Director: Desmond Davis
Cast: Harry Hamlin, Laurence Olivier, Judi Bowker, Burgess Meredith, Maggie Smith, Neil McCarthy
Plot: Perseus (Hamlin), son of Zeus (Olivier) falls in love with Princess Andromeda (Bowker), unaware she is cursed to suffer at the hands of the God.
If there was ever a movie that would have been better off waiting one decade before being made… Greek mythology movies are far and few in between, and rarely are there any worth writing home about. Clash of the Titans is a good recipe for solid fun. The tale of Perseus might suffer the episodic nature of most mythology stories, but at least he has some of the meatiest baddies to face off against: the monstrous Kraken and the infamous Medusa.
However, 1981 is a tough time for such a blockbuster movie to be made. Most mythology movies are thought to be dated even older, especially with Ray Harryhausen’s style of special effects. He is responsible for some of the finest stop motion creatures in cinematic history, including Jason and the Argonauts, arguably the iconic Greek mythology movie. And here his work has moments where it shines. The Kraken is a technical wonder, towering over the set, a formidable presence. And the scene where the slithering Medusa stalks Perseus in her tombs is definitely atmospheric, every trace of vile emotion on the clay animation features. But the issue with the stop motion method is that Harryhausen has taken it as far as it is willing to go; by the time the 80s came along, it was time for special effects to find a new style. Beats feel needless updated through the use of Harryhausen, as though having the acclaimed artist was reason enough to make him interfere with every scene. The role of Calibos sees a man disfigured into a monster for upsetting the Gods. In close-ups, Neil McCarthy is made up to look like the monster, crooning threatening words and snarling threats. For a moment, he is the most real villain we have in the story. But whenever we cut to a wide shot of the character, we are back to the stop motion, almost as though director Desmond Davis was unwilling to create enough costume that McCarthy could embody the role absolutely. It isn’t as though this was impossible for the crew; the blind witches Perseus visits were a great example of make-up and costume work, crafting an intriguing figure over the use of animation. While Harryhausen’s work is admirable, it takes away from the immersion that you want to be feeling with these kind of fantasy epics. It is frustrating to think of the Clash of the Titans we could have had. A few years later, Stan Winston was due to make some waves with his Terminator model. Switching out stop motion for animatronic bad guys added a gritty realism to the way animated monsters could act. A few years of practice of various movies and Winston was responsible for the timeless animatronic dinosaurs in Jurassic Park; imagine Clash of the Titan with a giant robotic Kraken, rather than the impressive, yet distracting stop motion figure we ended up with.
But it isn’t just the animation that Clash of the Titans is due an update. Reading in between the lines, this just isn’t that good a movie. It is as if its clinging to a genre that hasn’t got many entries has helped it hide under the radar when it comes to spotting glaring flaws. The editing is very poor here. Some scenes drift in and out, lazily. There is a late fight with three giant scorpions and one of those scorpions just ups and leaves halfway through the battle, as if some footage was lost in completing the fight scene. Poor Ursula Andress pops up as Aphrodite and the edit all but cuts her from the finished piece. The acting is not up to much cop either. Davis fills Olympus with some fine acting talent when it comes to bringing the Gods to life. Laurence Olivier is an acting legend and a great choice for Zeus. A young Maggie Smith is also a bright addition as the angry Thetis. But when we get to the human side of things, we are stuck with handsome stars declaring lines, rather than emoting them. It is almost as if the director has mistaken creating a mythology epic as something that demands poor, clumsy acting. As soon as the fights are over and we are left trapped with Hamlin and Bowker trying to be romantic, the film slows to a crawl. It is not an entertaining watch. Clash of the Titans ends up being a bad movie with some cracking scenes hidden inside. As dated as the stop motion animation is, without context, it does conjure up some thrills. Medusa is always a treat to watch and a skirmish with a two-headed dog harkens back to the mythology classics. Scenes like this have won Clash of the Titans the perhaps unearned pedestal of a classic.
Final Verdict: Frustratingly disappointing. It has some charm, but on the whole, Clash of the Titans is a clunky movie.