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It’s big, it’s expensive, it’s loaded with CGI effects, and it tries to cash in on the current 3D craze. But, even with its all-star lineup of mythological gods, Clash of the Titans is lacking something no amount of money can buy: Soul.

The Gods Must Be Crazy

Zeus (Neeson) dons his soft-focus Studio 54 getup
Zeus (Neeson) dons his soft-focus Studio 54 getup

Don’t be fooled. The original Clash of the Titans wasn’t received as an instant classic. Rent the Blu-ray and savor the cheese and some really shoddy special effects. Granted, it’s good cheese, the kind that knows its place on the kitchen table.

Some of the cheese was stale on delivery, such as an effects shot of a bird flying up to Mount Olympus. It looks terrible now. But it also looked terrible back in 1981. At the time, Clash of the Titans was little more than an also-ran during a summer when all the hype surrounded Superman II as the supposed Big Event movie. It was the same summer Indiana Jones surprised everybody and ran away with the box office crown in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Flawed most certainly, what that original movie overflowed with, though, was pure imagination. It was a swan song for Ray Harryhausen’s now all-but-forgotten art of stop-motion special effects. And it mixed some of the biggest names in the mythological heavens (Zeus, Athena, Medusa, Pegasus) with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood (Laurence Olivier, Burgess Meredith, Ursula Andress, and an upstart Harry Hamlin).

The original Clash of the Titans is a movie that’s looked on fondly now, in large part because of its innocence (PG-rated nudity aside) and earnestness. It’s hard to say the same will happen to this new version come 2039.

The Gods Must Be Crazy Part II

It seems the modus operandi of this production, directed by Louis Leterrier ( The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton), is to take the original’s novel ideas and jigger them beyond all reason. The story, at its core, is the same. Perseus goes on a quest to slay Medusa and, in turn, use her head to slay the Kraken before it destroys the city of Argos to satiate Zeus’ vengeance.

It’s the getting there that’s different and one of the most egregious examples of muddling involves the underlying theme, which no longer focuses the gods as playing with humans like the toys we really are and dealing with the internal (and eternal) politics of being a god. Instead, it’s changed up with some men declaring war against the gods.

Good luck with that.

And Zeus. Heavens! At first Zeus is absolutely clueless that Perseus is his own demigod son. The fact that it’s the usually excellent Liam Neeson ( Batman Begins) standing there looking like Jor-El in Superman: The Movie, decked out in a shiny, blinding Studio 54 getup, makes it all the more painful.

As for Perseus, he’s portrayed by Hollywood’s current “It Man,” the charmless, passionless Sam Worthington ( Avatar), who comes up short — well short — of the dynamic acting range required of a demigod. He might be trying to channel Maximus Decimus Meridius, but he’s no Russell Crowe.

As if that’s not bad enough, other revisions are just as asinine. Pegasus is now a black stallion with wings and Calibos, the man-satyr-beast-thing in the original, looks like nothing more than a low-budget Klingon on a bad hair day.

This new version has many faults (leaden pacing and incoherence among them), but the biggest is a complete lack of imagination, which in turn has led to a complete lack of movie magic and a complete lack of romance. The latter figured prominently in the original, but this time Andromeda (Alexa Davalos, Defiance) seems completely baffled by the change in her role. The love interest — such as it is now — is Io, played with a cold and detached demeanor, like just about everybody else in this movie, by Gemma Arterton ( Quantum of Solace).

If God Will Send His Angels

There was a big brouhaha between Warner Bros. and Paramount over 3D screens, given How to Train Your Dragon was scheduled to open the same day as Clash of the Titans before the latter blinked and pushed its release back a week to accommodate, at least in part, 3D-upconverting. Artistically, Dragon ‘s the clear winner, offering a genuinely worthwhile 3D experience, as does Alice in Wonderland, the overwhelming success of which has further pinched the availability of 3D screens.

The 3D in Clash of the Titans is extremely disappointing, to the point of earning a serious “steer clear” recommendation. It’s simply not worth the extra cash to see this production, shot in standard 2D, processed into 3D as a shameless after-thought to cash in on 3D mania. Heck, even Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone had more impressive 3D effects.

Seriously. It’s such a travesty, even shots that clearly should have a 3D impact, such as a coin being tossed out into Charon’s path, simply do not have enough depth to generate a truly 3D sensation.

Now that Perseus has — undeservingly — fought his way onto 3D screens, the next battle will be for box office bucks. It’s not giving away a thing to say the movie ends with the door wide open for a sequel; director Leterrier is already chirping about a possible trilogy.

If that comes to pass, the gods really must be truly, madly crazy.