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Fun junk

Movies | A silly Titans could use more of Neeson and Fiennes hamming it up

Issue: "Profiles in effective compassion," April 24, 2010

Clash of the Titans is a horse of a different feather. Analyzing it for religious themes is a little like trying to poach a Cadbury egg-you can do it; it just won't turn out right.

Mostly, Clash is fun junk. Like the original, it follows the adventures of a young demigod named Perseus (Sam Worthington) who has to save the city of Argos by undergoing trials culled from at least three different mythic traditions and tossed into a blender. Controlling and cheating at the various tests are the gods of Olympus, ruled by Perseus' dad Zeus (Liam Neeson), whose evil brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) is secretly plotting against him. Mostly, it's all an excuse for monsters to try to eat each other-the movie is PG-13 mostly for monsters and some mild olden days ribaldry.

Louis Leterrier is the director, nominally, but the movie really belongs to the slumming British actors and the giant computer-generated scorpions that try to kill our heroes through the movie's best action sequence. The screenplay, if that's the word, is credited to three different writers, all of whom should be heartily ashamed of themselves.

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Don't bother to see this one in 3D, by the way-it was filmed in 2D and converted into the more expensive format, so it's not nearly as visually impressive as, say, How to Train Your Dragon with the new technology.

The idea for the original Clash of the Titans-a great 1981 schlockfest with incredible special effects by stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen-was to put the cream of British drama into the world's silliest movie. That formula has been repeated here: Instead of Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, and Claire Bloom, we get Neeson and Fiennes hamming it up as warring deities, and both are so much fun to watch that it's sort of a shame we have to spend most of our time following Perseus.

Occasionally, the movie tries to express its own religious perspective, and this is where Clash of the Titans really falls on its face. One minor character, a priest, starts a death cult in the doomed city, reasoning that Hades is planning to destroy Argos unless they sacrifice their princess, so Hades must be the go-to guy for prayer requests. "We must pray to the one who showed us our sin and offered us redemption through blood!" he bellows, frothing. Yikes. More scorpions, please.

At the same time, Leterrier and the writers seem to be trying to make a Christ figure out of Perseus, but the result looks like St. Batman. "I'll do this as a man!" Perseus snarls repeatedly, even though he's been told that he'll die if he does. But eventually he takes up his enchanted sword, gets on his flying horse, teams up with the best god he can find (Zeus), and lays the smack down on Hades and his outsized squid monster, the Kraken.

At the end, Perseus and Zeus kick back and reminisce about their victory, and Zeus gives us his rationale for all the magical aid he's given his son: "I wanted mankind to worship me again," he confesses, "but I didn't want it to cost me a son." See, that's your problem right there. My God can totally beat up your god.

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