When I studied in Chile, I had a professor who talked indefinitely about American movies. They were popular beyond the farthest reaches of the continent – Spider-Man was on backpacks and McNuggets every other year. In their shadow stood Chile’s lower-budgeted La Nana, an award-winner in the U.S, but not so much as a Pepsi bottle ever bore her face. Was it just the money and the endorsements that separated their films from ours? Was it the scale of things, or maybe the pace?
What is it we’ve done differently?
Well, it would be easy to pontificate. But for clarity, let’s look at a clear example where size defines the movie: Clash of the Titans.
In 1981 just after The Empire Strikes Back reached theaters, the tale of greek mythology was a slow-paced, retro-animated little epic of a film. Perseus, the boyishly-handsome mortal son of Zeus, grew up safely on a peaceful island, until the goddess Thetis had a spat with Zeus and casually tosses the boy a hundred miles away to the city. Zeus gives him some godly weapons to take care of himself, and the rest of the film Perseus spends on a quest trying to save the princess Andromeda from various plot-connected claymation monsters. I rented the thing the other night. The stop-motion animation was good for its time (by Ray Harryhausen himself), twenty-nine years ago, and looked less choppy the longer I watched it.
This April 2 of 2010, Legendary Pictures (known for producing Dark Knight and 300) has plans to remake it. What are they doing differently, to cater to this modern audience?
1. Star Actors. Right off the bat, Perseus will be played by Sam Worthington, primal warrior of Gladiator and Avatar. He never stops grimacing. Zeus, in a move sure to churn the stomachs of church youth groups everywhere, is played by Liam Neeson: voice of Aslan. And Hades, not being type-casted in any way whatsoever, will be done by Ralph Fiennes– Voldemort.
2. Plot Simplification: remember the complex triangle of Gods-playing-chess-with-Earth and family ties from the original? Gone. Now Zeus’ boy is off on a dangerous mission to defeat Hades before he can seize power from Zeus and unleash hell on earth. Yep… Hades. The Greeks didn’t have much of a problem with Hades, mythologically; he ran the underworld, which was half eternal-torments, half fields of frolicking bliss. Heaven and Hell, we might now call them. The trailers suggest more of the former, plus the fire, inky shadows and horned bat-winged red people we’re now accustomed to.
3. That Rebellious Streak that Seems to Be So Popular These Days. Perseus may be half-god, but the trailer is riddled with viva-la-revolucion slogans. The Titans trailer shown before Avatar read “Damn The Gods.” “One day, somebody’s going to have to make a stand…” intones the old poet, Perseus’ Obi-Wan-ish guide and humble wisecracker who now looks as dreadfully unhappy as a Dumbledore replacement actor. “One day, somebody’s going to have to say “‘enough’.” Two cents says a Tea Partier will compare some Congressman to the Gods. Also Perseus’ flying horse changed colors – it was white and is now black. Go figure.
4. No More Bubo. That’s right– the mechanical owl that jabbered like R2D2 gets little more than a cameo in this one. Sorry, kids.
I also have a few speculations, which I’m willing to wager a dollar on apiece, of things that will make it to this version.
5. Candle-lit Adultery. In 1981 Perseus sees Andromeda, falls in love with her beauty, but can’t wed her or so much as take the girl out for coffee before he saves her from impending doom. In 2010, they will get steamy in a dimly-lit set, on the night before he goes out to stab ugly beasts.
(Something I’ve noticed has changed over the years: in the original, he grew up with his mother on an island and they were naked now and then. Nowadays the only nudity is done with very specific lighting and to make the character sexy. In 300, the graphic novel, there were no red thongs: everyone went nakers.)
6. Being 300. It’s been four long years since we had Greeks in small clothing that jumped like Mario and let blood like Beowulf. Or, Kratos from the also-Greek God Of War games- compare his monsters to these. Energy drink contract in the works? Fifty-fifty chance. Now I wouldn’t call this movie cliche bas on that, but the look has been done before.
7. Evil Arabs and Other Veiled Political Messages. The trailer shows giant stony scorpions, which are controlled by crablike men covered in shreds of cloth, wrapped in a bunch around their heads. Iran was furious when it saw 300, which was about Greek Democrats slaughtering oppressive, king-worshipping Persians. Iranians are Persian. Besides overthrowing authority and killing enemies the moment they come into view, we’ll see what real-world parallels show up in th film. See if it references a bailout.
8. Slow, Heavy Guitar Riffs as Perseus Walks Away from a Giant Falling Thing He Just Killed. Quite simply, this has to be done.
This time tomorrow, my Chilean teacher will see who was right.