If you're casting about, looking to remake one of Ray Harryhausen's beloved stop-motion masterpieces but unsure of where to begin, it makes a slanted sort of sense to kick things off with everyone's least favorite of his 15-plus forays into "the land beyond beyond." And that, of course, would be 1981's fondly recalled - and frankly stodgy - Clash of the Titans.
Directed, ploddingly, by Desmond Davis and featuring a raft of international thespians essaying the roles of the major Greek deities, the film remains most (in)famous for the presence of L.A. Law's Harry Hamlin, woefully miscast as the hero Perseus, half-human demigod son of Zeus, who must battle the gods to save the seaside metropolis of Joppa and win the hand of the Princess Andromeda. Frankly, it's a silly, ill-conceived, kiddie-film mess, with even the great animator Harryhausen coming up short nearly everywhere (although his serpentine Medusa remains a high point).
Louis Leterrier's (The Incredible Hulk) overbusy new take is pretty messy itself, trying as it does to cram all manner of Greek history into its overstuffed 118-minute running time. But at least it has the incalculable benefit of zero Hamlin and plenty of Ralph Fiennes, who, as Hades, Lord of the Underworld, hunches amid a perpetual swirl of ash and utters all his lines in a rasp. It's a terrific bit of hammy scene-devouring, and it even upstages Liam Neeson's Zeus, nattily tricked out in iridescent armor.
Avatar's Sam Worthington is cast as Perseus, a demigod who must find a way to defeat all manner of mythological beasties, chief among them the dreaded Kraken: a giant, vaguely generic tentacle party that previously conquered the Titans.
The complex lineages of Greek mythology are helpfully spelled out in an expository prologue, but no one is going to Clash of the Titans for extra credit; they're going for the epic kick-assery, and Leterrier's film does have some nifty CGI up its sleeve, including a trio of Djinn that arrive astride gigantic, ebony scorpions and end up aiding Perseus and his men in their quest. The scorpions are a nod to Harryhausen's work on the 1957 low-low-budgeter The Black Scorpion, and there are a number of cheeky winks from the filmmakers specifically aimed at Harryhausen fans.
In the end, though, Leterrier's Clash of the Titans is nearly as messy an assemblage of mythic odds and ends as the original. It's being released in 3-D but wasn't conceived that way, and the result is a murky image that's often far too dark for the action onscreen and that features little if any three-dimensional awesomeness one would expect from an "epic adventure" such as this.
Worthington plays Perseus as a variance of his Marine character in Avatar that is patently dullsville, and the whole of the film feels like a goofy lark, with Fiennes having the most fun of all. His overeager Hades is almost reason enough to see this entertaining train wreck of a Clash. Almost.