When watching the 1981 film classic Clash of the Titans there are two things you should remember. First of all, once upon a time, films didn’t use CGI for everything. Mad, right? But there was a point, in the not too distant past, when the idea of using computers to do all the work once done by a team of technical artists was considered nothing more than a gimmick. Even up until the mid-90’s CGI was only there to enhance the work done by makeup artists, special effects teams, prop departments, camera operators etc. It was a double edged sword; some things can seem horribly dated on current resolution, and in some cases the props can look like they were created by Jim’s less able and talented cousin Tim Henson. When they worked, however, they added something, a textural realism that CGI has never captured, much to James Cameron’s constant and utter despair.
The second thing to remember is that most of the actions of the Greek Gods were caused by Zeus’s inability to keep it in his chiton. Look it up.
After finding his daughter has had a son outside of wedlock, the King of Argo has cast her and her new born into the sea in a box, letting fate decide the matter. However it turns out that the child’s father is Zeus (Laurence Olivier), King of the Olympian Gods and shapeshifting rapist. Zeus orders that the last of the Titans, the Kraken, be released to destroyed the kingdom. Mother and son are rescued from the sea and the boy grows up to be Perseus (Harry Hamlin). Meanwhile on Olympus trouble brews as the cruel Calibos (Neil McCarthy), son of the Goddess of Water Thetis (Maggie Smith), is punished by Zeus for the atrocities he has committed and is turned into a monster. Thetis seeks revenge by placing a curse on the city of Joppa and the Princess Andromeda (Judi Bowker) as well as engineering Perseus’s arrival in the city. It’s up to Perseus to save both the city and the princess, not only from Calibos but from the Kraken.
Despite being directed by Desmond Davis, the film is, and always will be, considered the product of visual effects legend Ray Harryhausen. Even if you don’t recognise the name, I bet you good money you’ve seen some of his work on Sunday afternoon TV or at the very least have seen it parodied in other films. Clash of the Titans could not work without his iconic stop-motion visual effects and choreography. His work became a corner stone of Hollywood special effects; he inspired Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro to name just a handful. It wasn’t that he simply made a monster or mythical creature for a film. He made it come alive, filming it the same way the scene had been shot with the actors, and took his time to make creatures, that despite being complete fantasy, have real movements and actions. By today’s standard it might seem cheesy but there is a realistic edge to them that no amount of CGI can capture.
Well that’s it for the effects, what about the film?
The thing is, while it’s not bad, nothing captures your attention, monsters and set pieces aside. The characters aren’t complex nor have real depth to them. Perseus is the honourable and gallant hero, Andromeda is the kind and resolute Princess and Calibos is the cruel and backstabbing villain. Moments that could have flushed the characters out, made them seem relatable, are ignored.
Despite this it is an enjoyable watch. Not perfect but still entertaining. How? The Hero’s Journey. A broad template that crosses many cultures and their mythologies, Clash of the Titans is a step by step guide. Perseus is Called to Adventure when he arrives at Joppa, he is mentored, receives gifts from the Gods, suffers an Ordeal in the killing of Medusa and hits the other key stages along the Journey. The fact we have seen it a thousand times before doesn’t make it less of a thing or ruin our enjoyment. If anything it’s the secret recipe to making a film or a book or any story format enjoyable for all.
The DVD/Blu Ray edition comes with A Conversation with Ray Harryhausen and production booklet.
It’s loud, colourful, doesn’t take itself too seriously and is a nice reminder from a time when we didn’t need our films to be gloomy, joyless farces filled with CGI and passionless protagonists trying to out angst each other.
Dir: Desmond Davis
Scr: Beverley Cross
Cast: Laurence Olivier, Claire Bloom, Maggie Smith, Ursula Andres, Jack Gwillim, Harry Hamlin,
Prd: Ray Harryhausen, Charles H. Schneer
DOP: Ted Moore
Music: Laurence Rosenthal
Runtime: 118 mins
Clash of the Titans is available on Special Edition Blu-Ray now.