Interview: "Clash of the Titans": The Filmmakers

By Greg Yolen Monday March 29th 2010 03:32AM
"Clash of the Titans": The Filmmakers

In more ways than one, "Clash of the Titans" is a film standing in shadows of "Avatar". Apart from sharing a star in Sam Worthington, 'Clash', like "Avatar", is being released concurrently in 3D, and traditional theatrical formats – a decision made hastily, following the breakout success of Mr. Cameron's opus in January. This much, the filmmakers freely admit.

"There was not one frame of footage shot in consideration of 3D," says producer Basil Iwanyk at the Los Angeles "Clash of the Titans" press conference. But their film is, in a way, one of a kind: it's the first in the new wave of digital 3D (ushered in by Cameron) that has been shot in 2D, only to be retro-fitted into 3D after the fact, at the urging of Warner Brothers president of production Jeff Robinov. (As of the time of the press screening I attended, the 3D rendering hadn't yet been completed; we were only shown a 6-minute highlight reel, which was, apparently, only 80% finished itself.)

Whether or not audiences will shell out the extra coin for the 3D version of "Clash of the Titans" has yet to be seen; but, its filmmakers insist, despite their own initial skepticism over the last minute conversion, 3D is a natural fit for their film, and they're optimistic for the future of the format. "3D will just enhance the experience of a lot of movies," says co-writer Matt Manfredi, on a panel made up of director Louis Leterrier, writers Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, Manfredi, and producers Iwanyk and Richard Zanuck.

Unlike the original boom-and-bust of early 3D technology in the 1950's, the next movement, the panel agreed, will hopefully be less about delivering cheap 3D thrills – such as those found in, oh say, "The Final Destination" – and more about audience engagement. "So much of the 3D that's being used now is about composition and depth, as opposed to trick shots and something flying out at you," says Manfredi. "It becomes about an immersive experience." This new "Clash of the Titans", made without the ‘wow factor' 3D moments but sold in 3D form, may prove something of a test for the proliferating practice of 3D retro-conversion.

As for the film's star Sam Worthington, director Leterrier says he began the casting process by searching for the Harry Hamlin ideal of what Clash's demi-god protagonist Perseus should look like: boyish, gold skinned, long hair. As Leterrier puts it, Hamlin's role was that of "doe-eyed Perseus, discovering the world." But when Leterrier and producers met Worthington, they weren't just convinced he was their man, they were ready to re-write Perseus to fit the roughness Worthington would bring to the park. "We could break him," says Leterrier. Interestingly, the filmmakers met Worthington without nearly any sense of what he looked like. After a decade's worth of rumor and speculation surrounding the top secret "Avatar", they finally laid eyes on its still-unknown star. "Oh, so that's what Sam Worthington looks like," Iwanyk reminisces.

Apart from a re-envisioned and hardened Perseus, the new "Clash of the Titans" is a notably different film from its predecessor; and though the inspiration for revisiting the 1981 film in 2010 came primarily from a desire to implement state-of-the-art digital effects in a mythical adventure tale, the filmmakers sought to set their film apart from the original in several more ways, too: "I think the biggest difference (is) probably tone," says Basil Iwanyk. "The tone of the original movie is a little bit earnest and serious… Second, we wanted our gods to be more active, and a bigger part of our story. And the third difference is, we wanted Perseus to be a lot more complicated."

But for all the re-envisioning, what drew the writers to the project – apart from enduring passion for the original– was a desire to work on a tale of such classic scope. "There's something so engaging about a story where your protagonist is defying something that's so utterly undefiable," says Travis Beacham, "and nothing embodies that more than the divine."

Manfredi & Hay, who revised Beacham's original drafts, say that they went back to Edith Hamilton's ‘Mythology,' and mined it for motivations, specifically in creating the dynamic between brothers Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Leterrier himself was drawn to the ambiguity of relationships on Mount Olympus. "They're gods," he says. "They're not good or bad, they're just doing what they want." When asked whether Zeus, absentee father of Perseus, is a rapist, Leterrier responds dryly "He's European.”

As for fidelity to the original film, the panel agreed that in spite of their nostalgia, they didn't want to mire their remake in references – winks, nods, and the like – to their source material. A Harry Hamlin cameo was ultimately written out of the film; but the sole survivor of the wink/nod purge, to the joy of some and chagrin of others, is Bubo, the golden mechanical owl that in the 1981 version played as a sort of ancient world R2-D2. Though Bubo is featured in the 2010 "Clash of the Titans", his appearance is brief, and (thankfully) funny. "Your reaction to Bubo could tell whether you saw the original or not," says Iwanyk. "When we first showed it to the studio, half of the executives were like ‘that was really cool,' and the other half was like ‘the fuck is that owl?'”