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Clash of the Titans

by on April 1, 2010
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Has it really been three decades since the original “Clash of the Titans,” featuring a mangled mash-up of Greek mythology, herky-jerky stop-motion animated monsters and a really bitchin’ Harry Hamlin feathered haircut?

The new “Clash” exists mostly to remind us how much things have changed.

The monsters are now sleek computer-generated beasties, snapping and slithering in all their 3-D glory. The gumbo of Greek legends has been remixed with the addition of wood-skinned sorcerers and some new humanistic themes.

And as Perseus, the half-man half-god hero, Sam Worthington’s no-frills buzzcut signals that this is one classical dude with a lot of post-modern ‘tude.

This remake is unnecessary but unobjectionable, and generally pretty fun. Fans of the original — who, like me, regard it with warm nostalgia while chuckling at its hokier aspects — will find themselves ticking off a checklist of what’s been retained, changed or dropped.

I was disappointed that Calibos, the half-demon villain from the original, has been relegated to a walk-on role. Although there’s still a nice touch of pathos to him.

And I didn’t like the reduced byplay between the Gods of Olympus. I really enjoyed the first film’s depiction of scheming, jealous super-beings conniving against each other, with mortals and their own demigod offspring used as chess pieces.

Liam Neeson gets in a few moments of thunder as Zeus, head god and Perseus’ father. And Ralph Fiennes shines as crafty Hades, dissolving into mist and turning a human queen into an ancient hag with a touch.

But the rest of the gods are relegated to mere eye candy. Danny Huston, as Poseidon, has about two lines of dialogue. The female gods don’t even get that.

At least the earthbound women got meatier roles. Andromeda (Alexa Davalos), the princess of the god-offending city of Argos, is prepared to sacrifice herself if Hades releases the Kraken, a powerful sea titan, as revenge for their arrogance. And Io (Gemma Arterton), an ageless demigod herself, takes on the role of Perseus’ protector and companion.

Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi deliver a lean, mean script that focuses on the thrill of individual encounters without an ounce of dilly-dally in between. Perseus and a band of Argos’ best warriors are sent to find the Stygian Witches — frightful triplets sharing a single eye — to learn if the Kraken can be defeated.

Instead of being the anointed, favored son of the gods, in this version Perseus is a poor fisherman resentful of the big boys’ meddling in their workaday lives. He even refuses the gift of a magic sword from Zeus because he wants to win as a man, not a god.

(Although I couldn’t help noticing he starts accepting these supernatural advantages … but only after his cadre of comrades has been significantly reduced in headcount, and his own neck is on the line.)

Director Louis Leterrier keeps things moving along at a brisk pace that prevents the audience from dwelling on any incongruent new elements. Like Perseus’ djinn companion, who looks like a cross between the “Lord of the Rings” ents and the Tusken Raiders of “Star Wars.” Or that the Greek team also includes, for some reason, a pair of Russian hunters. I think someone took a wrong turn at the Caucasus.

One throwaway joke neatly sums up this entire movie. As Perseus and his crew are arming themselves for their journey, he reaches into a pile of equipment and pulls out a certain golden mechanical owl and asks what it is. The gruff captain (Mads Mikkelsen) tells him to leave it behind.

Younger audience members will be bewildered, but fans of the 1981 film will feel their hearts freeze: “Not that frackin’ owl!!” Fortunately, the new “Clash of the Titans” has retained enough of the stuff that made the original memorable, and left the goofier ordnance back in the nostalgia bin.

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