Wednesday, 31 March 2010

"They need to be reminded of the order of things" : Clash of the Titans

Not quite 3D, no longer really 2D, the new Clash of the Titans multiplex-filler, shot in two dimensions but re-processed into three to cash in on the success of Avatar, survives in an odd kind of not-quite-flatness. The credits come zooming out towards you, but everything else just seems to hang precipitously over the edge of the screen, like a limp phallus poking out of its fly.

As has become standard practice in mainstream action movies lately, the film is composed almost entirely of great, swooping aerial long shots, to show off the locations and the detail of the production design in the manner of the French heritage films of the 1980's. These are juxtaposed with fast-moving close-ups, edited in the style of an ADHD sufferer's stream of consciousness. What this means is that the film contains almost no mid-shots, and it is mid-shots that tell the story.

As in Deleuze's tripartite distinction (with the perception-image usually in long shot and the affection-image characteristically in close-up), the action or impulse-image takes place in medium shot and is the most important element of naturalism. Of course, this is not to say that nothing happens in Clash of the Titans, simply that when it does, it is enormously disorientating due to the lack of mid-shots - or at least it would be if it wasn't for the presence of Io (played by Gemma Atherton, last seen as tracksuit-wearing hostage in The Disappearance of Alice Creed).

The character Io plays no part, either in the original (1981) film, Clash of the Titans, nor in the myth of Perseus upon which it is based. Her function here is largely as a kind of onscreen narrator, informing the otherwise bewildered viewer what the plot is in lengthy expository dialogue during the rare moments of calm between fight scenes. Such characters have become increasingly necessary in recent Hollywood films due to the almost complete inability of contemporary directors to make the most elementary cinematic gesture of telling a story through images.

In mythology, Io is the lover of Zeus who is transformed into a heifer and sent to wander the earth, tormented by a gadfly. None of this plays any part in Clash of the Titans, but it does point towards the second function of this character in the film. One of the major changes made by Louis Letterier's new Clash from both the 1981 film and its classical sources, is that the mother of Perseus, Danaƫ, raped by Zeus out of vengeance for the hubris of mortals, is no longer the daughter, but the wife of Acrisius. This makes the prophecy sent to Acrisius, that his wife's son will grow up to kill him, the exact double of the prophecy revealed to Laius in the story of Oedipus.

Throughout the new Clash of the Titans, Io is cast in a maternal role, saying to Perseus, "I've watched over you for a long time now. I've always been there." So when, at the end of the film, after Perseus has slain Acrisius and been reunited with Zeus (his 'real' father), his final coupling with Io (despite her onscreen death several sequences earlier), must be seen as the ultimate completion of the film's somewhat contorted Oedipal triangle. The order of things is thus restored and Io, the only character in the film (barring perhaps the gorgon, Medusa) to do anything other than get raped, sacrifice herself or get saved, is safely re-domesticated.