I know what you’re thinking: “Get to the Bubo.” You’re scanning this page impatiently trying to find out whether or not Bubo, the R2D2 of Ancient Greece, is in the souped up new version of Clash of the Titans.
The answer? Maybe. More on that later.
The obvious choice in this day and age, especially from the studio that brought you 300, would be to do a big ancient myth movie like Clash of the Titans in front of a green screen on some soundstage, leaving the scenery and sets to be created by some computer geeks working in a fluorescent-lit basement. Somehow that’s not what happened with this film, and Louis Leterrier and his crew went out into the elements, getting his shots of guys on top of mountains by taking his guys to the tops of mountains. On the day when I visited the set of the film at Longcross Studios, outside of London, they were braving the harsh British sprinkling rain.
Hidden behind scaffolding and tucked away amongst some trees was a huge segment of the Ancient Greek city of Argos; Leterrier’s art department had built a massive town square and buildings running up and down a number of streets. Nestled amidst the buildings were the detritus of ancient life, ranging from stalls selling salt and herbs to makeshift shanties in the poorer sections. Brass braziers gave off a thick smoke, and the streets were crowded with people terrified at the battle going on before their eyes.
And what a battle it could end up being. On set that day it was just a couple of guys sitting in a basket atop a motorized platform shaking sticks at a camera that swung overhead on a thick cable, but in the reality of the movie it will be two of Perseus’ men astride a giant Scorpiok, fighting off rampaging harpies. The people of Argos run about in a panic – besides these monsters duking it out amongst them is the Kraken, which has been unleashed. The shit is about to get real.
Keeping it real was important to director Leterrier, who had just come off of The Incredible Hulk, a movie whose lead had been virtual. “Movies like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings work because it’s a mix of everything. If you have a talking scene on real sets and then as soon as you special effects [the whole scene is in] the computer, it feels like you’re watching two movies. We could have had this, the two guys, on a green screen not understanding what was happening but now they’re there and they know exactly what’s going on. It just looks better.”
That realness extended to locations. Leterrier took his crew to Tenerife in the Canary Islands to capture shots of Perseus and his band traveling so high in the mountains that the clouds are a sea below them. You could get that shot with a computer, but it would never carry the same impact. After we left the set Leterrier would send a skeleton crew to the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia to get shots of the acid pools.
Let me say this: I begged Sam not to destroy Bubo.
- Louis Leterrier
Why remake Clash of the Titans anyway? Producer Kevin De La Noy explained to us why it was important to him and to Warner Bros to go back to revive the 1982 semi-classic: “It’s not. To be honest. The rights to Greek mythology, they’re not there. But Clash of the Titans as a structure for that mythology – that was appealing. You’re buying that skeleton, but the flesh of that skeleton… will be completely different.”
That flesh will be cloaked in state of the art special effects. Said Del La Noy: “Clearly with mythological creatures the realm of [modern] visual effects are going to give it a different look.”
There are other reasons. Star Sam Worthington had never seen the original when he got the role, and after talking to him on set it was unclear if he ever actually made it through the whole thing. “I watched it before I started to familiarize myself. I got about halfway through it and nodded off a bit. I think it’s a bit corny. The messages aren’t kind of relevant to now. I think the performances are a bit tame. There’s the stop-motion, which is good. [Ray] Harryhausen, for what he did and how he did it — I read a book on him — it’s quite incredible, but it’s not Casablanca, to be honest. It’s worthy of a remake, especially with the technology we have nowadays to rev it up a bit, to turn it up to 11.”
Not everybody on set was so down on the original Clash. Leterrier is a big fan. “I saw it before Star Wars. It was my first ‘wow’ experience.” That said, Leterrier isn’t looking to just remake the original beat for beat. “I didn’t want to do it the same but different, and the only way to make it mine – to make it personal – was to rewrite the screenplay. And to be thinking about it as more than one movie, to think of it as a universe, something that can expand. It’s a bit darker, but also a bit [more fun], with more adventure. We stretched it. I have so much respect for Ray Harryhausen and the original film, but I just didn’t want to do the same thing. “
The biggest change came starting with the character of Perseus. “I didn’t think Perseus could go on this adventure just because he fell in love with a princess,” said Leterrier, and Worthington agreed.
“In the original, Perseus is part man, part god, as you know, and he accepts the god side pretty easily in the first one, accepts all the gifts the gods give him, and to me, that wasn’t a very good message to give to my 9-year-old nephew or any kid, I think, is that you have to be a god to achieve something,” the actor said. “So one of these things I said to and talked to Louis about was that [Perseus] wants to be a man and do this as a man, and do it with other men. I think that’s a good message that anything is possible if you’re banded together as men, so that’s where it differs a lot. He’s rejecting the gods a hell of a lot. And then the second thing is that Greek mythology, your destiny is set for you, and I thought that was another crap message to give to my nephew, because to say to him, ‘You’re already going to be destined to do this, this and this.’ I believe you can make your own fate, so we played against that, so my Perseus is, to use that word again, a boisterous belligerent kind of teenager, is how I’ve been playing him, who you tell him you can’t do something and he’ll run headlong into doing it and that gets him into a lot of trouble. He’s not the golden boy, he’s the teenager who has to learn how to grow up. That’s what I consider the main difference from the first film.”
There are a bunch of other differences, even though the outline appears to be similar – Perseus, a demigod, must rescue the princess Andromeda from the Kraken, along the way meeting Medusa, taming Pegasus and making his way through Ancient Greek myth. In this version Perseus’ party isn’t just made up of a bunch of nobodies who exist only as cannon fodder. This Clash of the Titans is more of a men on a mission movie – even if some of the characters stretch the definition of men.
First there’s Sheikh Suleiman, a great big dude made of… wood. He’s actually fairly awesome looking, and he’s more or less a new invention for the film. While Leterrier said that Suleiman (played by Ian Whyte) was a djinn – an Arab spirit – what we saw made it clear that he was a regular dude who, over the course of his life, replaced his flesh with wood. Fairly hardcore.
Mads Mikkelsen is Draco, a grizzled warrior who finds himself caught up in Perseus’ quest. “He’s the leader or the general of the Honor Guard, the bodyguards of the princess, basically, and he’s heading towards retirement,” Mikkelson explained. “I have a different plan to save the Princess. I think we should hide her in the woods and wait ’til the storm’s over, but we got orders so we have to go with him. But what I do need [Perseus] to do is to bring up that god side in order for us to succeed in this mission. Or let’s put it this way, even if he brings the god side, we have a very small chance, but that is the only thing we can do. And he’s very reluctant to do that. He wants to stay a man. He wants to do this as a person. And of course, that doesn’t really give good odds for me and my soldiers.”
Io is another new character, played by the gorgeous Gemma Arterton. Armed with bolos and a seemingly unwieldy long cloak, Io is a character that changed massively during shooting. In fact it sort of sounded like they were figuring her out as they went along. Said Arterton: “She’s changed quite a lot actually, and because she’s very enigmatic, I had to work out a lot of who she was myself, rather than it being in the script. I think the way I describe her now is that she’s like a guardian angel, even though she’s not heaven-sent. She’s very otherworldly, and she’s been touched by the gods, so she has healing powers, but she’s also cursed in that she can’t age. She’s kind of trapped with these gifts that she’s been given – quite similar to Perseus actually – grappling with being human and at the same time, having these godly traits. Her role in the film is to guide Perseus through his journey and help him, mainly to realize that he should open up and embrace his godliness in order to defy the gods, which is what both of their missions are. So throughout the film, she kind of comes in and advises him and around Io Perseus becomes quite vulnerable and we see another side to him, which we don’t see with the rest of the characters, with the boys. She’s kind of like a mother figure, rather than a romantic [figure] They’re much more like brother and sister or like a mother. She’s very protecting. She brings a real feminine touch to the film.”
What hasn’t changed is the fact that creatures are central to the story. And don’t call them monsters around Leterrier. “Everybody’s afraid of monsters, but creatures are different. They can be friend or foe. Monster is negative from the get-go.”
You can take a look at some of the creatures as seen in the trailer here, including my breakdown. You don’t get a look at everybody – while touring the sets we saw Charon, the Boatman of the River Styx, who doesn’t appear in the trailer. I was amazed at the character in real life; instead of going CGI or just a guy in a cloak this Clash of the Titans uses a sophisticated animatronic corpse that is eerily lifelike for somebody so dead and rotten (he’s got more meat on his bones than the Charon in the original film).
While many of the creatures are practical, and we got to see the outfits and puppets that will bring them to life, one of the major players in the new Clash of the Titans remains fully in the land of FX: the Kraken. You’ve gotten a look at him now, and that day on set we were all very impressed with the maquette that was there for our inspection. This Kraken looks positively Lovecraftian in design, a true Elder God of the lower depths.
Maybe the biggest surprise we got while visiting the set that day was the reveal that Pegasus had changed races. Will fandom, who rose up in anger at a black Kingpin in the Daredevil movie, accept a black Pegasus? He looks pretty damn cool, and we saw some concept art of the black horse standing amidst a herd of white Pegasi, making him really stand out. I liked the new direction. I also liked the new direction for the scorpions; a throwaway gag in the original film, this time they’re integral players. Perseus fashions his reflective shield from their shell, and the heroes tame and ride them into battle. Let’s face it – good guys riding giant scorpions against other monsters is pretty fucking cool.
Another major change in this film is the look of the gods. Leterrier helped convince thespians like Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes to sign on as Zeus and Hades (respectively) by promising them no togas. “Gods wouldn’t wear fabric,” Leterrier told us. “Gods take raw earth and raw metal and forms it into armor, and that’s what they would wear.” They also form raw metal into their weapons; Zeus carries a completely slick and bad ass sword, which I got to fool around with. Through the magic of movies there’s a hero version, which is really metal and very heavy, and then there are rubber versions – totally indistinguishable from the metal one – that are easier to wave around. One weird tidbit of trivia that I learned while touring the massive armory (there were over 1600 weapons) is that many of the swords and shields you’ll see on screen in the film are reused props from Troy. Waste not, etc.
- Sam Worthington
Who is Sam Worthington? What’s funny is that while we were on set this was a legitimate question; Worthington had already become the buzz boy, but his first big moment in the sun, Terminator Salvation, had fizzled. We were on set during Avatar Day, and Worthington was a bit defensive – he had been online and seen the negative reactions to the first trailer that had debuted, and he insisted that the footage needed to be seen on an IMAX screen.
Leterrier hadn’t known who he was, but it’s safe to say that this version of Clash would be very different with a different leading man. Said Leterrier, “Everybody was buzzing, Hollywood was buzzing, but I hadn’t seen any of his movies. I saw Somersault and I liked him in [that], and then I met him and he was humble and down to Earth and had great ideas. There’s something really interesting and sort of broken about him that I thought would make an amazing Perseus. The first Perseus I wrote was like Harry Hamlin, innocent and wide eyed, but knowing Sam – he’s a little darker. It was a very interesting starting point for the character.”
But even without yet becoming a big star, Worthington would find himself in conflict with his costars. First it was Bubo, then it was Pegasus.
“I hate that fucking horse,” Worthington said. “Have they told you that? How I hate the horse? I hate it, I hate it. I can’t get near the fucking thing without it eating me. It tries to bite me. It’s got an attitude problem. He’s done more movies than me. He’s done Alexander and Prince of Persia, so it’s all hot shit now isn’t it? It doesn’t come out of it’s trailer, mate.”
It’s funny because that version of Worthington – jocular and open and the guy with whom you’d like to knock back a six pack – isn’t the version of Worthington we’ve seen on screen yet. At least not in America. And I don’t know if it’s the version we’ll see in Clash of the Titans. When I met him the year before on the set of Terminator Salvation, Worthington was a little more guarded. He was more open at the junket for that film, but here, on Clash, he was just great fun. If someone could capture that aspect of his personality he would live up to all the hype that had been built around him.
Of course it could have been that he was effected by the set itself. Mikkelsen explained how the international cast had really come together and bonded. “From the Irish guy, Liam, you learn to swear a lot. And [from the] Australian guy you learn to drink a lot. You know, they’re all actors and they’re all based in the same route. It’s been really fun. We have a great mix of different people. We’ve got one from Israel, a Christian guy from Israel. You’ve got Maloud, who’s French Muslim [who plays the comic relief character in Perseus’ crew]. It’s been really fun to hang out with all these guys. Tenerife, we spent like six weeks together and that was a gift from the gods, you can say, because it really shook this team together. Not only the journeymen, but all the actors and all the stunt guys, we were constantly competing about something in the evening, finding something to compete about. Just to show each other the bruises and the cuts and compare. And, and it was really like going to school with all of these men.”
Leterrier probably didn’t spend much time with that bunch, though. “I’m shooting, cutting and doing visual effects,” the visibly exhausted director told us. “I’m working 20 hour days, seven days a week.” But even as tired as he must have been, he had huge amounts of enthusiasm for this film… and the next one. “I already have the sequel in my head. I always thought the story was a little bit too small for a movie, so I wrote a big long storyline.”
Whether or not Leterrier gets to tell the rest of that storyline will be decided in a couple of weeks. When we were on set there wasn’t even any talk of shooting 3D, a decision that just was made a few weeks ago. But 3D or not, the movie has to stand on its own. People have to have fun.
“I think this whole movie is pretty ridiculous,” Worthington admitted. “It’s the fun of it. We’re running around with rubber swords and rubber shields with a guy made of wood, jumping out of scorpions covered in goo. I think the whole point of this movie is it’s meant to be fun and bombastic. I call it a Saturday morning popcorn movie your dad would have seen.”
Adventure is key. “It’s not an action movie, it’s not a scifi movie, it’s an adventure movie,” Leterrier explained. “There’s a line in the script where they’ve reached the end of the known world, and I would like for the audience to really discover something they’ve never seen before.”
He continued: “At one point in history there were different gods, and a different set of rules, and the creatures come from that. The gods have flaws and the creatures have flaws and it’s all about shades of grey; nothing is black and nothing is white. My secret wish is that one day in a classroom somewhere in New Jersey somebody says, ‘Kids we’re going to study Greek mythology today, and to introduce you to that, here’s Clash of the Titans.'”
So, is Bubo in the movie? I don’t know. Talking to an insider just the other day I was told nobody knows. They shot a scene with Bubo, and I saw the Bubo puppet that was used (Leterrier wanted to use the actual Bubo from the original film, but they couldn’t get it, so the props department had to create a new one that looks just like the original), but whether or not that scene makes it into the final cut is still up in the air. You’ll have to find out on April 2nd, when Clash of the Titans comes to theaters.