Clash Of The Titans (1981 UK/USA)

If you like Mythology this is the flick you are looking for. This movie is imaginative and enthralling, made even more charming by the use of Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion effects. Fantasy films really shouldn’t look 100% real anyway. That’s why it’s myth/fantasy. The monsters are excellent, especially Medusa. I wouldn’t want to see them done with today’s special effects. The old ones make the film more resonant. The stop motion is life–like, the pinnacle of its day and more than enough to stand against the over blown CGI-fest of today.

However, even though Clash of the Titans contains probably twice as many monsters as Jason and the Argonauts (the 1963 fantasy epic), they actually play second-fiddle to the flesh-and-blood people. And the results are refreshing. For not only is the screenplay just as interested in the character as in the monsters, but the people, both on earth and Mount Olympus, are interesting in their own small way. The creatures include: Medusa the Gorgon, a funny mechanical owl built by the gods, a two-headed wolf, a giant sea monster, among others – all part of the fantastic world of Greek mythology. But it is Harry Hamlin, as Perseus, who steals the show. Hamlin is smart in the way he portrays Perseus. He does not attempt a dramatic, over-the-top performance. Instead, he consciously underplays the performance, somehow getting off so much charisma and gusto without over-emoting as would be the tendency.

I particularly liked Burgess Meredith as the quirky, wise storyteller who helps explain the background and context to the audience as well as the other characters. As for the divine beings on Mount Olympus, what more could you want other than to see Laurence Olivier himself dominating the sets as Zeus? Olivier more efficiently captures the sense of semi-tyranny and temperamental power than what we got from Niall MacGinnis in Jason and the Argonauts. But what is so special about Clash of the Titans is the way it whole-heartedly believes in its own world and the sense of spectacle and majesty it evokes. When we first hear Laurence Rosenthal’s music at the opening there is a sense of magical wonder. Even a simple landscape shot of Perseus and the other heroes riding on horseback against an early morning sky, has a spine-tingling sensation to it. And despite the temptation that surely would have been ever-present during production, the film does not condescend into self-parody.

Director Desmond Davis does what he can and the best sequence is probably when Perseus fights Medusa in her flame–lit labyrinth. The lighting is great in this scene, with plenty of tension and atmosphere running through it. I thought the skeleton ferryman was quite creepy as well. Not surprisingly, there are a couple of shots containing female nudity that might startle a young viewer, and a certain amount of gore thrown in (of course this was the early 80s, they had to do it, keeping it real etc). With a budget of 15 million big ones, Clash of the Titans is a well made film with nice varied locations from dark swamps, ancient temples and cities to Medusa’s labyrinth and tropical islands, which give it an attractive look. All in all, Clash Of The Titans is a fitting finale for the master of stop-motion, Ray Harryhausen. 🙂

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