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|Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for an action audience.|
"Clash of the Titans"
The opposition of one group of gods struggling for supremacy is a constant theme of Greek mythology and one that director Louis Leterier ("The Hulk" has corralled for a 3-D, CGI journey for our times, and an update of director Desmond Davis' 1981 version with Laurence Olivier as Zeus, Harry Hamlin as key character Perseus, and the legendary Ray Harryhausen both producing and on special visual effects.
Much revolves around luminously frocked Zeus (Liam Neeson, "Taken"), the best known and chief of the celestial lot known as the Olympian deities. His power comes from the worship he receives from mankind, which he created. But out of the blackest depths comes Hades (Ralph Fiennes, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix") who isn't satisfied with his dark destiny and emerges to upset the Olympian apple cart and wrest power from the fears of man, which calls for a steady diet of the destruction he's so good at.
To that purpose is the Kraken, a hellish creature that's part eel, alien, octopus and mountain demon which is under Hades; control. The only thing worse than its ugliness is its attitude. But, there is a demigod in the neighborhood who wants to find a way to bring him down. Some twenty years ago, Zeus came down to Earth to impregnate a woman. Her child was found in a coffin afloat on the sea by Greek fisherman Spyros (Pete Postlethwaite, "The Usual Suspects"). When the old sea dog lifted the cover of the coffin there, lying on the chest of his dead mother, was the babe, Perseus.
Spyros raises the boy who grows to love the old man not suspecting his celestial inheritance and advantage over mortals. Along with that goes the watch over him by an unearthly fairy-tale deity, Io (Gemma Arterton, whose breathless beauty beat out 1500 other actresses for a starring role in "Quantum of Solace"). Perseus (Sam Worthington, "Avatar") having now grown up to manhood, she appears to him as his faithful guide and protector on his path to defeat those he must in order to save mankind, by sending Hades back where he came from.
A very large order for a mere semi-god. To aid him, he assembles a team of dedicated military toughies who come to admire his courage and respect his leadership, led by Draco (Mads Mikkelsen, a charismatic physical presence who broke into American cinema with "Casino Royale" by virtue of his indisputable star status in Denmark). After a fierce run-in with way over-sized desert scorpions, providing some good action, they are saved from even more gigante versions that may well spell the end of the Perseus' crew until they meet up with a band of zombie nomads who control them. This turns to the team's advantage when their chief not only joins their quest but turns the big stingers into camel-like transportation across the dessert.
To take Hades' indestructible creature down they must first learn its vulnerability, a secret held by the nasty eyeless witches. The band finds the ugly ladies and Perseus negotiates for the secret. This sets them forth upon the River Styx to confront the Medusa and obtain the needed weapon.
The task ahead demands everything a semi-god's got, and then some. But Perseus eschews his divine advantages, wanting to prove himself a mortal warrior. He refuses to use the divine sword sent to him by Zeus. Draco advises him against this lame idea and holds the sword for the day when Perseus will need it.
This makes for a journey with a lot of promise and, to me, the film's virtue is in the writing, at least in the sense of clarity. Too often, in historical epic, the dramatic through line is lost in jumbled, arcane detail. Leterier and his writers have seen the way to clearly maintain the objectives and purposes of the action. Good god vs bad, both vying for the hearts or fears of the citizens of Argos, the center of man's existence.
Into which is woven this love story between Perseus and Io that works, given Worthington's fine intensity and Arterton's graceful, spiritual beauty. It's a role that Liv Tyler would have had in an earlier year. Meanwhile, up in heaven, things are a bit shakier.
For better or worse, the go-to-guy for weighty presences is Neeson. Be it Batman's mentor ("Batman Begins"), Qui-Gon Jinn of "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" or the lion Aslan of "The Chronicles of Narnia," Neeson's basso profundo, big size and essentially genial manner lends him an almost unfair casting advantage, be it royalty, deity or savior. If there weren't a Liam Neeson, one would have to be invented.
Such roles, however, offten call for something even he doesn't have, and these Titan figures, by necessity, can sound more silly than sacred. Which leads one to think that a god figure is best seen but not heard. While Neeson wears the silver, self-illuminated gown of the grand deity, how do you write dialogue for gods and titans that doesn't sound like dialogue?
So, an inevitable contrivance creeps into the mythological portraiture which can't avoid the element of campiness. It'll turn a lot of viewers off. But, give it a break for the sake of a lavishly endowed production with a cast that imparts more than comic strip cardboard and you may well find entertainment in this romp with mythical immortality.
3-D effects are subpar, having been added after 2-D production. To make it worse, the depth of the glasses acts like a polarization filter that has too much of a decolorizing, muting effect that diminishes Australian D.P. Peter Menzies Jr.'s ("The Incredible Hulk") impressive work. Music by Ramin Djawadi is inventive without being burdensome to the exploit.
~~ Jules Brenner