There’s footage on YouTube of stop-motion animation maestro Ray Harryhausen, in 2006, first hearing about a possible “Clash of the Titans” remake. “Oh, I hope not,” he says.
It may seem unmannerly to get possessive of a movie known mostly for the liberties it took with stories and characters that are thousands of years old, but we all know where Harryhausen’s coming from. His contributions to the 1981 film, although impressive for being more memorable than a performance by Laurence Olivier as the king of the gods, also had a way of making “Clash of the Titans” seem inherently pitiable. How sad it was to think of that dated, lumbering clunker of a mythological fantasy just fading away in the long shadow of “Star Wars.” Well, the last thing it needs now is a bland, moronic, computer-enhanced warming over by the 21st-century Hollywood remake machine. That just adds insult to injury.
Sam Worthington plays the hero Perseus on a quest to protect an uppity human race from being collateral damage in a sibling rivalry between big-bearded gods Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Not that Perseus, who was raised as a humble fisherman, really needs to trouble himself; the humans seem plenty willing to sacrifice a princess (Alexa Davalos) instead if that will get the gods off their backs. It’s just that Perseus does have his own axe — or magic sword or whatever — to grind, on account of Hades having killed his adoptive father (Pete Postlethwaite), and Zeus being his actual father. Some people get joint pain in thunderstorms; Perseus gets heartburn and an identity crisis.
He also gets help with his quest, most notably from Gemma Arterton as a sort of guardian-angel Io (not quite the cow Zeus turned her into in another story) and Mads Mikkelsen as Draco, a noble warrior (not quite a dragon). The rest is business as usual: swords, sandals, giant scorpions. Mythology has been prone to retellings and retellings of retellings for millennia. That’s fine; that’s how it works. It generally doesn’t work by boring us and insulting our intelligence. Here, the sense of destiny playing out is more a sense of lazy and mercenary screenwriting, from Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. Beacham’s next project is “The Black Hole,” another reboot of a movie best left to rest in peace, and Hay and Manfredi’s credits include “Aeon Flux,” which probably shouldn’t even have been booted up for a first time. So it’s hard to know if these writers actually have any talent. Certainly director Louis Leterrier, most recently of “The Incredible Hulk,” doesn’t do them or us any favors with his clarity-averse “Clash of the Titans.”
One good purpose of 3-D, and perhaps its only purpose in this particular film, is to keep critics from properly seeing their notebooks. If darkness impedes the jotting down of complaints, those glasses make it nearly impossible. Looking back on my “Clash of the Titans” notes now, I see that I’ve written something along the lines of “Smffddh resh fgb Perseus Thp fddhup, Zeus!”
Luckily for me, this scrawl actually describes the movie quite well: It has familiar names, smudgy action and some punctuation. I do recall that scenes on Mount Olympus are photographed as if somebody’s solution to all those flares in the lens was to give it another coating of Vaseline. But at least we get to hear Neeson shout, “Release the Kraken!”
It might have been better if he’d shouted, “Apologize to the Harryhausen!”