Chris Eggertsen vs the Gods of ‘Clash of the Titans’

This past weekend Bloody Disgusting’s Chris Eggertsen attended the press conference for Warner Bros. Pictures’ Clash of the Titans, where the Gods of the forthcoming remake were on hand to talk about their epic fantasy that arrives in theaters next Friday (in both 2 and 3-D). So go forth and enjoy Chris’ “A Pessimist’s Guide to the Warner Bros. ‘Clash’ Remake, the 3-D Craze, and Bubo the Mechanical Owl!
It makes a difference…when you know it’s going to be exhibited in 3-D. The way you move your camera, the way you stage your people, and how you move around…so if you know that going in, it’s a great advantage. We didn’t on ‘Clash’. That decision was made long after we’d finished shooting.” – Richard Zanuck, Producer

It’s always a nightmare transcribing interviews and press conferences when the interviewees in question have foreign accents of any kind, so with Sam Worthington (he’s an Aussie, and don’t you forget it), Mads Mikkelsen (Danish), and Louis Leterrier (French) all occupying spots on the panel for the Clash of the Titans press conference on Sunday morning, I knew I was in for a rough ride. Doesn’t anyone hire American actors anymore? For the record, that’s not me being a xenophobe, just an expression of my own laziness.

The hardest accent to decipher (particularly on tape) was that of Sam Worthington (who plays Perseus in the film), now an in-demand leading man after the record-breaking success of Avatar. He entered the room with a definite swagger: lean and handsome, casual in an Iron Maiden t-shirt, with a boisterous demeanor that seemed to cry out: “I’m an Aussie, and I don’t play by anyone’s rules, mate! Ask me a fucking question, then, and let’s get on with it.”

Depending on who you talk to, Worthington’s off-the-cuff, cocky (confident?) personality comes off as either indelibly charming or incredibly grating; I’ll refrain from offering my opinion on the matter because I don’t want to be too quick to judge (at least not publicly).

Oh, screw it. Worthington dominated the conversation during his Q&A with actors Mads Mikkelsen (Draco) and Alexa Davalos (Andromeda), more than once cutting off his co-stars in mid-sentence (I have the audio to prove it) and aggressively broadcasting his larger-than-life personality as if afraid one of us would miss it (trust me, no one did). We get it, Sam; you’re a charmer, and you tell it like it is. You can dial it down now. If not, I can only imagine you transforming into a parody of yourself, kinda like that insufferable Italian comedian Roberto Benigni did back in the `90s. Listen, I liked Life is Beautiful just as much as the next person, but fuck me that guy was annoying.

In case you weren’t aware (i.e. you’ve been living in an underground chamber in northern Siberia somewhere for the last few months), April 2nd sees the release of Clash of the Titans, the remake of the 1981 cult classic which is an attempt by Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures to spawn a new action/adventure franchise. In the film Worthington plays Perseus, son of Zeus (a god) and Danae (a human), as a kind and noble young fisherman who lives modestly with his adoptive parents and younger sister on a boat. When the humans revolt against the gods, Hades sends up an enormous wave that kills Perseus’ family, and Perseus, wrestling with his noble origins, leads a mission to destroy Hades before he can unleash Hell on earth (in the form of a giant sea beast known as the Kraken) and take Zeus’ place as leader of the gods.

By now it’s pretty common knowledge that the remake, originally set for a March 26th release date in 2-D, was pushed back a week after the studio decided to do a 3-D conversion of the footage to take advantage of the success of Avatar and the 3-D craze in general. It was no surprise, then, that many of the questions directed at the filmmakers during the press conference addressed just that issue. Not surprisingly, they painted the studio’s money-hungry decision in an overwhelmingly positive light.

“It was two things, it was the success of `Avatar’ and a new technology called `View-D’ [that spurred Warner Bros. to convert the film to 3-D]“, said Leterrier. “Actually, `Avatar’ helped push it forward. It was the combination – the technology to convert 2-D to 3-D [View-D] had just arrived, and then `Avatar’ made it an obvious choice, of course, to do. And we were all skeptical. None of us, the filmmakers, were like, `Ok, yeah, let’s just do it! It’s gonna be great!’”

Funnily enough, back in January Leterrier was quoted by MTV News as saying there simply wouldn’t be enough time to do it in 3-D, although they’d “tried hard.” Clearly then, when it comes to making more money, trying hard just isn’t good enough: you’ve gotta make it happen, whether it’s creatively essential or not. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help when the movie was shot specifically for 2-D viewing, as producer Richard Zanuck will tell you: “It makes a difference…when you know it’s going to be exhibited in 3-D”, said the producer, who also worked on this year’s 3-D Alice in Wonderland (which was converted in post but shot with the knowledge it would be exhibited as a 3-D film). “The way you move your camera, the way you stage your people, and how you move around…so if you know that going in, it’s a great advantage. We didn’t on `Clash’. That decision was made long after we’d finished shooting.”

“There was not one frame of footage shot in consideration to make it 3-D”, chimed in producer Basil Iwanyk. “But when you see the movie, it looked like it was. I mean, there’s things coming at the camera, there’s the Kraken, there’s swords coming out, there’s witches…we already wrapped the movie and we’d pretty much locked the movie before we decided to go 3-D…[Warner Bros.] said this would be perfect for 3-D. It almost looked like we shot it for 3-D.”

To be fair, Titans is a big-budget action movie, and it’s loaded with larger-than-life mythological creatures, so the 3-D thing isn’t necessarily out of left-field. It’s just hard not to see it as a crass, cynical maneuver to boost box-office for the (estimated) $70 million film, and I, for one, am not buying into their propaganda. Here’s a typical quote from Iwanyk, responding to a question about the staying power of the current 3-D trend:

“I think [filmmakers will] embrace the idea for the enhanced experience. I don’t think you’re gonna have a lot of directors and a lot of actors wanting to be in a movie where it’s just them like, [reaches out his hand as if to illustrate it being in 3-D] `come over here!’ and reaching out. But I think it’s gonna add…just the way the screens are bigger, and the speakers are louder, and the stadium seating…it’s just gonna be a better experience in watching these big movies.”

In other words, bigger and louder is automatically better. Thank you, Michael Bay. See, contrary to the old adage, Hollywood has proven over and over again that you can, indeed, polish a turd. Unfortunately, just because you polish the fucker doesn’t mean it’ll smell any better. Namely, showing a shitty movie in 3-D doesn’t make it any less shitty. In fact, for those of us who aren’t automatically brainwashed by optical trickery, it makes the experience even more unbearable.

It’s not that I’m against 3-D – for a film like Avatar, where the 3-D experience felt organic, it can work very well. But in this case it’s obvious Warner Bros. is simply jumping on the bandwagon in an effort to make more dough. Sadly, if only the big studios would spend as much time and effort on making good films as opposed to focusing on cheap gimmicks, maybe they wouldn’t be so worried about losing theatrical audiences in the first place.

But I digress, as usual. Let’s get back to the important questions, shall we? Namely, just what about that wink-wink-nod-nod cameo by Bubo, the mechanical owl featured in the 1981 film? Screenwriter Phil Hays told us it was a simple homage to Ray Harryhausen, the celebrated stop-motion wizard who was responsible for creating the visual effects for the 1981 film:

“It was one of the very early thing[s] that Matt [Manfredi, Hays' co-screenwriter] and I thought, was like, `we have to put Bubo in here in some way.’”, said Hays. “[Not] just as a nod to the character, but just as a nod to our love of the movie and…of Harryhausen and all of his work…it would’ve seemed egregious in tone of the movie as it is to have this character on the entire journey. It wouldn’t have made any tonal sense. But we really thought it was important to get him in there.”

Speaking of tone, the panelists made sure to reiterate that this is a “fun” remake of the original film, although without the sense of hokiness on display in the 1981 version (as evidenced by their decision to scrap poor Bubo as a major character). “I think the biggest difference [is] probably tone”, said Iwanyk. “I think the first…if you look at the tone of the original movie, it’s a little bit earnest and serious. The other big difference I think is the intensity…look, the gods, I mean we want our gods to be…a lot more active and a bigger part of the story. And then…we wanted Perseus to be a lot more complicated, complex character.”

Which brings us back to Sam Worthington, our rabble-rouser chum from Down Unda! He addressed changes in his character from the 1981 version, including the fact that unlike in the original, Perseus doesn’t embrace the power of the gods but rather rebels against the idea of using it to defeat Hades. “I had an idea that [Perseus] shouldn’t just be a god”, Sam Worthington said. “In the original, he embraces the god’s gifts. And that’s kind of a great idea, that this man is half-man, half-god, and he embraces the god side. [But] I have a nine-year-old nephew, [and] that’s a terrible message to send to him. That he can only succeed as a god? That’s a terrible message for all of us. So I really hammered home hard, I said, `this guy wants to push that aside and just do it as a man.’ So then my nephew can go, `you look deep inside yourself and grab other men who are as fallible as you, and you can achieve anything.’ I thought that was a better direction to go with it.”

As for the action sequences, which I guess is what everyone really cares about in a movie like this, we’ll at least be spared the green-screen shenanigans of that other swords `n’ sandals chest-banger, 300. “This is a fun and epic movie, so the sets were fun and epic”, said Worthington. “And it’s not necessarily a history lesson…that’s [not] how we [looked] at it. It’s a fun ride, that’s what we kind of agreed on. That was the tone we wanted to take with it.”

Well, dig a hole and bury me, mate, it doesn’t get any better than that!

Sadly, fans of the first film can’t expect cameos from any of the original cast, as laid out by this quote from Leterrier: “I met a few of the original cast members and everything, but I didn’t wanna do it…not making it like an homage movie, we wanted to make this movie really our own movie and just wink at the Desmond Davies/Ray Harryhausen movie. But yeah, you know, in [co-writer Travis Beacham's] screenplay [before Hays and Manfredi came on board], Harry Hamlin was all over the place.”

Well, at least we have Bubo.