Clash of the Titans -- Film Review

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After an awkward half-hour or so as it struggles toward a visual style to represent the world of Greek mythology, "Clash of the Titans" kicks into action with a battle between human warriors and a giant scorpion. Then it's off to the races as our hero, Perseus ("Avatar's" Sam Worthington), must vanquish increasingly lethal monsters in a quest to rid humankind of the cruel and mettlesome gods who would rule man for all eternity.

Solid teamwork by a host of digital animators, special effects personnel, art directors, hair, makeup and prosthetic designers and game and athletic actors make "Clash" a popcorn movie that reaches back to the fantasy epics of old and forward into the digital future, where the word "unimaginable" no longer exists.

Warner Bros. should reap a worldwide whirlwind of boxoffice lucre with this fanciful adventure. The major drawback, especially now, when 3D is all the rage, is its feeble effort in that department. Added as an afterthought in postproduction, the 3D barely registers. Few moviegoers will think it's worth the extra bucks.

It's a pity the idea didn't occur in preproduction, as the opportunities for real 3D excitement exist in virtually every frame. The film's mythological world has rugged scenery -- shot in Tenerife (a resort island off the coast of Africa), Wales and Ethiopia -- and otherworldly battles between men and beasts that fill the screen with a mosaic of unbridled action.

Perseus' dilemma, unknown to him until the action begins, is that he is the mortal son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), king of the gods. Raised by humans, he insists he belongs with them, but he will need godlike powers to rescue humanity in a dual clash between gods and men and between Zeus and his vengeful brother, Hades (Ralph Fiennes), god of the underworld.

The story sends Perseus on a quest to save Argos, the cradle of civilization, and Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos), whose sacrifice might quell the wrath of the gods, angered by the independence the humans, which they created, exhibit toward their masters.

Escorted by a small fighting force lead by Draco (Mads Mikkelsen), Perseus must travel and confront a king-turned-hideous slayer (Jason Flemyng), the rampaging scorpion, the half-human, half-snake Medusa and finally the most feared monster of all, the Kraken.

It's certainly not easy being a demi-god. At least by his side he has a spiritual guide and guardian angel, Io (Gemma Arterton), who looks like she'd make a hot date if things ever settled down.

The film is least successful translating Mount Olympus and the council of the gods to the screen. It looks more like something one might encounter in Las Vegas with its fake Greek pillars and campy atmosphere. Indeed, Neeson's Zeus is outfitted in gleaming armor that shines worse than one of Liberace's jackets.

When Zeus -- or for that matter any character, man or god -- lands on earth, things are more photorealistic, so the camp factor diminishes. The digital creations are marvels, and French-born director Louis Leterrier ("The Incredible Hulk") pulls all the visual elements together in creating a dark though credible mythological world.

The original "Clash of the Titans" (1981) was a last hurrah for Ray Harryhausen, the stop-motion king of such 1950s, '60s and '70s movie extravaganzas as "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad," "Jason and the Argonauts" and "One Million Years B.C." Sadly, his preeminence in stop-motion animation and creation of wondrous monsters was by then eclipsed by filmmakers who had fallen under his thrall as youngsters, most notably George Lucas, whose "Star Wars" films made Harryhausen's special effects and grainy matte plates look outdated.

Although he paid a kind of homage in "Clash" to the new visual masters by inserting a mechanical owl that replicated the role of R2-D2, Harryhausen never made another feature. All this is briefly referenced in the new "Clash" with a winking line that occurs when the warriors are packing for their journey. A soldier pulls out a mechanical owl and asks what to do with it. "Leave it behind," he is told. Indeed, the Harryhausen world of movie magic has been left behind long ago by today's remarkable digital artists.

Opens: Friday, April 2 (Warner Bros.)
Production: Warner Bros. Pictures presents in association with Legendary Pictures a Thunder Road Film/Zanuck Co. production
Cast: Sam Worthington, Gemma Arterton, Mads Mikkelsen, Alexa Davalos, Jason Flemyng, Ralph Fiennes, Liam Neeson
Director: Louis Leterrier
Screenwriter: Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Kevin De La Noy
Executive producers: Richard D. Zanuck, Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, William Fay
Director of photography: Peter Menzies Jr.
Production designer: Martin Laing
Music: Ramin Djawadi
Costume designer: Lindy Hemming
Special effects supervisor: Nick Davis
Special effects/animatronics supervisor: Neil Corbould
Editors: Martin Walsh, Vincent Tabaillon
Rated PG-13, 106 minutes