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Friday Film Review: Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans (1981)
Genre: Fantasy/Myth/Adventure
Grade: B-/C

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.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

15 Comments

  1. DS
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 07:13:07

    Good review. I haven’t watched it since it’s theatre run and I’m not sure I’m going to do so now but I think you nailed its charm. This movie was a favorite hang over movie the summer it was in the local theatre– someplace to go and sit in the dark and air conditioning while the headache went away.

    The Kraken must have wandered over from Norse/Icelandic stories. It was a stereotypical sea adventure movie scene from an older period of movie making.

  2. Heather Massey
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 07:47:37

    Thanks for the spotlight! I’ve seen this movie more times than I can count and it’s among some of my top guilty pleasures. I first saw it as a teen so I found the love story hopelessly romantic. Plus, as you said, the special effects are pretty unique.

    I watched the remake a few months ago and it didn’t have a fifth of the charm. I doubt I’ll ever watch it again. Still, it was nice seeing the contrast of what can be done with special effects these days. I plan on seeing WRATH OF THE TITANS but mainly for the spectacle. Okay, and also because I’m just that much of a diehard fan of the original.

  3. Avery Flynn
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 08:13:30

    Ha. The kids just asked to watch Clash of the Titans (remake) for Friday night movie night. I loved the original as a kid.

  4. Jayne
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 08:22:07

    @Heather Massey: @Avery Flynn: What new /other creatures does the remake have in it? Is it worth seeing?

  5. Cherrie Lynn
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 08:47:01

    I think my biggest disappointment with the remake was the absence of Bubo. And maybe the lack of adequate screen time given to the Kraken here as well. And…well, I found the whole thing a disappointment, really, except for the special effects. And Liam Neeson giving the order: “Release the Kraken!” was pretty hot.

    I loved the original as a kid. I haven’t seen it in years and I’ve been meaning to revisit.

  6. Avery Flynn
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 09:52:56

    @Jayne: The remake has Sam Worthington. Swoon. That makes it worth it for me. :) For everyone else, it’s a fun popcorn movie and Perseus is noticeably smarter in this one.

  7. CourtneyLee
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 10:04:12

    I enjoyed this much more than the remake, which had little to impress me other than special effects and the yummy Sam Worthington, who was more eye candy for me than anything else. I’ll rewatch a wooden Harry Hamlin and claymation monsters any day of the week. And I agree about Bubo being as cute as R2D2. “The deus ex machina owl” is a perfect description of his role in the story.

  8. Heather Massey
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 10:15:08

    I liked the giant scorpion creatures and the beefed up Stygian Witches. The scene with Medusa was neat even though felt too CG in places. She lacked the personality of her predecessor.

    I can’t really recommend it, although you could do worse. It might be worth borrowing from the library or a friend and if you go in with the expectation of simply checking out the special effects. Frankly, for an action film it was kind of boring.

  9. Lynn M
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 11:41:16

    The original Clash of the Titans was the first movie I was allowed to go see without my parents, and I remember it like it was yesterday. Now, it holds a special place in my heart as my all time favorite B movie. Everything about it is cheesy. Even the romance, which at the time I thought was to die for, is ridiculous given how Perseus falls in love with the sleeping Andromeda instantaneously. What if she’d awakened to be a shrewish harpie with no teeth? But the villains Calibos and Medusa and the Stygian witches were truly terrifying, and the story is a literal classic. I tried to get my kids to watch it and they didn’t make it very far in since they are so spoiled by modern CGI. The remake is okay, but it holds none of the same charm.

  10. hapax
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 13:30:49

    How funny this should come up for review today — I just today gave my son BluRay versions of this and other Harryhausen classics for his birthday! He is a real aficionado of “classic” special effects — we spent much of his childhood watching all the old Godzilla and Hammer Studios films together.

    We both agreed that the remake — despite some pretty CGI and pretty actors — is annoying and a waste of time, mainly due to the incredibly stupid and emo motivation the filmmakers give Perseus. But @Cherrie Lynn: Bubo does have a very brief (but funny) cameo in the remake!

  11. Angelia Sparrow
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 13:52:23

    I have a deep abiding love of Harryhausen’s work. I love this movie.

    I also use it to demonstrate how movie ratings have changed. We get a lot of nudity for a PG: Danae, Medusa, little Perseus. And the death of Medusa haunted my nightmares, that slow tumble and the thick acidic blood oozing instead of running.

    Good movie, good review.

  12. P. Kirby
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 15:22:22

    The remake is a big slice of crap cheese. Yeah, it has Sam Worthington, but he looks like he’s considering killing his agent for signing him up for this poorly lit poop-fest. It’s so awful, it’s kind of fun; in a sit back and snark through the entire movie kind of way. I merrily flayed it several months ago on my blog.

    I don’t remember the original too clearly, by Harryhousen’s stop-motion animation always had a kind of joyful campy charm.

  13. Michelle
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 15:40:30

    I hated the remake. I need to dig out this movie and rewatch.

  14. Jayne
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 18:34:40

    @CourtneyLee: @Heather Massey: Sounds like I would do better spending my time watching another Harryhausen movie.

  15. Jayne
    Mar 30, 2012 @ 18:48:40

    @P. Kirby:

    And yeah, I was rooting for the giant scorpions.

    ROTFL. Loved your review of it.

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