Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
May 2010

Oh, I'll release the Kraken, all right . . .

'Clash of the Titans' isn't much on drama or entertainment, but at least it gave us something to laugh about

Clash of the Titans
Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Louis Leterrier
Screenplay: Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, based on a 1981 screenplay by Beverley Cross
Starring: Sam Worthington, Gemma Arterton, Mads Mikkelsen, Liam Cunningham, Alexa Davalos, Jason Flemyng, Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 46 minutes
(out of four)

It can't be a particularly good sign when your only significant contribution to popular culture is the birth of a new Internet meme. Just ask Rick Astley. But such is the case with the Clash of the Titans remake, which gave us "Release the Kraken!" and, honestly, not much else.

Instantly, "Release the Kraken!," and variations thereof, became our new favorite catchphrase - appealing not only due to Liam Neeson's hilarious delivery of the line, but for its sheer versatility. Releasing the Kraken can refer to just about anything, with varying levels of hilarity. Though I can say from experience that, naturally, it is best applied as a number of different sexual euphemisms.

But I digress. I only got caught up with all that Kraken talk because it's the most interesting thing to say about this movie. It is another movie seemingly made only because, well, the studio had the property, so what the heck? The hiring of a director like Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2, The Incredible Hulk), bringing his typical lifelessness to the screen, didn't help matters. Nor did the cynical decision to rush out a 3D post-conversion a few weeks before the film's release, just so the studio heads could get in on the increasingly irritating (and useless) 3D fad.

Of all the people involved in this thing, you know who I blame the least? The art department. The saving grace of Clash of the Titans is that there were some wonderful creative choices in the production design - the map-like view of Earth from the gods' perch on Mount Olympus, the mummy-like design of the ferryman on the River Styx, the splashes of deep reds and blacks to break up the dusty, brown-gold monochrome. Are the visual elements impeccable? No, but some, at least, are impressive enough that you at least know the filmmakers had something to work with.

Unfortunately, the ability to create drama out of this stuff is beyond Leterrier's capabilities. Going in, he and his writers had two choices - play it cheeseball, or play it somber and serious. They chose the latter. And when they say "somber and serious," they mean that 98 percent of the cast must be scowling at all times. No scowl, no close-up. (Snarling? Even better.)

And so, in contrast to the cheesiness of the 1981 original, this Clash became an ultra-serious tale about, uh, humans somehow deluding themselves into thinking they can kill gods. Because that's a recipe for a story we can take seriously. Please, fellas, don't bother to crack a smile or anything.

There's a great myth about action dramas that they're inherently exciting so long as they keep things moving, keep stuff happening. Not true. Movies loaded with action but without a clue how to present or dramatize that action (or even understand the purpose of it) are not exciting. Even worse, they're not interesting. Michael Bay's Transformers movies, to me, make for some of the most boring cinema imaginable.

Leterrier's Clash of the Titans isn't quite that dull, but it certainly lacks the energy and imagination of a strong action director - Tarantino, Jackson, Cuaron, Nolan, Bird, del Toro, Cameron, Greengrass, Spielberg, Abrams, Mann, etc.

He doesn't get much out of his actors, either. Sam Worthington has quickly established himself as a legitimate action star after his impressive performance in Terminator Salvation (best thing about the movie despite a horribly written character) and his starring role in the biggest box-office smash of all-time. But as the demigod Perseus, he has little to do but growl cliches and look stoic in the face of danger.

As Zeus and Hades, respectively, Neeson and Ralph Fiennes - hey, what a fun Schindler's List reunion! - are reduced to one-note caricatures. As Perseus' ageless romantic interest, Io, Gemma Arterton is a monotonous drone. Is it too much to ask for a little sexual tension?

And then there's the subplot involving Andromeda (Alexa Davalos), who Hades promises can be sacrificed to appease the gods and avoid the pending destruction of the kingdom of Argos. This subplot fills screen time, but accomplishes absolutely nothing as a story unto itself. The film is too busy showing us its special effects and its scowling Titans to concern itself with the "little extras" like moral conflict.

One thing that astounds me is the pomposity and self-seriousness of so many action movies these days. Can we get a little levity, please? This is particularly true of recent wannabe Greek "epics." Consider the complete and utter lack of wit or self-awareness in Troy and 300 (miserable films both). And now this, which fails to realize any of the potential fun - goofy or otherwise - that the story could offer. And so, by the time Zeus finally does release that Kraken of his, well, we'd rather he just put it away.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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