Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Wrath of the Titans [2012]

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (A-III) Roger Ebert (2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review
Wrath of the Titans (directed by Jonathan Liebesman, story and screenplay by Dan Mazeau and David Leslie Johnson, assisting with the story Greg Berlanti based on the 1981 screenplay Clash of the Titans by Beverley Cross) turned out to be better than I thought.  I say this because I did see the Clash of the Titans [1981] as a young adult and found it pretentious (didn't like it).  Since I didn't like the 1981 movie, I didn't bother to see the 2010 remake (indeed, I wondered why they bothered to make it).  Then reading Roger Ebert's review of the current film only reinforced my skepticism.  But I figured that seeing it on a Monday (my day off) at pre-noon matinee in 2D would probably be worth it, if for no other reason than it would give me a chance to explain what annoyed me about the 1981 movie and therefore the whole series.

Having seen the film, I remained annoyed with the fundamental concept "Gods die when people stop praying to them," but at least from a technical point of view Wrath of the Titans was better than the 1981 Clash of the Titans.  But again, I do wonder what the 3D version would have added besides risking that the effects would look corny again (and of course give the movie business an excuse of charging viewers an extra $4 a head).

Very good, I find the "Gods die when people stop praying to them" concept annoying because they don't really die.  The Greeks venerated as Gods a number of phenomena that seem/seemed largely outside of or only marginally within our control.  These phenomena occur to this day and most of them continue to be largely outside or only with difficulty within our control.   These include natural phenomena such as Storms (Zeus), Storms at Sea (Poseidon) and Earthquakes-Volcanic Activity (Hades) and psychological phenomena such as the Desire for an Orderly and Happy Home-Hearth (Hera), Lust (Aphrodite), Desire for Knowledge-Wisdom (Apollo-Athena), Desire to just 'let go'-'Party' (Dionysus), Arrogance (Hubris) and the Desire to Avenge Injustice (the Furies).

Now it is true that in the past the ancients would sacrifice animals to their various storm Gods (again, the Storm God of Ancient Greece was Zeus) while today we would wonder how that could possibly work.  Yet, Native American tribes as well as others traditionally perform "Rain Dances" and there we begin to be "unsure" whether these "work" or not.  But we generally don't believe anymore that "sacrificing virgins" to a "volcano God" would do much good...

Then when it comes to psychological phenomena, while Christianity would insist that we can master/control our passions, it certainly underscores that this is often a challenge. 

So I find the whole idea of "we can kill Gods by simply not praying to them" as rather arrogant. The various phenomena that the ancients used to respect as manifestations of Gods continue to exist to this day.  To me the more interesting question for me has been "Can our prayers/supplications/sacrifices to God/the Gods be answered?"  And this then enters into the realm of faith.  Go to any Catholic Marian shrine across the world and one would find hundreds upon hundreds of "ex voto" gifts that certainly testify to the giver's belief that Mary or Jesus or another saint interceded in some way to heal somebody, grant a request of some sort or avert some sort of calamity.  And there are Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist shrines across the world that attest to similar miracles being performed in the context of these faiths as well.  My general view has been to preserve a fundamental attitude of humility with regards to all these things.  We simply do not know everything.   Even as we generally don't believe in a three story cosmology any more (The Gods / Elect living in the Sky, we living on Earth, and the Dead / Condemned living below the Earth), we also now talk of alternate dimensions that we generally do not perceive and of both "collective consciousness" and a "collective unconscious."

The Biblical Prophets for instance would often voice the concerns of the "collective unconscious" often to the consternation of both the people and the "powers that be."  When things were going well for the Israelites, the Prophets would caution and preach impending doom.  When things were going badly for the Israelites, the Prophets generally promised eventual restoration and hope.  In both cases, they were preaching a corrective to the immediate experience of the people, in effect giving voice to a collective "shadow" of the society at the time.  Is God or the spiritual realm to be found in our Jungian "shadow" / "collective shadow?" 

All this is to say that one can't just kill Gods so easily ...

Okay, to the film.  Perseus [IMDb] (played by Sam Worthington) half-God/half-man is visited by his father Zeus [IMDb] (played by Liam Neeson) at the beginning of the film with a problem: With people no longer praying to the Olympian Gods as they did in the past, they are weakening.  More to the point, the good that the Gods had done in the past (overthrowing and incarcerating the chaotic Titans of the past) was getting undone.  Further with the general weakening of the Olympian Gods, there was starting to be conflict/insurrection among them.  Specifically, Hades [IMDb](played by Ralph Fiennes) always resentful of his brothers Zeus and Poseidon [IMDb](played by Danny Houston) feeling that he got the worst end of the deal (being consigned to ruling over the underworld and of the dead, while the other two ruled above the earth the seas and skies) was joining together with the ever ambitious Ares [IMDb](played by Edgar Ramirez), like Perseus a son of Zeus (but in contrast to Perseus, fully divine), to use the situation to try to broker a better position for themselves among the other Gods.  They were doing so by threatening to allow the release of the incarcerated Cronus (father of Zeus, Poseidon and Hades) from his underground prison unless their demands for greater esteem were met.  Already the incarcerated Titans were restless and by doing little, occasional demonic Titans were spewing out to the surface through an erupting volcano.

The widowed and still mourning his human wife Io, Perseus, initially just wants to leave his divinity behind, to raise his son Helius [IMDb] (played by John Bell) and support him by the honest trade of fishing, eventually comes to appreciate the direness of the situation (and worried that the Titans were going harm his still part divine son), decides to take the task of defeating the Titan threat once and for all.  Much ensues... Among that which ensues is that Perseus meets and teams-up with Andromeda [IMDb](played by Rosamund Pike) his future wife to (without really "ruining the ending"...) eventually defeat Cronus and the other Titans.

I suppose a redeeming feature in this film was its implication that the "death of the Gods" could result in the undoing of the good that the Gods had done for humanity, specifically the re-release demons (the Titans) that had been successfully tamed/incarcerated by the God in the past.  Various attempts to destroy Religion during the last century most spectacularly by the Communists (and in a different way by the Nazis, who did, indeed try to reinstate a "blood and honor" morality of Germany's barbaric pre-Christian past) did, in fact, make matters worse for humanity, producing the deaths of innocents at previously unheard of levels (think of the Stalin's Terror Famine of the 1930s, the Nazi Holocaust, Mao's Great Leap Forward / Cultural Revolution, and finally the Khmer Rouge's Killing Fields).  So the film does have a more respectful view of religion than perhaps the Clash of the Titans [1981] [2010] did.

Would I recommend the movie? Yea sure, probably to Teens.  Again, I find the "we can kill the Gods" theme somewhat arrogant.  But the film does suggest that "the death the Gods" can have previously unforeseen and negative effects as well.

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