French director Louis Leterrier has become the go-to-guy for remakes and reboots of well known properties. His 2008 revamp The Incredible Hulk was a nice improvement from its 2003 predecessor and now he’s hoping to work that same magic on 1981′s Clash of the Titans. The original was directed by Desmond Davis and starred several veteran actors including Laurence Olivier. During that time, Davis’ version was revolutionary with its stop motion special effects and memorable characters including a mechanical owl and its feminine faced hero Perseus, played by Harry Hamlin.
Almost 30 years later, Leterrier traded in the pretty male protagonist for a realistic everyman with Australian actor Sam Worthington, and replaced the stop motion with top notch CGI. The director’s take on Clash of the Titans is grittier, dirtier, and a lot more action oriented than the original. But despite all the updates, we still get to see a group of men fight each other in dresses, so he didn’t really alter it that much.
Who would have the audacity to remake Clash of the Titans? That was the thought that ran through Leterrier’s mind when the film was pitched to him. He, like everyone else was skeptical about touching a movie that is so sacred to so many people.
It was actually Basil’s idea. Basil [Iwanyk, producer] is the one that came to me, I was like, “Really, are you insane?” Remaking this classic? I had lunch with Basil, he tells me about this movie. Obviously, I say, “No I don’t want to do it, it’s a classic. I just don’t want to do it.” But I go home and I watch it and then I’m like, “Ah man, I’m not going to be offered this thing again.” So I call Basil, I was like, “Okay, how can we make it different?” He said that there was this screenplay by Travis [Beachem] and I read it and it was so exciting. Travis was not available so Matt [Manfredi] and Phil [Hay] came on and we decided to — my issue with the original as much as I loved it, watching it again, was the starting point.
One of the main things that the director and the writers wanted to change from the original was the motivation of Perseus. He goes on this dangerous pursuit all in the name of love for a woman that he barely knows and it doesn’t seem believable. They wanted to change that and give him something tangible to hold on to throughout his journey.
It’s like the catalyst of the love story was not working for me and we decided together to make it more of a re-invent story. You watch Gladiator, you watch Brave Heart, these are not anti-heroes, but heroes that don’t know they are, and then the catalyst, the death of their families, death of their loved ones, sends them on the road to go on this impossible journey, suicide mission and along the way we decided to make it very human. We added more humans than in the original movie. More actors and more characters in our movie.
The reason Leterrier was able to get away with shifting the focus to the humans as opposed to the creatures is because of the positive reinforcement he got from many people involved with the original. He spoke to Ray Harryhausen, (a producer and visual effects creator on the 1981 film), who constantly emphasized the importance of the story when speaking to the director.
I actually called Ray Harryhausen twice and said what I was doing. I told him I was the guy. He didn’t talk about the creatures, I thought he would talk about the visual effects — don’t make it CG, it’s going to ruin everything — but he talked about the characters and the cast, and it was by getting the amazing cast that we have from all corners of the world that we made it. The Harryhausen world from the 60s to 80s is almost a blur. As much as I was a fan of the original, it was the old models, I was like great skeletons, fighting skeletons (laughs)? We loved Ray and he really helped me. He said, go my son, go!
With a film of this scope you could easily do everything inside a studio, on a soundstage, or in front of a green screen, but that’s not the route the director wanted to take. There was a lot of on location shooting that took place on Clash because Leterrier wasn’t trying to make another 300. He wanted his own version of this Greek epic that the studio and fans had trusted him to create.
It was important to give a scope and to actually set it in Europe — sort of like the backdrop of Greek mythology — and not to shoot it in Australia or New Zealand, we actually wanted to shoot it in Europe. So we went to this island called Tenerife which is part of the Canary islands. There are volcanoes that popped out of the ocean of the coast of Morocco (they are Spanish-owned islands, but they are on the coast of Morocco) so you get that real, beautiful, Moroccan light, but it’s not sand it’s volcanic rocks so you got amazing colors — the red, black green, clouds that come over, it’s fantastic. It was 7,000 feet up. People had difficulties breathing up there. Then England, we shot some stuff around London, and we went to Wales to fight that quarry. It’s hasn’t been overused by production.
Even though he found the shooting locations beautiful, overall they were a nightmare to film. The weather was unpredictable, which was sometimes hard for the actors to deal with.
We wanted locales that didn’t look like anything else. And it was the middle of July and it rained every day, and it was frigid and I was alright because I was wearing six coats, but poor Sam. Initially the rain was going up and when it’s going up it’s not good. They also went to Ethiopia to shoot some of the plates, because there is these volcanic sulfur lake and the colors are really beautiful and popping. All the tricks of the scorpions, you see there. We wanted to create a new world, something different than anything you’ve seen before. It’s not Lord of the Rings, It’s not Gladiator. It’s not that look.
Sam Worthington takes over the role of Perseus that was originally played by Harry Hamlin. The actor was coming off a string of blockbuster productions with both Avatar and Terminator Salvation before joining Clash so the guy Leterrier met over a year ago looked completely different from the man we see today. And we mean that in a good way!
Sam–it was a challenge to find the perfect Perseus, everybody has an idea in their heads — blonde kid, son of Zeus, buff, everything. I met a lot of actors and this kid from Australia is available after four years of shooting Avatar and Terminator, he was exhausted and he was coming to Los Angeles. I said, I’d love to meet him and see what he’s like, I was meeting everyone, I met like 60-70 [actors] and I sat down with him. Although he was not the Perseus I had in mind, he was perfect, he had everything. He loved the same movies I loved, the same stories I loved. He’s Perseus, he’s Jake Sully, he’s his character in Terminator [Marcus Wright], he’s all these guys, that’s Sam. We had to engineer our screenplay which was more Luke Skywalker to more like “I know who I am.” He’s in it.
Worthington became an overnight success when James Cameron chose him as the lead in his top secret 3D epic Avatar, then McG brought him on board to star as the next great machine in Terminator Salvation. Leterrier discussed the the balance of the actor’s work along with the pressure that comes with being the “next big thing.”
Sam has been humbled by success. At first he was like, will Avatar be good? James Cameron took 10 years making it, blue guys really? No one knew what it was going to be. Sam knew it and obviously James Cameron, but no one knew and it was funny, we did some reshoots after Avatar came out and he was relaxed. He knew that Avatar was right.
When it came to the rest of the cast, the director had big shoes to fill. We’re talking Laurence Olivier sized shoes, one of the greatest actors of all time who played the original Zeus, King of the gods. He managed to get veteran actors Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes to play brothers at war with each other and with the humans.
There’s three brothers, Poseidon, Hades, Zeus and all the other guys that you don’t see. As for Ralph,it was funny the meeting session, I was at the Four Seasons in New York, met him for breakfast and we started talking. He feels the physicality and once he gets the physicality, it’s not like talking to Ralph Fiennes. He was doing this, and doing this, and then I was talking to Hades and he was in character. Sometimes he’s in character. He’s in control.
Overall, with the cast, crew, and the story Leterrier was most impressed by his group of screenwriters. The creative vibe between then came across in the film. Everyone was a die hard fan of the original and they wanted to make this remake fun, entertaining and classic for a new generation.
That’s why these writers were the best ones for the job, they we’re real fans of the work and real fans of cinema so I was loving every page that was coming to me. They never took themselves seriously. There was never — this scene will revolutionize how an audience member will see God and men, it was always fun. We make it in a fun way.
Clash of the Titans debuts in theaters on Friday, April 2nd in both 2D and 3D.