Monday, March 29, 2010

Clash Of The Titans

Come back for script on Saturday.

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Premise: (from IMDB) The mortal son of the god Zeus embarks on a perilous journey to stop the underworld and its minions from spreading their evil to Earth as well as the heavens.
About: After discussing the original Empire Strikes Back draft before Kasdan came along and turned it into a classic, I decided it would be nice to look at something Kasdan wrote today. And it turns out he wrote a couple of drafts of Clash Of The Titans, the long rumored remake which is finally making its debut in theaters this Friday. The writer who worked on Titans before Kasdan and who is said to have really taken it to the next level, is none other than Travis Beachem, who broke onto the scene with his much beloved “Killing on Carnival Row” (which you’ll be seeing on tomorrow’s Top 25 list).
Writer: John Glenn & Travis Wright – Revisions by Travis Beachem – Current Revisions by Lawrence Kasdan
Details: 120 pages (May 28, 2008 Draft) – This is not meant to be a review of the movie. We are critiquing an early draft of Clash Of Titans, and that is all we’re critiquing, just the script.

There are a lot of shitty ideas as far as remakes going around these days. They’re remaking “My Fair Lady,” for Christ’s sakes. I’ve never actually seen My Fair Lady. But even as someone who’s never seen it, I know it shouldn’t be remade! Clash Of The Titans is not one of those ideas. It’s actually the perfect film to remake. The effects in that 1981 film were so brutal as to be unwatchable. And what better film to remake than one whose hopes and ambitions were so much bigger than what the budget and special effects could afford at the time?

But man, I did not expect to actually be wowed by the trailer. And that’s what happened. My lips parted and went “wow.” No sound was actually emitted. It was a silent “wow.” A “wow” without sound. And as everyone knows, those are always the most powerful wows.

So good it was that I decided it should have been an official summer release instead of a wimpily served up pre-summer appetizer. But eight years ago when the studios staked their 2010 summer movie plots, the biggest thing Sam Worthington had done was a “Beware Of Dingos” PSA, and thus left the studios unaware that they’d be promoting a film with the hottest movie star on the planet. All this is not to say Clash is a slam dunk. There aren’t many things I remember about the original, but one scene that’s stuck with me over the years is the Medusa scene. Not sure how it would play today but that shit terrified me as a kid. The remake must not only top that scene, but tap into the charm and heart the original, even with all its deficiencies, somehow managed to muster. Does Kasdan's draft of "Clash Of The Titans" succeed?

Rape. That’s how Clash of The Titans starts out. With the god Zeus raping a mortal Queen. There’s a plan to all of this, of course, but this is not the Zeus I know. If he isn’t careful, he’s going to end up in a bad bad place, or worse - Celebrity Rehab.

Flash to 25 years later and we’re hanging out with the Olympians, a.k.a. the gods, who are distraught over this endless war between them and the mortals. Too many people have died and Zeus wants to put an end to it, a truce. So he calls upon his half-son, the village fisherman, Perseus (who, if you’re keeping score, is the result of the aforementioned rape) to marry Princess Andromeda, thus ensuring a bond between the land dwellers and cloud surfers that will solidify peace.

Only problem is, the snotty Princess would rather go bungie jumping without the chords than marry this half-God stick-flinger. Perseus isn’t so high on the Princess either. He’s too busy trying to figure out when he became a half-God responsible for the biggest truce of all time. A few days ago his biggest duty was deciding between worms and bait.

Complications ensue when the Bitch God Of The Ocean, Tiamut, hears the Queen tell her people that her daughter, the Princess, is hotter than Tiamut. In what may be the most jealous overreaction of all time, Tiamut charges through the gates and lets everyone in the kingdom know that unless they sacrifice the princess to the ocean, she will unleash the Kraken on the city in 30 days. Yikes. Talk about self-worth issues. Did they have shrinks in 805?

Naturally nobody wants to sacrifice the Princess, even though it’s been well-documented that she’s worthless, so they entrust Perseus to go off and find an elusive but “300-worthy” army to protect the city against the Kraken. Perseus and his Fellowship head off into the desert, navigating strange lands and strange creatures to find these modern-day marines and get them back to Jobba before the 30 days are up! Perseus isn't keen on the journey and is way out of his league, but it’s not exactly like he has a choice.

Along the way the crew encounters beasts, elephant-sized scorpions, eye-less witches, and of course, Medusa. And with each new obstacle, the reluctant Perseus is expected to more aggressively find the leader within himself. Will he? What will the team do when the army they came for can’t fight? Will the city, and more shockingly, the king himself, buckle before the Kracken shows, offering his daughter up to save the city? Aggghhhh! You’ll have to wait until Friday to find out.

Clash of The Titans takes its cues from…well from the very times its set in since that’s when the whole “Hero Journey” thing was born. This well-tread approach, which you might recognize from movies like “Star Wars” and “The Matrix” has a “chosen one” character plucked out of obscurity and thrust into a leadership role before he is ready. He must find the strength within himself before the final battle arrives or risk losing everything…for everyone!

What was strange about Clash Of The Titans, and something I bet they addressed in rewrites, was just how uninvolved Perseus was in the story. I mean full-out blocks of script would go by without him so much as saying a word. Everyone else is dictating the journey, occasionally looking back at Perseus and going, “This okay with you?” I understand he’s not ready yet, but for the first three-quarters of this script, the guy could’ve been a painting and exuded more presence. Of course once we get to Medusa and the finale, that changes. But is it too little too late? Not sure.

The script itself was fairly straightforward, but made two interesting choices. The first was the dilemma the writers put the king in. We routinely cut back to the city during the journey, and each day they get closer, the king has to make the impossible choice of whether to save his daughter or save the city. Remember what I always say. Your script is most interesting when your characters have to make tough choices. And when I say “tough choices,” I mean choices where the consequences are extreme. What’s more extreme than the death of a city vs. the death of a daughter? So that was a nice surprise.

The other interesting choice, and one I’m not as on board with, was telling us how Medusa became Medusa. She was a pretty girl who was also raped by a God (man, those Gods are not nice – I tell ya), and it led to her becoming this hideous cursed ugly thing. And when Peseus goes in to kill her, it puts a whole new spin on the battle, since we have some sympathy for how Medusa ended up in this predicament. It was just a strange unexpected touch that added some complexity to a situation I wasn't thinking would be complex.

So there's definitely some good stuff in here, enough to distract us from Perseus being a fairly passive protagonist at least. Nobody nailed the story, but the hammer and the wood are within arm's length. And really their job was to just not fuck this up. Gods and warriors and beasts and krakens inside a vessel that actually makes sense is pretty hard to fuck up. And they didn't.

What's great about Clash, is that it feels different from everything else being released right now. And that’s such a big advantage in this superhero-obsessed market. This could be a massive hit, sneaking (if it’s lucky) into a coveted Top 3 spot for the summer. That’s a big prediction but outside of Iron Man 2, what’s coming out this year? “Cheech and Chong’s ‘Hey, Watch This.” ???

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: What do you want your audience to feel at a given moment? This is a question you have to ask yourself if you want to convey the right emotion at the right time. Leading up to the big Medusa fight, the writers had a choice. They could tell you Medusa’s horrific backstory, in which case you’d sympathize with her. Or they could tell you nothing, allowing Medusa to symbolize pure evil, in which case you wouldn’t sympathize with her at all. In the last decade, writers have been pushed to exercise the former choice. Give your villains a backstory. Make them real and complex. And in most cases, that's good advice. But know that it is not a blanket rule, and sometimes you don't want your audience feeling sympathy for the bad guy. Sometimes it's okay for the bad guy to bad. I bring this up because I'm not sure I would've wanted my audience feeling bad for Medusa in this scenario. I want her to be terrifying, cruel, evil, and mysterious. Giving up that backstory erases some of those intended reactions. Always consider the emotional ramifications of your choices, as it’s up to you to decide what you want your audience to feel.