Sunday, November 02, 2008

Part III – Kasdan’s “Clash”


Hey guys,

I apologize for the delay in posting this review. I was never satisfied with this article until I just gave up and started over from scratch.



Not sure how to describe Larry Kasdan’s revision except to say that Kasdan merely redecorated the house that
Beacham built, which had always been fundamentally unsound. The overall structure and design is intact, which is not a good thing. However, Kasdan certainly made the individual rooms more pleasant, colorful, and appear lived-in by real human beings. In fact, some of those rooms are quite stirring to see. But when I step back and take in the house as a whole, I have to ask myself “Okay, how does this make me feel?” I can only conclude that it is still a cold, hollow, uninviting eyesore that should be completely demolished and rebuilt from the ground up.

In fact, it makes me want to take another tour of the house that
Beverley Cross built. Because you want to admire again his wonderful craftsmanship, the sound structure, the elegance in its simplicity, the focus on the journey supported by the clear functionality of every room, the way he provided a point and reason to every tiny detail, and you also appreciate something new - the fact that he had the discipline to avoid building a lot of unnecessary additions to his house that would’ve made you lose sight of the heart and soul of his creation.

I wonder if this was a case of studio insecurity. Perhaps the writers were pressured to deliver something like 300 with big war scenes, because they were so influenced by the amount of money 300 made. Perhaps the studio wanted big war scenes in Clash because they knew they’d be going up against War of the Gods in 2010, a story
Variety describes as “a mythological tale set in war-torn ancient Greece, as the young warrior prince Theseus leads his men in a battle against evil that will see the gods fighting with soldiers against demons and titans.” But then again, perhaps not. Perhaps this was just a case of weak screenwriting, of a new writer wanting to impress the studio with something big but lacked the discipline to focus on the characters and Perseus, in particular. You have to know what your story is and have the courage of conviction to tell it. Clash has always been a romantic adventure story. It’s a waste to try to turn it into something it has never ever been.

Too many non-essential things are going on in the plot. You have a war between gods and man. You have so much thought put into how this war happened and how it effects both sides. You have the debates amongst the gods (and private conspiracies), as well as the debates amongst the leaders of man, and the negotiation for peace. You have discussions about faith vs. science & self-reliance, and pre-destination of the gods vs. the free-will of man. And none of these things satisfy me because there’s no emotional core behind any of these discussions. There’s too much emphasis on the intellectual over the emotional, and there must be an emotional center to a story before you can get anyone involved in an intellectual discussion. And this settlement for peace, this forced marriage between Perseus and Andromeda, is a bad move. They don’t connect. They DON’T fall in love because they’re both so annoyed about being in a forced marriage. Thus, you’ve robbed Perseus of ANY emotional motivation whatsoever to go on this adventure to save Andromeda. He’s just doing what everyone says he’s pre-destined to do. What does Perseus want?

I’m not even a third into this script and I want to put it down and do a complete revision of the entire story. It’s a mess. It’s a total mess, and they’ve lost all focus on the story. Because there’s been so much thought about everything else in the story, what gets lost is Perseus, as a character, and his journey. Who is he? What’s his emotional logic for going on this adventure? Why am I supporting him? Am I supposed to support him just because he’s a believer in self-reliance? Are you kidding me? So what? Why should I care? Why should HE care? What’s personally at stake FOR HIM in all of this? Do you even know what you want him to be – a scientist, rebel, or hero?

There is nothing more annoying than a weak, passive, unmotivated HERO protagonist. Even while they are on the adventure, Perseus is terribly passive. Do you remember the scene I described in
the last article about how the team of men JUST SO HAPPEN to come upon a bunch of Pegassi and for fun, coax Perseus into mounting one? He fails. Then a dragon appears. This dragon was sent by a very bad god to eat Perseus. At this point, I’m sure all the fanboys are thinking, “Oh cool! A dragon! I love this script!” But me, I’m shaking my head because Perseus fails to step up to be the hero. Everyone else on his team fights the dragon and defeats it. Perseus does so very little, and after it’s over, he gets roundly condemned for it. He’s “too important” to risk his life like that because “the hopes of multitudes” reside with him. Doesn’t that mean he should be acting like a fucking hero by fighting the fucking dragon? Isn’t that what heroes do? In my notes, I wrote, “What’s so bad about this scene is that everyone else does damage to the dragon except Perseus. This could’ve been his chance to prove himself to the team. He could’ve tamed a Pegasus, used the animal to kill the dragon to the stunned looks of everyone. He could’ve earned their respect and spot as rightful leader of the expedition. Plus, this would’ve introduced a REASON to have Pegasus in the story in the first place. Better yet, Perseus should’ve been the one to insist that they try to tame these animals so they could fly to the witches to save time.”

Even anti-heroes make decisions that push a plot forward. Toward the end of the story, a goddess named Vidalia tells Perseus, “A hero. They’re waiting for you, Perseus.” I wrote in my notes, “Yeah, I’m waiting for Perseus to be a hero, too.”

Everything in this story, all this bloated extraneous shit about a war and all these discussions about things unrelated to the story should be stripped away and the focus should be on Perseus and HIS JOURNEY. Nothing else matters. If you can’t get an audience behind your own hero protagonist with an emotional core to his story, then everything else you do is a complete waste of time and money.

I’m not done. This Medusa scene is shit. Kasdan only marginally improved upon Beacham’s efforts by raising tension slightly. Not only that, Medusa is still stripped of the bow & arrow and the acid for blood. The men, again, enter the temple with blindfolds and the only thing Medusa does is slither around them, untie their blindfolds, and try to get them to look at her. (My friend, Eric, suggested that, every time she takes off a blindfold, she screams, “BOO!” Hehehe…) Come on, guys. There’s so much that could be done with Medusa to make it GREAT. The reason everyone is going to pay to see this movie is for the Medusa scene, and you have to make Medusa BIGGER and BETTER than the original and make the scene MORE TENSE, not less.

Another notable change Kasdan made was to have Perseus’ human father tag along on this expedition, because, I guess, this character was a waste in Beacham’s draft. But I wasn’t sure what the dramatic point of bringing him along would be. Well, his father enters Medusa’s temple WITH Perseus. I thought, “Ohhhh, Larry’s going to change the dynamics of this scene. I’ll bet his father gets nailed by Medusa, which really sets off Perseus and his drive to behead her.” But no, that doesn’t happen. Perseus AND his father leave the temple together with Medusa’s head. Oy vey… And again, because other soldiers from his team are standing outside the temple, we’re robbed of the iconic image of Perseus holding up Medusa’s head in victory.

You guys are making Clash of the Titans, right?

Please, cut the soldiers fighting the centaurs while Perseus is with Medusa. It doesn’t work because there’s no tension. It’s action for action’s sake without any point. We don’t feel any tension because A) the centaurs are blind, so it shouldn’t be THAT difficult to kill them, and B) Perseus is ALREADY in the temple. If they were fighting to get IN the temple, then that’s different. The only reason to have an action scene like this while Perseus is in the temple is to RAISE TENSION for the audience. Like, say, the centaurs kill all the soldiers and we’re worried about Perseus stepping out of the temple, because he’s going to be attacked by the centaurs. See? TENSION. Thus, you should not make them blind so that, as a twist, when they charge to attack Perseus as he leaves he can hold up her head to kill them.

Are you guys even thinking in terms of tension & suspense?

I want to talk about Andromeda. In the original film, she wasn’t simply a damsel in distress. She was also headstrong, and wasn’t going to be bossed around. Thus, she informed Perseus and his team that she’s going with them. Here, in the remake, there’s no love between the Andromeda and Perseus. She’s left in Joppa, and we’re given a completely different kind of story about her changing from her spoiled, selfish, sluttish, diva-like indulgences to becoming a good ruler of Joppa. There’s nothing emotionally resonant about that kind of arc, because “becoming a good ruler” is so bland and generic. What does that mean? Look, give yourself multiple solutions to every problem and ask yourself – what’s the most emotionally resonant approach to a subplot? It’s far more emotionally resonant to see her change early but face resistance, because it’s not until we see her fight for things that are important that we’ll care. Instead of her bitching and moaning about her father choosing to let her be sacrificed to save the city, which is contrived and melodramatic, Andromeda could’ve submitted herself to her father to be sacrificed for the sake of her city, but he resists. He can’t go through with it. He cares too much.

Finally, without giving anything away, I’ll say this – cut Vidalia. She’s a terrible idea. She’s uninspiring, completely one-dimensional, and void of any qualities that would make us care about… her subplot.



Joshua James said...

Persesus failing is a common motif with Kasdan (remember Indiana Jones failing so much in the beginning, etc) and I like it for a lot of anti-heroes and such . . . however, you are absolutely correct that a movie about a Greek hero has to be about him stepping up . . . that's the myth, that's why there's the talk about destiny, etc . . . if the DOESN'T, than it's all bullshit . . .

So I completely agree with your assessment based on what you've shared . . . it sounds like K stayed with what he knows, but Perseus ain't Dr. Jones, who's a different kind of hero, Persesus is the son of a God . . . he has to step the fuck up when a dragon shows.


Luzid said...

You've got to be kidding us. Please tell me that Kasdan - KASDAN! - didn't make the same mistake as in the reprehensible Godzilla remake - MEDUSA IS A BADASS, why would she make the tactical error of toying with the good guys by untying their blindfolds?! She'd just kill them on sight!

To have her do something so unbelievably STUPID as this doesn't strain the suspension of disbelief, it destroys it. Notice the word suspense in there? It's for a reason.

Just as Godzilla doesn't run away and hide, Medusa doesn't lose the advantage by playing stupid gotcha games with the (unheroic) hero. That's not why we love those monsters. We love them because they are the Big Threat in the dark of night that most humans have no hope in hell of defeating! How can anyone be scared of monsters that are no more threatening than Milton from Office Space?


JJ said...

A goddess named Vidalia?

Ooo boy...this really has nothing to do with Greek mythology, huh?

Confirms my suspicions it's just another property getting made in the wake of Lord Of The Rings, being retrofitted into a hopeful fantasy franchise.

Well, at least it's nice to see Beverly Cross getting some respect. Jason And The Argonauts is a truly, truly great screenplay, and Mr. Cross is deeply underappreciated. The fact that he worked on Lawrence Of Arabia is news to me, though. I thought Wilson and Bolt were the only writers on it. I'd love to know the details on that one...

Kevin said...

Well, MM, I am 30 pages into Kasdan's draft. I should be much further but a few hiccups this week have set me back. I'm holding judgement until I finish it, but apart from the intro it is the exact same story just written more economically.

I was hoping all these strands that were drifting across the narrative were all for a later purpose but your critique now has me bored to read on. I shall though. But it's a shame that they don't just settle in immediately on Perseus and give us his story. I think if they just settled on telling it from his POV, then the sense of discovery, danger and suspense would be far more fulfilling. Perseus doesn't know he is a demigod, so why should we have to know before he does?

Anyway, it's a missed opportunity.

Kevin said...

Off-topic, but since you mentioned Indy there Joshua, I was oblivious to Indy being an anti-hero until very recently when I was considering his arc in Raiders again. It's true he starts off doing dislikeable things like stealing artefacts for his own personal gain. Imagine if one of the South American tribe turned up in Washington and stole the declaration of independence to put it in a museuem in his hometown.

When I dwell on this I almost wish Indy replaced the idol he stole in the beginning. Show a proper growth of character and showing the same respect for other cultures as his own. Just thought I'd share that. Okay, resuming Clash of the Titans commenting in 3 ... 2 ...

Mickey Lee said...

Vidalia -- is she the goddess of onions? Does she give Perseus a serious case of halitosis so he can do battle with Medusa?

Please tell me there's at least one scene where Perseus screams "This is JOPPA!" just so we know it's a full-on "300" ripoff.

Mystery Man said...

Josh - I sent you an e-mail.

Luzid - I love Kasdan with all of my heart. But make no mistake, he's capable of fucking up. "Dreamcatcher," anyone? That was 6 years ago and he hasn't done anything since then. Critics had quite a few complaints about his handling of characters in "Mumford" and "Wyatt Earp." Of course, "The Accidental Tourist" and "Grand Canyon" were great. Dare I even say that "Raiders" and "Empire," which was also in the hands of Spielberg and Lucas during their primes, was nearly 30 years ago?

JJ - I'll tell you a secret. Vidalia is his NEW love interest. Oy vey... That's the thing that upsets me the most.

Kevin - Let me know your thoughts when you're done. I'm certainly open to being wrong.

Mickey - This is yet another example of studios trying to duplicate past successes in places where it's not warranted. They want "Clash" to be like "300." Hey, look, there's nothing wrong a style like "300," but let "Clash" BE "Clash." Ya know?


Burbanked said...

It's unfortunate to see a former-great like Kasdan dropping the ball here - and you're right, MM, that his recent efforts have been lacking. But at the same time it's damn difficult to know what kind of direction he was given for his draft. I'd imagine that, in some cases, a studio hands over a draft to be rewritten with vague, unhelpful crap like "speed the story along" or "tighten up the second act" and other such silliness. Kasdan, and others like him, probably have to weigh want they WANT to do to a rewrite job with what they're ASKED to do, right? And although an A-list screenwriter may hold additional influence to impact the story, ultimately they're hired guns doing what they're told. You know, like Darabont. ;)

Laura Deerfield said...

When you're making a story based on mythology, you're story should be, well...mythic. As in get out your Campbell and re-read the Illiad and go with what has worked for hundreds of years because it's hardwired - the hero's journey

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