especially BLAND in the scene where she’s chained to the rock A WOODEN SCAFFOLDING TO DANGLE ABOVE THE SEA AS BAIT FOR THE and Kraken is slobbering THAT THRASHES all over AROUND her AND THE SURROUNDING CITY. Burgess Meredith has a nice little ALL OF THE supporting roleS as Ammon, an old playwright who thinks he may be able to turn all of this into a KEEP THIS FROM BECOMING A quick epic. And Laurence Olivier LIAM NEESON is just as I have NOT HOW I imagined Zeus: petulant, but a pushover for a pretty face ODDLY INDIFFERENT, WHICH IS NOT AN IMAGE OF THE DIVINE THAT SHOULD BE CONVEYED TO YOUNG PEOPLE.

The real starS of the movie, however, is Ray Harryhausen ARE COMPUTER GRAPHIC TECHNICIANS, who has HAVE worked more than forty years as a creator of TO BECOME THE STANDARD FOR special effects. He uses THEY USE combinations of animation, miniatures, optical tricks, and multiple images to put humans into the same movie frames as the most fantastical creatures of legend, and more often than not, they look pretty convincing: BUT when Perseus tames RIDES Pegasus, EVEN THOUGH it sure looks like he’s dealing with a real horse (except for the wings, of course), THE COMPUTER WHIZZES ARE MORE INTENT ON CREATING SUCH FRENZIED, HYPER-KENETIC MOVEMENT THAT THINGS GET CONFUSING AND CLUTTERED. IT’S A CASE — LIKE WITH MICHAEL BAY — WHERE THE EFFECTS TEAM CAN GET TOO CARRIED AWAY.

Harryhausen’s credits include “Mighty Joe Young,” “Jason and the Argonauts” and “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad,” but “Clash of the Titans” is his masterwork. Among his NEVERTHELESS, THERE ARE SOME inspired set-pieces: the battle in the Medusa’s lair, with her hair writhing with snakes; the flying-horse scenes; the gigantic prehistoric bird; the two-headed wolf-dog, Dioskilos; the Stygian witches WITH THEIR CONSTANT BICKERING AND STRUGGLES TO POSSESS THE ONE HANDHELD EYEBALL WITH WHICH THEY ALL THREE USE TO SEE — A METAPHOR FOR OUR WICKED CULTURE AND THE MAD SCRAMBLE BY MANY COMPETING FORCES TO GET CONTROL OF PEOPLE’S EYEBALLS; and, of course, Kraken, who rears up from the sea and causes tidal waves SLAMS HIS GIANT TENTACLES that do a lot of very convincing damage to a Greek city that exists only in Harryhausen’s art A COMPUTER’S HARDRIVE. The most lovable special-effects creation in the movie is little Bubo, a golden owl sent by the gods to help Perseus in his trials. Bubo whistles and rotates his head something like R2-D2 in “Star Wars,” and he has a similar personality, too, especially at the hilarious moment when he enters the film for the first time.

“Clash of the Titans” is a family FLAWED film (there’s nothing PLENTY in it that would disturb any but the most impressionable children WHO VALUE QUALITY FILMS), and yet it’s not by any means innocuous: It’s got blood and thunder and lots of gory details, all presented with enormous gusto SOUND and style FURY. It has A DEPICTION OF faith in a story-telling tradition that sometimes seems almost IS forgotten, a tradition depending upon legends and myths, magical swords, enchanted shields, invisibility helmets, and the overwhelming power of a kiss GOD.

[The “Critics Advisory Board,” “The Critics Society,” and the “Film Criticism History Textbook” are all fictitious; any similarities to such textbooks or entities revising textbooks is purely coincidental.]

Doug Young is the film critic for The Colorado Statesman. He will be covering the Cannes Film Festival in May for the third year in a row.