Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans (1981) movie poster

(1981) dir. Desmond Davis
viewed: 04/24/09

The kids and I have watched a number of the films of Ray Harryhausen.  In many ways, though Harryhausen only ever did the special effects (the stop-motion animated monsters and creatures), and while he worked with a number of different “directors”, those films are his more than anyone else’s, far more the core of the enjoyment and magic of the films.  And for those in the know, Clash of the Titans was the last film on which he worked.

Released in 1981, the film I remember quite well from its initial run.  I’d been a Harryhausen fan as a kid, tipped off on “who he was” by Famous Monsters of Filmland, but a long-time fan of his Sinbad films ( The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) & Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)) and his masterpiece, Jason and the Argonauts (1963).  But Clash of the Titans was a bit of a let-down, over-long, clunky, and though featuring some excellent sequences, felt very behind the times in comparison with Star Wars and the modern special effects.

The reality is that the film is clunky.  Harry Hamlin as Perseus isn’t exactly “star power”.  But the film has a pretty rich cast of actors including Laurence Olivier as Zeus, Maggie Smith as Theta, plus Burgess Meredith, Usula Andress, and Claire Bloom, to boot.  And some of the effects are more clunky.

The film’s best sequence is the slaying of Medusa, which is one of the best of Harryhausen’s work.  She’s wonderfully designed and manipulated.  There are some others, Bubo the R2D2-sounding robot owl, the Kraken (looks cool but doesn’t do a whole lot), the 2-headed dog, a couple of scorpions.  I always found it a dissapointing finale to a great career.  And that’s pretty much how I saw it this time with the kids.

Clara wasn’t into it at all.  But Felix liked it.  He was interested in the depiction of the mythological characters of whom he has read in a Mythology book, which he kept on his lap during the film.

The funny thing was, the very day we watched it, there was an article in the local paper The San Francisco Chronicle, listing 5 great bad movies (that are so bad that they’re good), such as Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and the new cult film The Room (2003).  I think that’s going a bit too far for Clash of the Titans because it’s not that bad.

Additionally, I had just read that they had signed Liam Neesan and Ralph Fiennes to play Zeus and Hades, respectively, in a new re-make due out next year.  It’s not utterly surprising, but here is a chance to make a better movie, for certain, with effects out of the computer with no doubt many a tip of the hat to Harryhausen, a pioneer of special effects.  But the wonderfully anachronistic use of stop-motion animation to depict the real surreal is something that should still be appreciated, an art form somewhat easily dismissed as passe in today’s day and age, but something that had great qualities and craft in the hands of Ray Harryhausen, a master of the form.

Still, this is not the one to start with nor finish with of his films.  I doubt anyone would disagree with that suggestion.

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