A special report as I continue to work my way through the list of the 100 worst movies of the last decade. As I've talked to many people about my "quest," I've mostly gotten interest. Only a very, very few people have not really understood why I was choosing to subject myself to these officially awful films. I consider myself a bad movie aficionado, but I don't think I'm entirely unique in that way. Maybe I like them more than most, but it seems like nearly everybody I talk to enjoys a bad movie here and there. Whether it's the built-in comedy, the chance to mock, or the camaraderie that can be built by watching these movies in a group, people actually have fun watching movies panned by the critics. And those critics...
I believe that few critics understand what we want out of them. I absolutely want to hear someone discuss the literary themes behind Aronofsky or the constant homages by Tarantino, but I also want to know if something is just entertaining on its own merit. When one grades on a scale, it becomes difficult to take the other movies out of a rating. I may give, say, Ocean's Eleven five stars (it's as entertaining as a movie can be, totally rewatchable, great for background), but I gave Schindler's List five stars. Can I really say that Ocean's Eleven is as good as Schindler's List? I'm choosing two good movies, but I hope you get my point. Besides, that's at one extreme. It's even tougher when you look at bad movies, which brings me back to the point that it seems that most people enjoy a bad movie now and again.
Most of these enjoyable bad movies are now called "cult classics." Rocky Horror Picture Show? Indecipherable. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes? Ridiculous. The Warriors? Awful. Some or all of us enjoy these movies -- The Warriors made the list of my 100 favorite movies (see the left menu bar for the full list) -- to the point that we're fanatical about them. And that brings us to one of the great bad movies of my childhood, one that many people my age are fanatical about, and a movie that is downright awful: Clash of the Titans.
Clash of the Titans came out in 1981 and I don't remember if I saw it in the theater or not, but I know I watched it a number of times on cable and video. The four movies I remember watching the most when I was a kid are Star Wars (duh), Raiders, Rocky III (also not so good), and Clash of the Titans. The movie had special effects that probably weren't even that good for 1981. The acting was way over the top. Did I mention the special effects -- and it was an effects-driven movies -- were awful? Yet I, and many other people my age, remember it fondly because it was exciting and it made me love Greek mythology. A great movie for a kid. An average, at best, movie for an adult. So five-year-old me loves the movie even though I watched a few minutes a year or so ago and was horrified at its quality. And now thirty-three-year-old me hears that Hollywood has decided to make a new Clash of the Titans with digital effects and they even got the lead from freaking Avatar to play Perseus. Uh-oh, right?
On the way to the theater today (to see it in 2D so as not to waste my money), I read in Entertainment Weekly that the goal of the 2010 version was to be a remake, not a reimagining or reboot, of the 1981 version. This is an important distinction and potentially a dangerous one for the filmmakers. By doing this, they basically begged me to compare the 2010 version (v2010) to the 1981 version (v1981). In my eyes, there's only one way that this works out well for v2010 and hear my reasoning out. If v2010 is well-made then it makes me regret my enjoyment of v1981 and I'll resent v2010. If v2010 is boring or stupid then I'll hate it for trying to be v1981. The only way this works out well for v2010 is if it captures the cheesiness of v1981. Sure, the effects have to be better than the original, but can they fit into the movie without making it seem like a The Day After Tomorrow-esque film where the effects overshadow everything else? Can it, in spite of the money behind it (a reported $70 million budget), not take itself too seriously? Tall orders because I'm asking for them to, essentially, have made an enjoyably bad movie, which is not only difficult but unpredictable, because you can never tell when one of those is going to pop up and anyone who shoots specifically for that outcome ends up making unwatchable, pretentious garbage. Followed the reasoning? See where I'm coming from? Okay, enough! The verdict!
Didn't expect that, huh? Me either. I was ready to hate it and I ended up with a huge grin on my face. It had everything I needed for it to work. The dialogue: cheesy. The acting: over the top. Maybe the filmmakers didn't shoot for those things, but they did succeed in one thing they set out to do, "dumbing down" the special effects so that the effects didn't overtake the movie. The effects are pretty -- the final battle scene with the Kraken is actually quite a good action sequence -- but they don't seem fake. The best analogy I can come up with is how Lucas had his effects people scratch up the models for Star Wars so that the universe looked authentic. I don't know what's so authentic about giant scorpions and snake-haired Gorgons, but they fit with the rest of the movie.
The dialogue is your classic movie Ancient Greece/ Rome talk with big words and clumsy sentences and British accents, so much so that it made me resent 300 a little bit for being equally cheesy. The actors that play Perseus' group so overact and are congenial about it that you can't help but love their failure to be believable. On the other hand, the main gods, Zeus and Hades, are played by Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, respectively, and they absolutely succeed in their aim to do homage to the cheesiness of the original. No way that two great actors like that are going over the top unless they mean to do it. And that brings us to the one thing that almost -- thankfully, it was only "almost" -- ruins the movie: Sam Worthington.
Worthington takes himself too damn seriously. There's a little joke about the mechanical owl from the original and Worthington apparently threw a fit over even that little scene because he thought the owl's mere presence would make a joke of the movie. There are a number of scenes where you see the other warriors hamming it up and the camera pans to Worthington's Perseus, who is either scowling or stone-faced (not literally). Whereas the others overact, Worthington shows next to no emotion in much of his line delivery, as if he's collecting the paycheck and biding his time until Avatar 2 starts production. But, I said he "almost" ruins it. He does laugh it up a little bit and, much like in Terminator: Salvation (which was not enjoyably bad in any way, it was just horrible), his Australian accent creeps in every so often even though he's supposed to have an Ancient Greek (read: British) accent. So even though I was worried at times about his sincerity ruining my enjoyment, I was still able to mock him enough in my head.
Almost every critic hates the new Clash of the Titans, with the only exceptions I've seen being Roger Ebert and Entertainment Weekly. Almost every critic also, much like Sam Worthington, takes themselves and their work too seriously. The reviewer for EW loved the 1981 version and used that to couch his review, much as I've done here. Ebert was able to enjoy the movie for itself, in disregard for how it compares to anything else other than the original. In his review, he kept using the words "entertainment" and "goofy." Indeed. It's the kind of movie that a kid is going to eat up with a spoon, much like I did with the original.
It's also the kind of movie that those many of us who enjoy a bad movie will have a great time with. Don't bother going to the theater. Not because it's not worth the money (even the early, early matinee price I paid), because I enjoyed myself. Wait because it's the kind of movie that Mystery Science Theater 3000 was made for, where you get the DVD, throw a party for people who aren't film snobs, and mock the hell out of it. If that sounds like fun, and movies are supposed to be fun, then how can you hate this movie?