Monday, August 11, 2014

The Clash of the Perseids (2010): Percy Jackson v. Clash of the Titans, part I

My nifty new — and free for this entire semester (Thanks, OUP!) — Netflix subscription has allowed me to see a number of films I haven’t otherwise seen. This oversight is mostly due to the fact that I am too cheap to pay full price for cinema. But, Netflix has recently brought me on back-to-back nights the Percy Jackson Lightning Thief and the same year’s reride of The Clash of the Titans (2010). This post will deal with the latter, and next week I’ll write about Percy.

My stance on mythological usage has me scratching my head about Louis Letterrier’s film, based on a screenplay by Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, and Matt Manfredi. A handful of overt allusions to the 1981 Clash tend to classicize the predecessor. In fact, Beverley Cross' 1981 screenplay gets credited at IMDB. From the 1981 I thought Bubo had died a quaint mechanical death; but he’s back for a moment. The DVD’s frontmatter features the 1981 theatrical trailer, but it also includes an elaborate advert for the related video game. Casting Flora Robson to reprise her role as one of the Stygian Witches (i.e. the Graeae) for the remake is an amusing nod in homage.

In 2010, when the film’s ramp-up began, I watched the first trailer offered me, because I wanted to see whether the infamous Kraken would once again be released. To my chagrin, it was. To the redoubtable Liam Neeson befalls the odious burden of that fated line, “Release the Kraken.” … What is about this film that it compels directors to drag first Sir Laurence Olivier and now another Oscared actor to their shared post-prime nadir? However it works, the Kraken rides again. He’s back, and this time he’s really angry.

The screenplay committee has woven some fascinating novelties into the new script, though. I have no recollection of religious fanaticism running thematically through the 1981 film. The 21st Century gets to consider the effects of societal hubris, but it must be sure to steer clear of the mob’s inclination to fervor. The mob wants to see Andromeda dangle like bait for the dreaded Kraken. For Cassiopeia’s arrogance has provoked divine wrath. “[Andromeda is] more beautiful than Aphrodite herself. The Olympians should envy her. We are the gods now,” she boasts. But a satanic Hades arrives, as Maleficent in her fiery fury, to correct Cassiopeia’s course. For he causes the instantaneous aging and ugly death of Cassiopeia, who mere moments before was as lovely as Polly Walker.

This divine war against Olympus has been waged for years by the haughty Cepheus and his queen. The film begins with the accidental death of Perseus’ adoptive family, who find themselves at the precisely wrong spot of coastline when Cepheus’ henchmen are toppling a colossal votive of Zeus into the sea. Who knew that Cepheus was in on this too? My whole life it has seemed to be Cassiopeia’s arrogance alone that provoked the gods. In this new film, the king too is complicit for pilaging temples, toppling statues, starving the Olympians of the sacrifices they live on, and plotting a war to rival the Titanomachy.

When classical mythographers considered a cranky Olympus, they had Zeus wipe out mankind by sending the Great Flood, ending the generations of wickedness and causing earthlings to begin anew with Deucalion and Pyrrha. The now classic (?) Clash of the Titans (1981) presented Perseus as the savior of Joppa and by extension all mankind. At least this writing team is smart enough to put Perseus in Argos, even if the comic-book CGI sea-side landscape is not even remotely like unto Peloponessian Argos. The new Clash adds the peculiar twist that the Argives really do not deserve salvation. The mob is despicable; the monarchy also. But moreover, Perseus expresses no desire to remain with Andromeda in Argos and become the Argive king who sorts it out. Maybe the generation raised on Marvel needs its superhero to remain aloof at the end of his quest.

Hades, classically speaking, is not satanic. King of the Underworld though he may be, Greeks did not see him as a tempter. Indeed, LDS audiences might find the most fascinating vignette of this film to be the discussion on Olympus in which Hades (Ralph Fiennes) discusses with Zeus (Neeson) the desirability to compel mortals to worship the gods. Zeus’ inclination to allow men to choose for themselves resonates in an interesting way.

Io. Here she is not a cow. Rather, Io is an intriguing divine presence who inspires and prods the Letterrier Perseus toward his destined potential. Her perspective sees Danaë’s impregnation altogether differently than the classical versions. For my money, the reworking of Io is far and away the most interesting feature of this new film. From her initially unidentified narrative introduction — she explains the Titanomachy, the conception of the Kraken, the tyranny of Zeus (as if she knew her Aeschylus) — to the final coaching of Perseus, the daughter of Inachus is worth examining in small detail. She of all mortals knows best the lumps that come from contact with the King of Gods and Men.

How about those Titans, though? Did it bother anybody but me that the 1981 Clash included no Titans? That film’s plot was a clash of the Olympians. A bitter Calibos urges his mother, Thetis (… huh?), to right his wrong by releasing the Kraken. Olympians Zeus and Poseidon also control this mythical monstrosity. But where are the Titans? Send in the Titans! So, when this new generation’s remake is equally bereft of the Overreachers, though the Stygians do celebrate a catastrophic pitting of “A Titan against a Titan!”

Did I mention the stunning Pegasus footage throughout? It’s pretty cool. Had the 2010 Perseus zipped about on borrowed talaria, the CGI team would have had much less to do. So, let’s overlook the filmmakers’ impulse to have Perseus mount Belerophon’s steed.

So, in summary: purists might sneer down their long noses at the 2010 Clash for its lack of mythological fidelity. I might even admit the occasional inclination to that myself. But the religious fervor and especially the remarkable insertion of Io, to the extermination of Athena, make this film worth considering on deeper levels.