Clash of the Remakes  

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I recently watched the original "Clash of the Titans," having never actually seen it--or, for that matter, pretty much any other Harryhausen film. I've always been a big mythology buff, so it was an easy sell for me. Plus, it gave me lots of opportunities to make jokes about Veronica Mars and Professor McGonagall in a toga.

Overall, I really enjoyed the movie. It took a little bit for the plot to get going, but once it did, it kept going. I was impressed by the quick pacing, especially given just how much was crammed into the movie. Between Perseus and Andromeda's personal drama, the various challenges, and the conflicts between the gods, "Clash of the Titans" is full to brimming with plot elements, but it never feels like it's trying to do too much. The moderately episodic story works, which is not usually the case for movies with this much story. But more than that, after a point it seems like there's a crazy stop-motion battle every ten minutes or so, which maintains the action all the way through to the end.

The special effects are a bit of a mixed bag. The claymation enemies are gorgeously detailed, and the switches from actors in makeup to clay figures is generally done well. They do tend to move unnaturally and a little choppily, which is to be expected. It doesn't always take away from the film, though--when dealing with inhuman monsters like Medusa, a little unnatural motion just drives home the point. There's a bit of the uncanny valley going on, and it makes the monsters a bit more unsettling in several cases. Generally, the worst part of the special effects were the bluescreen bits, where the dark lines around the inserted actors or inserted creatures were often readily apparent.

One thing I really enjoyed was the way they flipped around Clarke's Third Law. We usually see it in sci-fi, where some hi-tech species or entity or time traveler, or some superpowerful alien race, uses technology to pose as a wizard or a god. Here, instead, we see the gods expressing their magical powers through advanced technology--first, a steel sword; then, a talking shield that initially sounds like it's speaking through an electronic speaker; finally, a robotic owl, because robots, that's why. In "Titans," magic is indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced technology, and I think that's an idea that more fantasy stories should pick up on.

The reason I bring all this up is because apparently Warner Brothers has decided to remake "Clash of the Titans," with the release coming in early April. Normally, I'd balk at the idea of remaking a film that's already perfectly good, but I'm actually kind of excited to see how "Titans" looks with modern special effects wizardry. Judging from the previews, I think the 2010 Kraken looks to be more menacing than the 1981 version (though I did like the four arms, and I hope that feature remains--I can't tell from the trailers I've seen), but I also think the Kraken ought to have a bit more in the way of tentacles.

Judging from the cast and the previews, I'd imagine that the new version will be just as action-oriented as the original. My primary worry is that they'll jettison everything that made "Clash of the Titans" distinctive: the complex episodic plot, the web of intertwining conflicts between men and gods, and especially the reverse backflip 3rd Law thing. Okay, the comic relief robot owl was kind of a late-'70s, early-'80s vintage thing (see also: Buck Rogers), and I can see where that might not fit the tone of a modern action flick. But stripping away too many of those elements will leave you with just that: a typical modern action flick. And a movie like "Clash of the Titans" should be at least a little better than that.

I'm hoping to see the new version around opening weekend, so hopefully I'll have a wrap-up post in a couple of weeks. One way or another, it'll be worth talking about.

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