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Published: Thursday, 4/1/2010

Movie review: Clash of the Titans **1/2

Sam Worthington in 'Clash of the Titans' Sam Worthington in 'Clash of the Titans'

The original Clash of the Titans is hardly a great movie. The script, acting, and most of the effects in the 1981 Greek mythology epic are B-movie level at best. But what the film lacked in polish, it compensated for with an engaging sense of fun.

Nearly three decades later, Hollywood returns to the Greek mythology story with a remake of Titans, this time featuring a better script, better acting, and significantly better special effects.

Oddly enough, the movie isn't nearly as much fun.

It certainly isn't because of the story, which follows a similar path as the original. The film's hero is Perseus (Sam Worthington), the illegitimate son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), ruler of the gods on Mount Olympus, and a mortal queen.

Their one-time union enrages the queen's husband, King Acrisius. He places his wife and Perseus in a coffin and casts it into the sea for them to drown. The queens dies, but Perseus, being a demigod, lives and is rescued by a kindly fisherman.

As he grows up, Perseus becomes increasingly angry with the gods. And after his family is murdered by Hades (Ralph Fiennes), lord of the underworld, he wants revenge.

The opportunity comes when Hades announces the gods' intention to destroy the seafaring city of Argos by releasing the titan Kraken from the ocean depths. Zeus and the other gods on Mount Olympus no longer have patience for human insolence.

To save the city, Perseus agrees to mount a dangerous mission to defeat the Kraken, a Godzilla-sized beast so powerful that even the gods fear it. And to do that, Perseus must confront the hideous Medusa, whose snake-coiled hair and illuminating gaze turns men into stone.

But it's not just the Kraken Perseus must beat. Hades is plotting a Mount Olympus coup to dethrone his brother Zeus, and then to release hell on earth.

Despite a mythological setting, Clash of the Titans is plagued by a serious tone that overwhelms the fantasy and much of the fun.

Pin the blame on the film's director, Louis Leterrier, who struggled with the same lack-of-fun issue with The Incredible Hulk. Maybe it's the wilting pressure of helming big-budget films - especially after his Hulk reboot underperformed - but Leterrier never lets up with the doom, even during the big action scenes. Perhaps someone should remind him that no one is going to see Clash of the Titans for the drama. Save the angst for a gritty indie thriller.

Worthington, who stole scenes in Terminator Salvation from Christian Bale, and followed up that performance with a star-making turn in Avatar, continues to build a name and reputation for himself as a great action hero.

He's got all the physical tools: the presence and the chiseled looks. Just as importantly, he can act, though such a talent isn't a requirement in this big-budget film. If nothing else, Worthington makes for a much more believable demigod than Harry Hamlin, who played the role of Perseus in the original Clash of the Titans.

And Neeson, for his part, appears to be having a much better time in the role of Zeus than his 1981 counterpart, Laurence Olivier.

Casting Fiennes as the villainous Hades would have been a smart choice, were it not for the fact that we've seen much of this performance already in the Harry Potter films. Close your eyes when Hades whispers and you hear the evil Voldemort, also played by Fiennes.

Still, given that everyone involved in the 3-D film knows why Titans will do big box office numbers, it is odd just how long it takes for the mythological creatures to appear.

The movie is too long at nearly two hours and at least 15 minutes of story set up and minor character development (or what passes for it) could be axed to tighten the movie.

And even when the film's expensive CGI kick into high gear, there's something missing on screen. The computer effects, while light years ahead of the stop-motion work by Ray Harryhausen and crew from the 1981 version, never really draw you into the film.

The Medusa battle, for example, was the high point of the original film, and holds up well today, jerky animation and all. The 2010 CGI version, though, while beautiful, is flat by comparison; it lacks the epic feel and tension of the 1981 edition.

Even the movie's 3-D treatment doesn't do much to help you lose yourself in the fantasy. So, save your money, and don't spend the extra $3 or so for the 3-D upcharge; there's nothing special about it.

Kind of like the movie.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.

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