Bath of the Titans

Wrath of theTitans posterOn Friday evening I set out with an intrepid band to see The Maltese Falcon on the big screen at the Valentine theater in the big town of Toledo. Through a set of hilarious circumstances we ended up eating dinner at the Burger Bar, where prettty good burgers were eaten but no Maltese falcons were seen. Later, still craving a cinematic fix, we mistreated ourselves to Wrath of the Titans.

My bathetic reactions after the jump.

Wrath of the Titans was not as bad as I feared it would be, but it’s a long way from being genuinely good. Others have assessed the movie’s rich treasury of flaws and rather leaner wallet of virtues (see Ryan Harvey’s judicious review here, at the Blog Gate, and a slide-show summary of reviews here, at HuffPo). My own thumbnail review would be: the plot made no sense at all, but there were good scenes.

The mythological references were purely arbitrary: they could have called Perseus “Grungius” or any other name; the story had nothing to do with any ancient tale. Which is okay: I was relieved, rather than otherwise. In fact, “Grungius” would be more fitting than “Perseus”. Practically everyone in this movie has filth of various depths smeared on their face throughout its duration. My favorite definition of sword-and-sorcery has always been Joe McCullough’s “fantasy with dirt.” It’s sort of like the makers of this movie had heard the definition and misunderstood it. I kept wanting to reach through the screen with a damp washcloth and wipe people’s faces. Actually, the whole landscape could have used a quick rinse: everything was ruinous, dusty, dirty, filthy, broken. The look of the movie soon became irritatingly monotonous.

The action was all of the same frenetic type, too, which made it lack impact. I found the duel between Ares and Perseus tedious because my eyes simply refused to believe it. If one guy takes another guy and smashes his face into a stone pillar with so much force that the pillar shatters, either the guy who got smashed is dead, or he can’t be killed, or (surprise!) the pillar was fake–like the action, the characterization, and the dialogue.

The filmmakers did succeed in taking a mishmash of visual images associated with the ancient world (Greek armor, Roman military standards, volcanoes, vaguely Hellenic temples and statues, etc) and using them as a visual vocabulary to evoke a reaction from the audience. The big, painterly landscapes of stuff happening were maybe the most effective part of the movie. Mountain blows up! World is shaken! People in danger! That’s interesting stuff. In contrast, Sam Worthington using his 1.3 expressions to evoke a range of human emotions… was not as impressive.

And the monsters were also very good. That may seem like faint praise, but I believe in the storytelling value of monsters, and the director (whose name I am too lazy to look up) lavished endless effort on making them impressive, and they were.

I did find myself wishing that the same resources had been given to a team that could tell a coherent story with a minimum of cliches. (Yes, “I’m getting too old for this” and “You’ve got to be kidding me” make their inevitable appearance in the script, along with the usual reluctant-hero angst and perfunctory liplock between hero and heroine at movie’s end.)

But, of course: there is a recent movie where the special effects are (almost!) matched by the storytelling. That’s John Carter [of Mars]… a pretty good movie hampered by a press narrative of doom and a timid and ineffective promo campaign by its studio. If you have to choose between anything with “the Titans” in the title and the recent John Carter I’d say go with the latter. But Wrath of was not a waste of time and money.

This week, because I have a billion things to do, I’ve been spending a lot of time in theaters (literal and virtual) of various kinds. I also saw a staging of Handel’s Hercules, and a pair of creepy movies based on Ira Levin novels (the original Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby), among other things. I have reactions to these, also, but no time to share them now. But maybe I’ll post them during the week, as my copious free time permits, and thus bring this blog back to life. Or at least make it a little more lifelike.

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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