Hollywood has a knack for espionage. Like so many dogs, studios are always sniffing one another in search of new ideas. If the hunt goes as planned, copy-cat movies ensue, often under frantic production schedules designed to meet or beat the competition. Just consider the following pairs of curiously similar movies:
Deep Impact and Armageddon (heroes thwart pesky earth-bound meteor, 1998)
Full Metal Jacket and Platoon (disgruntled loners in Vietnam, 1986)
Contact and The Arrival (making celestial friends, 1997)
The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure (historical scavenger hunt, 2004)
Knowing and 2012 (solar flare destroys earth, 2008)
Jaws and Orca (fishy terror on the seas, 1975)
Truman Show and EdTV (reality TV taken too far? 1998)
AND OF COURSE
Lambada and The Forbidden Dance (do you really need to ask? 1990)
The most recent pair picks up on the mythological themes of Perseus, Medussa and the fall of Hades. They are Clash of the Titans (in 3-D) and Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (based on Rick Riordan’s popular series of books). The score card: one’s a good remake, the other is fluff.
Titans succeeds primarily on the strength of its cast. Ralph Fiennes reprises Lord Voldemort as the conniving and swarmy Hades. Liam Neesen delivers his Rob Roy best as Zeus. And Medussa’s penetrating CGI gaze never looked better. But 3-D? I watched it sans stereoscopic goggles and apart from a few gratuitous shots of objects hurling toward center screen, the movie played just fine in the planar format.
Percy, on the other hand, has much less to recommend it. It hijacks the Harry Potter model of three invincible teens taking on monsters and demons all while ignoring mounting sexual tensions (they hijack Potter’s producers too). The one saving grace in this otherwise terrible movie is Uma Thurman’s turn as Medussa. Forget slithering around a dark cave, here the mean-eyed vamp saunters onscreen wearing large black sunglasses and a turban. Wait, is this Gloria Swanson or an angry god? Sadly her head gets lopped off far too soon (thanks to the reflective properties of Percy’s iPhone). Percy (as in Perseus) proves to be a flat, uninspiring hero. And one without human emotions apparently. Late in the first act, Percy watches his mother get vaporized by a Minotaur. His reaction? Sword practice. The weakest moments of the film were those in which Joe Pantoliano (a.k.a., the Judas character in the Matrix) cameos some of the worst step-father-as-oafish-pig dialog in recent memory. “Bitch, get me a beer”. Maybe that should have been a 3-D moment?