Clash of the Titans (1981)
I decided to check out this 30 year oldie goldie because today the sequel to the 3D 2010 remake is being released. I haven’t seen that one so I’m not going to compare them but despite the fact that the 1981 version is old school and one of the last hurrahs to stop motion animation, it’s worth checking out if only to see the inventive creatures Ray Harryhousen created.
Basically, the plot is the myth of Perseus (Harry Hamlin) saving Andromeda (Judi Bowker) and having a bunch of adventures – finding Pegasus, fighting Calibos, seeking the Stygian Witches, killing Medusa, killing giant scorpions and defeating the Kraken – along the way as he is alternately helped and hindered by the Gods of Olympus. It’s not the straight myth – what the hell is a Kraken? – but it’s entertaining.
Great cinema this is not. There are scores of great British thespians here but honestly, most of the time they just stand around on Mt. Olympus and look as excited as a bunch of English people queuing for the daily bus to work and pondering what to have for dinner. A few times Thetis (Maggie Smith) gets her panties in a wad over her wretched son who’s basically partied too hard and then gone out on killing sprees thus leading Zeus (Laurence Olivier) to turn him into a satyr but why isn’t Athena (Susan Fleetwood) weaving or Aphrodite (Ursula Andress with only one line in the whole movie) scolding her naughty cherubs for not holding her mirror while she checks out her hairstyle. Hephestus is about the only one shown doing anything as he makes the mechanical owl. When Poseidon (Jack Gwillim) lets loose the Kraken, he’s about as excited as a man letting his dog out in the back yard for its nightly constitutional. With the talent gathered here I expected more. Oh, bonus points if anyone can spot Flora Robson during the course of the action.
Perseus isn’t much better as Hamlin looks pretty but heaven help him if he ever had to think his way out of a paper bag. Perseus really isn’t that bright. Someone at IMDB has done a wonderful job of describing this with a post titled “Why Perseus Was Such A F#*k Up! ! ” Hamlin’s delivery of his lines is also rather flat though he does pose nicely just before he delivers his killing sword thrusts. Thank goodness he meets up with Ammon (Burgess Meredith) who is the real brains of the operation. Hopefully Andromeda, who displays a nice amount of gumption in wanting to go along for some of the adventure before the boys sneak off in the dead of night, has more brains than her foolish, vain mother Cassiopeia (Sian Phillips looking very nice and regal-ish). Did anyone else notice the more than slightly m/m moment when Perseus was mourning the death (and he lead all his men to death, btw) of Thallo (Tim Piggot-Smith)? Just curious….
How does this movie garner a B- rating from me with all the above nitpicking? Simple, the costumes are great, the scenery is pretty darn good and the wonderful Ray Harryhousen delivers some cool creatures. Let’s just run down the list – Bubo the deus ex machina owl, despite having an awful name, is as cute as R2D2 and does half the work of defeating the Witches and the Kraken. Pegasus actually looks good on his own and during the flying scenes – though Hamlin doesn’t work up much enthusiasm while aboard him. Calibos (who is a combo of real actor Neil McCarthy and Harryhousen) is suitably creepy and sullen as he whines to momma Thetis about how he’s been done wrong – and then goes out and does more wrong, himself. Medusa slithers and her snake writhe in one of the tensest scenes of the film placed in the – nicely decorated – dark caverns of the Underworld, her two headed guardian dog looks fairly convincing as it battles Perseus’s men, Charon as a skeleton harkens back to an earlier movie, and the large scorpions are as icky as they oughta be. There’s also a nicely done tidal wave inundation of Argos early in the movie. I was bummed that the Kraken doesn’t have much screen time – for all the build up to his appearance he could have been given more opportunity to menace but I guess the film was running long by then.
Despite creaking along and being 31 years old, “Clash of the Titans” does have its own pre CGI charm. The actors are at least nice to look at though I wish one of two of them had chosen to chew some scenery. Those who have seen both will have to tell me if the new one is better or even just worth seeing. Anyway, this is a good “kick back with a bowl of popcorn” flick for a rainy afternoon.