The calendar says spring, but Friday's release of "Clash of the Titans" might just as well be heralding in the summer movie season.
Popcorn movies don't come much bigger than this epic new adaptation of the 1981 film that boasted a youthful Harry Hamlin and the stop-motion animation effects of the master Ray Harryhausen.
Hunky Sam Worthington now steps into the sandals of Perseus, the reluctant demigod hero, and mythological creatures are brilliantly brought to life through the very best modern special effects and computer wizardry.
A magnificent Medusa, an awesome Pegasus (although curiously black), killer giant scorpions and a gargantuan Kraken sea creature are near perfection -- showstoppers to be sure. But these mythological marvels don't compensate for a film that starts off slow and never quite gets the pacing right. Directed by Louis Leterrier, who previously helmed the action films "Transporter 2," "Unleashed" and "The Incredible Hulk," "Titans" rushes when it should be patient and takes its time when we want to get to the good stuff.
The technology falters, however, when it comes to 3-D. The release of "Titans" was delayed so it could be "converted" into the trendy format. But don't worry about catching it on one of the few 3-D screens in the area. Seeing it in 3-D made me long to watch it in a standard version. The images weren't crisp and the action was hard to follow, especially in the frenetic battle scenes. The 3-D headache quickly came on and I noticed I wasn't the only one fiddling with my glasses to try and watch the film without them. (You couldn't -- the backgrounds were too blurry.)
Worthington, who is becoming a box office god in his own right thanks to the mega success in recent months of "Terminator: Salvation" and "Avatar," stars as the stoic fisherman Perseus who helplessly watches his mother, father and sister drown at the hands of Hades (a delicious Ralph Fiennes).
He's not impressed when he's told his real dad is the god Zeus (Liam Neeson). He refuses help from the gods, hellbent on vengeance against Hades, who is on a violent bender. Next up on his hit list: the kingdom of Aros, set for destruction in 10 days when Hades calls forth the Kraken, a beast so deadly even the gods fear it. ("The Kraken is the end of us.")
Learning of his powerful lineage, the people of Aros ask Perseus for his help but are rebuffed. "I can't save you, I'm just a man," Perseus says with quiet forcefulness. (He's quite stubborn about this man-god thing. "If I do this, I do it as a man," he likes to say.)
But there's that little matter of getting back at Hades. So when Perseus is told "kill the Kraken, weaken Hades and you will get your vengeance," it's game on. The fact that by doing this he would also save Aros is a bonus.
Perseus, looking very Marine-like with his brush cut, is joined by a small band of soldiers in guyliner and long, intricately braided hairstyles including Draco (Mads Mikkelsen) and Solon (Liam Cunningham). They are joined by the mysterious Io (Gemma Arterton), an ethereal beauty "cursed" with agelessness. First stop: the underworld, for guidance on killing the Kraken from the evil Stygian witches, three ancient, eyeless sisters who have one external eye they pass among themselves. They know that Medusa, a creature with living snakes for hair who, with one look, turns any living thing into stone, can do the same with the Kraken.
Across the river Styx, to the Isle of the Dead, the brave group meets Medusa. Slithering through the ruins and stone remainders of her victims, Medusa is a beguiling mixture of beauty and death and a marvel to watch.
From this point, "Titans" picks up the pace, though a bit fast at times. Medusa's deadly glance is instantaneous -- so fast that we feel nothing for the poor victims and, to be honest, we lose our perverse chance to see someone slowly turned into stone. The battle with the Kraken -- a magnificent creature once it's fully on screen -- ends too soon after such a long wait to see it.
The film also has a few other missed opportunities. Though Neeson and Fiennes are fun to watch as brothers Hades and Zeus, the other gods are only seen standing in the background; a waste when you've cast someone like Danny Huston as Poseidon.
Often in remakes, filmmakers will throw in a few tidbits as a reward for fans of the original. Though the mechanical owl Bubo makes a cameo, that's about it. The human chess game played by the gods was barely used and that magic helmet of invisibility (cheesy, yes, but nifty, too), never appears. (The 1981 original may be dated now and the effects may appear primitive, but it had a charm and innocence that computerized images lack.)
This "Clash of the Titans" is entertaining, but it's written in a way that has us more enamored with the gods and mythological creatures than the humans. That would greatly disappoint Perseus, the man.
"Clash of the Titans"
2 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton and Jason Flemyng star in big-budget reimaging of a tale about the Greek gods, mortals and otherworldy creatures including Pegasus and Medusa. Directed by Louis Leterrier. 110 minutes. Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief sensuality. Opens Friday in area theaters.