These days, it seems that whenever someone in Hollywood decides to remake a classic movie (like, you know, The Hitcher or Rollerball), it can’t be called a remake. It has to be a ”reimagining” that renders the new version a totally different animal. If ever there was a movie that cried out for a reimagining, it’s Clash of the Titans, the 1981 gods-and-monsters spectacle of mythological B-movie kitsch. It had a slapped-together story line (think The Odyssey meets Hercules vs. the Moloch) that turned the denizens of Mount Olympus into ersatz Star Wars elders; shameless paycheck acting from the ancient Laurence Olivier; a leading man (Harry Hamlin) who was all hunk and no talent; and special effects by the ’60s stop-motion wizard Ray Harryhausen that — well, to call them primitive would be kind, though the herky-jerky invention of Harryhausen’s creations did lend the movie a quaintly entertaining magic-shop charm.
Thirty years later, I recall Clash of the Titans with a certain trashy fondness. I did assume, however, that the creators of the new version would throw out everything but the generic antiquity setting and Medusa. But no! Bravely, they have not reimagined Clash of the Titans — they have remade it, with 3-D added after the movie was filmed (translation: There isn’t a single good ”Wow!” of a 3-D shot in the entire picture). It’s not just the story, in all its Olympian garishness, that’s more or less the same. The special effects, while mostly digital, have been intentionally crafted to conjure some of that old-school analog delight. At one point, a tribe of scorpions emerges from the desert, and you can swear that the close-ups of their spindly limbs are giant scale models. It’s a sweet retro touch. The new Clash isn’t a cynical rehash. It has the flavor of a certain pre-CGI innocence.
If only it had a zestier hero! Perseus, played by Avatar’s Sam Worthington, is a Hercules/Christ figure, a half-man/half-god (unbeknownst to him, he’s the son of Zeus) who leads a tribe of soldiers in revolt against the gods. To do so, he must seize the greatness within himself, but Worthington shows less personality than Harry Hamlin did. He looks smashing in his Russell Crowe gladiator haircut, but unlike Crowe, he’s volatile without any gravitas. When he has to show fury, it’s token ”fury” — fiery resolve on antidepressants. He’s like a handsome statue that’s still coming to life.
As Zeus, Liam Neeson twinkles where Laurence Olivier kvetched, and Ralph Fiennes, as Zeus’ dark brother Hades (who has egged on the revolt to challenge Zeus), has a slinky nastiness. In a movie like Clash of the Titans — a trash-compacted mash-up of other, better movies — about all you can really do is sit back, enjoy the expert hamming of pros like these, and wait for the cheeseball F/X wonder. Medusa, with her angry snake tresses, is still a thriller, and the Kraken, the supersize creature unleashed at the film’s climax, conjures a bit of that old tacky matinee-movie awe. He may not be a reimagining of anything, but he’ll do. B-