Screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi had a Herculean task with “Clash of the Titans” — how do you hold on to the heroic touchstones from the beloved (but now wildly dated) 1981 original film and still make a 21st century special-effects spectacular for this modern ironic age? It turns out one way was making Pegasus black. I sat down with them for sandwiches at Little Dom’s to separate myth from fact as far as the new epic, which is due in theaters April 2. — Geoff Boucher
GB: Going into this project, what did you know you wanted to avoid? What were the things you didn’t want to see in your revival of “Clash of the Titans“?
MM:We knew that tonally it should not be grim. It shouldn’t be ponderous. It had to have a sense of fun and a sense that it’s an adventure movie with likable characters. There had to be some irreverence in there but it couldn’t be jokey.
PH: When things are happening, you want this true sense of jeopardy but it had to have a real sense of fun to it. It couldn’t be self-serious. We also knew there were these set pieces from the original that were so critical in our memories and so big in our imaginations that this movie wouldn’t be “Clash of the Titans” without them. We knew we wanted to include Medusa, the Pegasus, Calibos and the Kraken, of course.
GB: When I was on the set in London, director Louis Leterrier said he was mulling over big changes for the Pegasus — he was thinking of making it black with leathery bat wings.
MM: The Pegasus is black in the movie. I’m glad the bat wings didn’t happen. It made the horse look too evil, I think. But we were big supporters of black Pegasus. It was to make the Pegasus a bit more of a bad ass. When you see it in the film, it looks tough. And the actual horse they got was a bad ass. And huge.
GB: One of the other choices you needed to make was about Bubo, the little mechanical owl from the original film…
PH:There is a brief, loving cameo. There was a lot of debate about the owl. It’s funny, everyone wants to know about the owl, everybody asks. He’s always going to come up.
MM: He’s a polarizing figure.
PH: It’s true. There’s two camps, the pro-Bubo camp and the hate-Bubo camp. We realized tonally and as an ongoing part of the story that we wanted to create, it would not work. We wanted a reference, though, so there is a scene that has made final cut. He is seen and dealt with. He is dispatched quickly.
MM: But nothing bad happens to him! He’s not dispatched like that, just as far as the story. It’s a way of acknowledging the fans of the original. This title has such a special place in our memories in our childhood, as it does for a lot of people.
PH: If the movie works the way we hope it works, it will access that way that you watched movies when you were a kid and you were just psyched to go see a movie. It was a quest for awesomeness at all times. It should kind of be like metal, you know, like the side of an old-school custom van? Frank Frazetta paintings and Dio.
GB: It’s interesting to consider the character of Medusa — here is a person who got a really raw deal. She was a beautiful young maiden who gets raped by Poseidon and then turned into a monster by Athena who is angry that the rape took place in her temple.
MM: We explored that it in the script a little bit. We retell the story of how she came to be and, as usual, the gods are just so horrible.
PH: The gods are all about blame the victim. They blame everyone but themselves.
GB: “Clash” producer Basil Iwaynk at Thunder Road Pictures is the one who approached you two about the project, but what happened next?
PH: We came in and met with everybody and we came in about the same time as [director] Louis Letterrier, so we kind of formed a bond with him. He’s the best. And fortunately, our take really coincided with his right from the beginning.
MM: He was such a good call for this project. He has the kind of energy you need for this kind of adventure movie. He’s also very smart and steeped in all kinds of movies. He brings a sense of focus but also a sense of playfulness to everything. He has fun with everything he does but he takes it all very seriously.
GB: I hear he may be directing the “Avengers” film for Marvel Studios.
MM: That’s what it seems like. I know it’s something he really, really wants to do. I think he would be absolutely perfect for it.
— Geoff Boucher
RECENT AND RELATED
PHOTOS: Pegasus says hello to Perseus in the new “Clash of the Titans” (Warner Bros). Second, poster for the 1981 film and, third, Bubo from the 1981 film (Los Angeles Times archives). Fourth, Medusa in the new film (Warner Bros.). Bottom, a poster for the new film.