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Ye Gods

“Clash of the Titans” is a Herculean mess.

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Of course contemporary sensibilities must be taken into consideration in an update, but who involved in the “Clash of the Titans” remake decided to give the Kraken a hoodie? Or that ancient people should all look like Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” or that high definition 3-D would benefit rubber swords?

The remake is superior to the 1981 original in one feature at least: It's about eight minutes shorter. Otherwise the movie has achieved the Herculean feat of being more forgettable than a film that paired Harry Hamlin with a mechanical owl.

The new “Clash” takes the old “Clash” and strips it of everything except its most memorable events -- the three witches, the Gorgon, the Kraken -- streamlines the plot and characters and surrounds them with newfangled effects. The 3-D glasses in the version I saw were the fancy battery-powered kind. They made me want to reach out and yank off Zeus' fake beard.

The updated “Clash” still revolves around Perseus (Sam Worthington of “Avatar”), the son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), who orders Hades (Ralph Fiennes) to punish an ancient city with the terrifying Kraken (played by himself), a Titan said to have been created by the gods to kill their parents. Even the least mythologically inclined among you might scratch your heads at this point, given that the Titans in Greek mythology were the old gods who preceded the Olympians.

For some reason “Clash” follows the original most when it makes sense the least, and vice versa. The first movie was longwinded and campy; not good but it was earnest and epic in its own meandering way. Importantly, things happened for the same reasons they happened in mythology: jealousy, revenge and vanity.

In the new version the mortals might have just finished watching another Hollywood action movie, because the impetus for their destruction has been boiled down to talk of freedom that gets the gods' togas in a knot. Zeus orders up one Kraken, an opportunity Hades uses for revenge, enlisting Zeus' human enemy, Calibos (Jason Flemyng), to kill Perseus, which will allow Hades to kill Zeus some time after his worshippers sacrifice their beautiful princess (Alexa Davalos). If you're having trouble following all these maneuvers and what they have to do with each other, don't worry, the movie does too. Spoiler alert: None of this stuff makes any sense.

It's important to remember what box-office deities are really being worshipped: 13-year-old boys and people who think like them. I have a feeling even they will be a little disappointed, but they're probably why the new film has less of a strict adherence to myth and more of a “Troy”-meets-Harry Potter-meets-Transformers kind of vibe. It was directed by Louis Leterrier (“Transporter 2,” “The Incredible Hulk”) with plenty of creatures, fireballs and martial arts, and little bother with how any of it got there.

Perhaps in honor of its predecessor, “Clash” is appallingly cheap-looking. Some fantasy fans decried the last-minute, slapdash 3-D applied in the wake of “Avatar,” but the film is anemic with glasses on or off, like a 3-D episode of “Xena: Warrior Princess.” You haven't seen smoke machines and painted Styrofoam get this much of a workout since your last trip through a haunted amusement park ride. When Charon (also played by himself) floats to shore on the River Styx, you expect to find the band of the same name. Medusa appears to be grafted from a video-game clip, and not surprisingly she's defeated with the arcane strategy the ancients called “stomping on the tail.”

Worthington, who has a featureless face and bland persona more befitting an extra than their leader, recently said in an interview, “If you've got anything of an epic scale, I think 3-D helps, because you kind of start looking around at things.” For example, at Zeus' full suit of armor, worn as if he's about to ride off with Guinevere. The floor of his palace on Mount Olympus obviously reflects his fondness for Sid Meier's “Civilization.”  

The last time we saw Worthington, he was speaking Na'vi, a memory that argues for invented languages in all fantasy and sci-fi. If that were applied here, we'd be spared such passionate exclamations as “Calm your storm,” which Perseus' love interest, Io (Gemma Aterton), coos to him while the two wrestle at the bottom of a boat. Have pity, ye movie gods. (PG-13) 110 min. HIIII

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