Clash of the Titans, Or, A Defense of Hades and the Exposition Delivery System

I don’t want to get into the habit of posting movie reviews on LL because that’s not what the site is for, but seeing as I’m directing a Greek play this summer, have already written about Avatar, and have an obsession with Ancient Greek hair, I feel the need to speak up about the remake of Clash of the Titans. (As is to be expected, minor spoilers to follow for both versions of Clash of the Titans.)

The original Clash of the Titans was part of my geek upbringing. I first saw it at a friend’s house and I borrowed and re-borrowed it from the library shortly after. It’s one of the pictures that made me love action adventure movies, that made me proud of my sometimes cheesy tastes. Yes it was an action-adventure movie utilizing the special effects techniques of Ray Harryhausen, but it also sports performances by Maggie Smith (before she was both Dame and our favorite Hogwarts professor) Sir Laurence Olivier (as a magnetic and mercurial Zeus) and an often shirtless (pre-L.A. Law) Harry Hamlin.

Is it just me or does his hair actually kind of pass for Greek compared with Sam Worthington's buzz cut?

Also, one of the main characters is a poet/playwright, so it gets double points with me. It’s also got some pretty phenomenal filmmaking in terms of building tension and excitement.

So I was really sort of upset when the new Clash of the Titans definitely wasn’t that. It was a fast-moving action film, but nothing really added up to anything. There was a lot of fear for Perseus’ life built up, but it was mostly because anyone and everyone around him could (and often does) die.

I have a few major issues with the new remake, and they are these:

1) The original Clash of the Titans has larger roles for women, especially in terms of the roles of the goddesses, led by Maggie Smith’s Thetis. They discuss Zeus’ penchant for seducing women who aren’t his wife and Thetis says that he once tried to get her while in the form of a cuttlefish. Hera grows very severe and says, “And did he succeed?” “Certainly not,” Thetis replies. “I beat him at his own game, you see. I turned into a shark.” It is funny, imaginative moments like this one where the 1981 Clash of the Titans really shines. The remake sometimes remakes sequences shot for shot, but the themes of the original are not in place and haven’t been replaced by anything.

The most outspoken woman in the new Clash of the Titans is Cassiopeia, the queen of Argos, who says that her daughter Andromeda is more beautiful than Aphrodite, causing Hades to punish her with old age. After Cassiopeia is Io (who, seems to have apparently not been turned into a heifer by Zeus so he could hide his affair with her. She refused the advances of an unnamed immortal and was “cursed with agelessness.”) Io is reduced to an exposition delivery system, telling Perseus the weaknesses and strengths of every monster he has to fight and about his own past.

Yes, the original Clash has a helpless Princess plot in the beginning, but Andromeda’s got a little bit of spunk in terms of how she reacts to her suitors (Think Portia in The Merchant of Venice.) and how she opts to accompany her fiance into dangerous territory in search of cannibals. Also, in the original, Cassiopeia rules over a whole city. By herself. Given, she still suffers from that common Greek sin of pride and nearly gets her daughter sacrificed, but that’s a problem male and female mythological rulers have.

2) The remake abandons the Thetis revenge plot for the Disney approach, reducing the moral code to Zeus = a loving god and Hades, his brother = an evil, scheming, slinking pale figure who would match rather rule on Olympus than be down in the Underworld.

That kind of Judeo-Christian binary thinking (if there is one powerful God, the villain must be the devil) is acceptable for Disney but absolutely ridiculous in an adult film, precisely because it was already done in Disney, aside from the fact that it is in no way mythologically accurate. In most versions of common Greek myths, Hades (who is different from Thanatos, Death himself) is one of the most well-adjusted gods. Yes, he abducts a girl but Zeus does that all the time, and Hades actually courts Persephone down below, making her his co-ruler, powerful enough to sway his opinion in other stories.

Stories like that of Alcestis (the play of which I’m directing this summer), almost suggest that in Ancient Greek culture, death, even when it is untimely, is ultimately a natural, good thing, a fact of life. Hades often offers to help free people from the Underworld and they themselves usually screw it up. Much like Death himself, Hades bears no ill will towards any one really. He just does his job and maintains his marriage with Persephone, which has to be long distance sometimes due to her mother’s clingy-ness.

The original Clash of the Titans allows for a lot of complexity in that Thetis is a primary villain, but Zeus isn’t exactly a good guy either. He’s manipulative and controlling, a womanizer and a tyrant. Instead the modern screenwriters opted for a more simplistic and ethnocentric approach.

Overall, I’m really upset that one of my favorite genres is being given a disservice this way. Do yourself a favor and rent the original, rather than shell out the $17.50 (in NYC) for full admission and glasses.

Oh, and, by the way, I’ve got a formspring now. So if you have a question (or a comment that can be phrased as a question in typical cross-examination fashion) that you want to ask anonymously or otherwise, feel free to hit me up at http://www.formspring.me/LillianLemoning.

Until next time, Lemoners, may your stop motion animation always be fierce and your goddesses vengeful.

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2 thoughts on “Clash of the Titans, Or, A Defense of Hades and the Exposition Delivery System

  1. Yes, yes, yes, agreed agreed AGREED. What a terrible movie.

    The one point I would argue is that Zeus doesn’t come off real well in the remake, either. He’s a terrible father.

    I’m doing my own post and will link to this. 😀

  2. Pingback: I Titanomachia « Anthea se Athina

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