Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Clash Of The Titans

Directed by: Louis Leterrier

Produced by:
Basil Iwanyk
Kevin De La Noy
Richard D. Zanuck

Written by:
Lawrence Kasdan
Travis Beacham
Phil Hay
Matt Manfredi

Sam Worthington
Gemma Arterton
Mads Mikkelsen
Alexa Davalos
Danny Huston
Pete Postlethwaite
Hans Matheson
Ralph Fiennes
Liam Neeson

Music by: Ramin Djawadi

Cinematography by: Peter Menzies Jr.

Editing by:
Vincent Tabaillon
Martin Walsh

Legendary Pictures
The Zanuck Company

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date: April 2, 2010 (United States and United Kingdom)

Running time: 106 minutes

United Kingdom
United States

Language: English

Budget: $125 million

Gross revenue: $493, 214, 888

Does anyone find diocese schools really overbearing? I went to a Catholic diocese school for seven years, which instead of strengthening my faith was partly responsible for my conversion to agnostic atheism. Invited to return for a GCE (A-Level) certificate ceremony, I thought that I will give them the benefit of the doubt: they only confirmed my paranoia even more! Apparently a priest is too low down the religious hierarchy, and we require a bishop’s presence at the very least. The icing on the cake was of course a nun as our Guest of Honour, who spoke for FIFTY minutes on her unstructured life story, not the topic at hand. You would think Archbishop Desmond Tutu was speaking, but then again he wouldn't be invited, being a Protestant and all. The fools also managed to get my degree in the bi-annual Communique wrong: I am doing Major/Minor in English/Film, not 'Film and Media Studies', a course I don't even think exists. At least we didn't have to listen to our Head Boy make another lame ass speech.

Anyway, post-rant, let's talk Clash Of The Titans. In 1981, the original Clash Of The Titans was released. Today, it has a lasting reputation as a cult fantasy classic, mostly due to the special effects created by stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen. As his last film after a long and successful career (he's not dead, but alive and old at the grand age of ninety), Clash Of The Titans is seen as a milestone in his career. Twenty-nine years later, the film has been remade for today's audiences as a major, big-budget blockbuster.

The basic plot remains the same. Loosely based on the myth of Perseus (Sam Worthington), Clash Of The Titans is given some grounding in a pre-credit sequence describing the defeat of The Titans by their sons Zeus (Liam Neeson), Poseidon (Danny Huston) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Zeus became ruler of the heavens, Poseidon king of the seas, and Hades, after being tricked by Zeus, lord of the Underworld. Zeus, who over time began to be questioned by his creations, created mankind. A millennia later, fisherman Spyros (Pete Postlethwaite) raises a coffin from the sea, finding a child and his deceased mother inside. Adopting the child as his own, Spyros' son Perseus becomes a fisherman like his father, until a fateful battle between the Gods and the soldiers of Argos (I know, funny in today’s context) sees his family killed in the crossfire. Perseus eventually decides to gain revenge, siding with the soldiers of Argos in a race against the Gods, for Hades has threatened to raise the Kraken, and will only be stopped by the sacrifice of Andromeda (Alexa Davalos).

Right, as you can see, there is a lot of exposition to cover, and to be fair, I have missed some spots but I don't want to have to keep filling in gaps. To start with the good about the film, some of the actors need mentioning. If you were to pick someone to play Zeus, you wouldn't be far wrong picking Neeson. Although the character is underdeveloped, Neeson creates a suitable godlike presence. Also, Ralph Fiennes gives another solid role as a villain this year. Having seen him play the less-than-pleasant Mr Kendrick in Cemetery Junction and the even-more-less-than-pleasant Lord Voldemort in the new Harry Potter film, it shows how good an actor he is when he can play so many different versions of the archetypal antagonist. Also, it's great to see Pete Postlethwaite in not one, but two mainstream films this year, even if in this film, it is a small, expository role. Sam Worthington proves himself as a fine actor in the first act of the film, in which his character is a grim, Maximus Decimus Meridius character intent on revenge. He portrays this Perseus very well, with all the torment and heavy baggage weighing him down. After the first act though, he does become a part of the machinery to get the plot moving. The best acting performance in the film period belongs to Mads Mikkelsen. I'm not saying that this is fabulous acting (Valhalla Rising is a better example of his talents), but in playing Draco, leader of the Praetorian Guard, he creates a character that is far more complex than the writers have intended to scribe.

Being a large-scale, action-blockbuster movie with lots of special effects, it is only right that the director on board is the correct choice. It can safely be said that Louis Leterrier fits this project like a glove. I haven't seen the Transporter films, but I liked both Unleashed (which should be called Danny The Dog everywhere!) and The Incredible Hulk, so this is a man who you can trust to direct good action. By the standards of the films that this is clearly trying to replicate in scale (the Transformers series in particular), Leterrier handles the work rather well. Unlike these films, you can actually see what is going on, so there is a plus for the cinematographers. Also, given the ridiculous amount of material that has to be covered in under one hundred minutes, Leterrier does a remarkable job of getting as much as is possible into the one film.

This paragraph here is going to be based upon the action sequences and the various aspects the filmmaking process that bring them to life. Now, in Clash Of The Titans, what sets it apart from the usual run of the mill, dull-as-hell action blockbuster in the vein of Transformers (which has become a blanket term of sorts for me, considering I think the first is on similar level to this, but it helps, because I still refuse to call the sequel by its name), is the execution of these sequences. For starters, the special effects have a greater weight to them: you can feel that despite their fantastical element, they really could exist. The large scorpions, the Medusa and the Kraken in particular all look fantastic. The Kraken is an amazing work of technical brilliance, for which the special effects department should be proud. If you are to compare both Transformers' special effects, no matter how hard the special effects department tries, both Autobots and Decepticons feel like effects. There is no weight to them in the fight sequences. Whenever people get shot in movies like Michael Mann's Heat, you can almost feel the impact of the bullets. Whenever these monsters are onscreen, you do feel their power. The sound department makes invaluable contributions here too. Loud stompings of the creatures are booming, but the sound works best in the Medusa sequences. Because the Medusa can turn a man to stone with her gaze, you try to avoid her gaze like the characters onscreen, and sound effects incorporated exploit this increased aural sensitivity. Hearing the Medusa slither along is genuinely creepy, as is her reverberating echo of a laugh in the caverns. The sound department creates a legitimacy in the Medusa’s lethal qualities. Finally, the editors Vincent Tabaillon and Martin Walsh have done a very fine job of cutting these sequences. In the wake of the Paul Greengrass influence, a lot of people have simply replicated the technique and not the reasons behind shooting and cutting frantically. Also, at least in Greengrass' work you can see what is going on. That's beside the point, because this is a different type of film, and least they have the sense to not use it where it is needed least. Clash Of The Titans is a film where the action sequences rely on scope/scale and depth-of-field. You have to get the impression of a large world with large creatures. You really do, and I am so glad that the editors have, although not quite to the extent of The American, extended the shots before cuts so we can see the effects, the actions sequences and the overall wonderful mise-en-scene.

Clash Of The Titans has a enough going for it to be placed above the level of many other films of this type. However, there are as many flaws in this film as there are good things. To start me off, because I've got large sections dedicated to one fundamental problem coming up, the original score for the film is not good. Ramin Djawadi is a composer who can and has done some interesting work such as Iron Man, a guitar-driven score for which he was composer, and Batman Begins, to which he made contributions towards the final Zimmer/Newton-Howard work. To be fair, Clash Of The Titans does have some great deep percussion, the marching sounds of battle working well, and the soundtrack does work best when based purely on percussion. However, the brass ensemble is completely overbearing. For starters, this brass ensemble seems to be deemed prominent in 'necessary' moments such as travelling across the planes as though to emphasis the grandeur of their glorious journey: we already understand the scale of their journey without you telling us! Also, it doesn't help that this brass ensemble sounds EXACTLY like those horrible Jablonsky scores for Transformers. Maybe Djawadi was trying to go for a contrast of an African-based percussion sound and your atypical orchestrals, but unfortunately it does not work, instead patronising the audience and demeaning the film's credibility.

Now, the fundamental problem of the film affects so many aspects of the filmmaking process. Here we will deal specifically with the script and the script only. For starters, there are four different writers (Lawrence Kasdan, Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi), which means that although a more collaborative process, the end product turns to be a bit of everything with no grounding. Kasdan alone is a fine writer, and also a director on works such as Body Heat, with another writer or two that would have been pushing it. Three more just muddles things up. It is a smelting pot of a film that tries to do too much. Also, structurally it is horribly balanced. In the first act, the film takes on a Shakespearean element of pure emotion. From here on, we delve into Transformers territory, with a lot being said but not a lot really making sense. Dialogue too is poorly written, with everything being said in the theatrical, highly quotable yet highly clichéd way.

On the surface level, it is the acting that is affected most notably by the script. Now, to start off there is a fine ensemble of actors that have been gathered for this project. While Neeson, Worthington and Fiennes each give decent performances, it is only Mads Mikkelsen who manages to do something interesting with his character. Character development, or lack of, is the main reason as to why the actors are unable to pull off good performances. Although Hitchcock's old idiom 'actors are cattle' is perhaps a bit harsh, an actor does need to be led by the script into their interpretation of the character. Each and every character here, including Mikkelsen's Draco, are either cardboard cutout cliches or non-existent. Worthington's character is well written (and acted) in the first act, but after this he just becomes in many respects Jake Sully over again. In other cases, like Neeson and Fiennes, they just play caricatures that, although they have no problem in doing so, are not particularly interesting or even fully-rounded clichés. On the other hand then, we have the female characters. I do have a problem with the way that writers create female characters in action-blockbusters. Often, the only way for a good female character to exist in a blockbuster is for it to be a 'female picture', while less people look at action-blockbusters by default as 'men pictures.' The great exceptions to these would be those in James Cameron films, with characters such as Ellen Ripley (Aliens) and Sarah Connor (The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day). Here, we have Gemma Arterton playing Io, whose purpose seems to be stand around and fill gaps in the plot. Arterton speaks well for the role, her accent carrying a timbre that vibrates, but her character's nature starts to change during the course of the film and her performance goes a bit all over the place. The other main female character is Andromeda, who is basically serving as potential fodder for the Kraken. Female characters should like their male counterparts be created three-dimensionally and not merely be plot devices. Talents are wasted here. Danny Huston plays Poseidon, and I honestly can't remember him saying any lines in the film. If you wanted someone for a walk-on role, why not just hire an extra, and then cast the character properly in the sequel if has a larger role, you can't tell who he is anyway behind a beard.

The final major aspect that the script seriously affects is the editing. Now, the action sequences are very well edited, but I am talking about everything else around the action scenes. The script writes itself around the action scenes, and each scene around them comes across as padding, filler because action sequences aren't long enough to sustain a full film. Strangely enough, Clash Of The Titans is one of those films both too long and too short at the same time. This may not seem plausible, but believe me, it is. The film, does not have enough character development and depth, therefore on the surface level, it is too long. On the other hand, outside of the action sequences, every scene is expositional and non-incidental. Everything goes from point A to point B and so on and so forth. However, there is so much plot to deal with that realistically they could have filled a two-and-a-half hour movie. This is why the film is too short. I know, I'm throwing out the blame here, but it truly is the script that is at fault.

Clash Of The Titans is a double-edged sword of a film: the more you try to like it, the more you end up disliking it, and vice versa. By no means is it a terrible movie. There is some decent acting, particularly from Mads Mikkelsen, the special effects and production design are terrific, and Louis Leterrier is the right director for the project. However, the script is like a large stab wound in the body of the film. It affects the acting, the editing, the structure and every other aspect of the work. The most important aspect of a film is to have something to ground it, and Clash Of The Titans does not have enough grounding. It really has the potential to be so much more than it is, but it is condemned a mediocre film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Somewhere between a rock and a hard place

P.S. The ending really sucks too, trutha be told, if ya ken what eh mean!

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