One of the most amazing things about 1981’s Clash of the Titans is how out of time it feels. It’s a film that was definitely sold to children partly because of the great success of Star Wars, but other than the mechanical owl Bubo, it doesn’t feel very Star Wars-y, and it definitely doesn’t feel like a film of the 1980’s. And for an 80’s film, it’s loaded with a cast of British stars like Laurence Olivier as Zeus, Claire Bloom as Hera, and Maggie Smith as Thetis, alongside Americans like Harry Hamlin as Perseus, and Burgess Meredith as Ammon, so it doesn’t feel entirely British or American. Director Desmond Davis directs with all the precision of an Amicus film from the early 70’s, so it has a slightly stagey, kinda television feel. But the stop motion animation of Ray Harryhausen is timeless. And when Perseus does battle with the Medusa, or giant scorpions, it’s great to see the maestro get one last big movie. My review of 1981’s Clash of the Titans after the jump.
Zeus (Olivier) was the Tiger Woods of Gods, so he had many half-god children, and his god-wives got jealous, specifically of his son Perseus (Hamlin). Perseus was initially banished to the sea, but Zeus looked after him as best he could. This did not make Thetis (Smith) happy, also because her son Calibos (Neil McCarthy) was cursed by Zeus, and couldn’t marry Andromeda (Judi Bowker) as they originally planned. As Perseus grows up he leads both a blessed and cursed life as the immortals tinker with his fate, sending him to a foreign land, but then granting him a helmet of invisibility and the world’s finest sword and shield. When he falls for Andromeda, he defeats Calibos in one of his riddles after using his special tools to gain the clues. But Thetis has Calibos’s back, and that’s going to lead to the Kraken destroying and killing most of the Greeks unless it gets Andromeda as a sacrifice. Perseus wants none of this, so he sets off on a quest to sever Medusa’s head and use its power to turn people and monsters into stone.
Clash of the Titans is shot like television for the most part, and Desmond Davis is such a weird director for this material. Perhaps this was always a movie where the director was going to be a puppet for the effects team, but it seems like this should have been done by a film student. I have no idea why Davis was hired – though he looks like a steady hand – and though Davis is alive he provides no commentary on the film. Perhaps because Ray Harryhausen has always been seen as the true auteur of his films. This is sad in the sense that it points out most of the filmmakers he worked with weren’t all that good – with his run in the 60’s and Jason and the Argonauts the high point. From his filmography, it seems that it took three or four years to make one of the films, and Harryhausen worked at a steady clip until Clash. Perhaps he was felled by the changing tides of Star Wars, and perhaps people were more interested in science fiction and go motion than stop motion.
Regardless, Greek mythology is ripe for cinema and the film is fun for all of that even if it’s not particularly well directed. Everything is serviceable, but this then makes the effects work pop off screen. The Medusa sequence is still a great deal of fun and when the Kraken does his business it’s just as impressive now as it was then – even if there’s a number of effect shots that just look tacky and weird (super-imposed people in underwater photography, the background for Zeus at points). I grew up on this movie, so I’m a little biased, and I still look at it with the same sense of wonder and joy, but that’s the way I’ve always felt about Harryhausen’s work. The craftsmanship is excellent, even if you are constantly aware of it, and there’s so many great monster and monster fights in this film.
Warner Brother’s Blu-ray is problematic to say the least. The film stock on this one is grainy and ugly, and there’s little that can be done with a film like this to make it look awesome for the format. Grain is evident at points, and the soft focus-y elements don’t do great in 1080. That noted, the film has never looked better on home video. It should also be noted that the original poster and art is brilliant, and it’s too bad this Blu-ray went with the art it did for the cover over the original poster. The soundtrack is 2.0 DTS-HD mono, and it sounds fine but nothing special. Extras include a preview of the remake/new version which is half a trailer, and half electronic press kit. There’s an interview with Harryhausen (12 min.) and seven minute-long pieces on the creatures in the film, with comments from Harryhausen. These were recycled from the DVD release, so the only new material is the preview footage of the new film, and the book-style case, which includes a picture-heavy 30 page booklet.