‘Clash of the Titans’ poster begs the question: where are the titans?
BY TODD GILCHRIST
On Friday, April 2, Warner Brothers is releasing their first major tentpole release of the year, Clash of the Titans– well, not counting Valentine’s Day or Cop Out. As often happens when you’re processing the details of studio promotional campaigns as a matter of professional obligation rather than personal interest, I saw the posters that Warner Brothers released in conjunction with the film, but it wasn’t until recently that I actually looked closer at their content. One of them, sadly, revealed the Kraken, which the accompanying TV ads are proclaiming as the film’s climactic adversary; another one more gracefully depicted Perseus (Sam Worthington) atop his winged-horse companion Pegasus. But upon closer inspection, the third was purely baffling: Perseus screams victoriously at the skies while holding a ball of, well, I don’t quite know what he’s holding.
Anyone even casually familiar with the 1981 original, much less the new film’s marketing campaign, probably knows that this is supposed to be the head of Medusa, the one creature whose powers are possibly a match for the Kraken’s. But the question remains why Warner Brothers would put out a theatrical one-sheet poster in which the creature’s iconic countenance wasn’t immediately visible?
The problem isn’t that I’m some Medusa-phile who feels that the character deserves more time in the spotlight, although I’m not sure that Sam Worthington is still enough of a name by himself to get audiences into theaters. Rather, it’s that of all the designs the filmmakers and artists and marketing experts came up with, they ultimately chose on that just looks freaking awful. But according to a trusted source who asked not to be identified, the answer is both simpler and more complicated than a matter of creativity by committee: the MPAA, not the studio, nixed something more remarkable, or even just more recognizable, before the posters could be released.
Ironically, it didn’t even occur to me that what Perseus was holding was a head, be it human, demigod or otherwise, only that he was not showing that head’s familiar face. But evidently the ratings board insisted that Warner Brothers replace Medusa’s melon with something that looked less immediately recognizable as a beheaded person, even if its eyes were glowing and its hair was swarming with snakes. All of which begs the question: where does the line exist between MPAA’s regulation of mainstream moviemaking and promotion and unreasonable creative constraint, if not out-and-out censorship? Even allowing for the inevitability that some group will be offended by almost anything the studios do, what or who are they protecting by forcing filmmakers to alter key elements of their films and campaigns to suit some arbitrary measure of public decency?
I admit I don’t have an answer. There are certainly elements of some films that should be protected from public view. But there seems to be a clear difference between an image that is obviously fantasy, as is the case with literally everything involving Clash of the Titans, and, say, a war drama where a poster might depict casualties on the battlefield. That said, the MPAA’s consistency, to say the very least, is dubious; notwithstanding their decree about the Clash poster, the ratings board regularly and readily shows favor to big-budget studio fare over its independent competition, evidenced by hundreds of movies that were better analyzed in Kirby Dick’s2006 expose, This Film is Not Yet Rated, than I could do here.
Further, to my knowledge, to this day a character still cannot aim a gun out at the viewer in a print or television advertisement. I suppose I could understand this sort of thinking decades ago, but I’m not at all sure what impact such imagery has on moviegoers today. That said, I’m also not sure that it doesn’t have an impact, either. Not to mention, seriously, how much of an impact will not showing Medusa’s face have on the box office receipts of Clash of the Titans? Probably not much, since there’s at least two other posters, dozens of images, billboards galore, and wall-to-wall TV and radio advertisements making sure people see it regardless whether or not they might see a severed head turn warriors to stone.
But there’s no excuse for bad marketing artwork, even if there’s an explanation. And it’s the MPAA, not Warner Brothers, that has to answer for this terrible poster that’s going to be seen in every Cineplex from now until, well, probably two weeks from now, when the next tentpole comes in to knock this one out. Because there is simply no way that without outside pressure the smart people at Warner – who are putting their money specifically behind the immediate recognizability of Greek gods and monsters already immortalized on film – would actively elect to release a poster that reduces the ability for one of them to be recognized.
Quite frankly, sounds a little bit like chopping off Medusa’s head only to accidentally turn it on yourself. And while it’s obvious that the MPAA is still stuck stonelike in an antiquated set of beliefs and values, creatively speaking it seems like it’s time for filmmakers to enjoy a little more room to breathe – even if, as in this case, their lungs don’t happen to still be attached.
Enjoy the “Clash of the Titans” photo gallery below:
“CLASH OF THE TITANS” TRAILER