A last ditch effort to revive fantasy films such as The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad and Jason Argonauts for a modern (read 80’s) audience, Clash Of The Titans was never going to have it easy. A seemingly never ending fixture of Bank Holiday lunchtimes of my childhood, I couldn’t get enough of movies that had some tanned do-gooder squaring off with some fantastical monstrosity that had been painstakingly animated by stop-motion demi-god Ray Harryhausen (I guess you could call me a Kraken addict…) – but times had changed and by 1981 we’d already had two Star Wars films with a third on the way.
Feeling hopelessly outdated in comparison, Clash Of The Titans sadly failed to resurrect the genre like those fucking skeleton warriors from Jason And The Argonauts, but many years on, it’s fondly remembered by a certain generation as a fun throwback (which technically makes it a throwback of a throwback) as an evergreen entry of a genre that never quite got the respect it deserved.
It’s the times of ancient Greece and Zeus’ wandering, god-sized libido has granted him a son Perseus, but when the kid’s human grandfather sees this as a slight on his honor, he casts his daughter and her son adrift on the ocean in a wooden crate (bit harsh). Zeus’ response is equally excessive, unleashing the Kraken – an aquatic titan gifted with Gerrard Butler’s sick abs that makes you wonder where would a sea monster get access to a personal gym – onto the city of Argos and wiping it off the face of the earth. Safely arriving onto dry land, Perseus grows into the inhumanly chiseled butt chin of Harry Hamlin and stumbles into an adventure involving a princess under siege by Calibos, a once handsome man cursed by the Gods to live in the swamps as a grotesque creature (the Gods tend to do a lot of cursing…). Perseus’ interference may have freed the princess Andromeda from her oath, but it puts her in the crosshairs of the godess Thetis, who not only is Calibos’ mother but doesn’t take kindly to people comparing Andromeda’s beauty to her own and in a jealous act worthy of an episode of The Real Housewives Of Olympus, commands that the luckless princess is to be sentenced to death-by-Kraken.
So off goes Perseus on a dangerous adventure to find a way to deep-6 an aquatic Kaiju that’s so big it could use him for a suppository, that brings him into a collision course with blind, stygian witches, a two-headed dog, giant fucking scorpions and the vicious creature known as Medusa, an arrow-twanging snake woman whose withering death stare literally petrifies all men who look her in the eye (think of her like a asp-haired Karen…). Can our hero possibly overcome all this and find a way to defeat the Kraken within thirty days, or will it casually consume his lady love like she’s a chicken nugget while screaming onlookers rubber neck at her gruesome demise?
If Clash Of The Titans had been somehow released ten years earlier, maybe it wouldn’t be remembered now as the sort of film that has awesome bits that I still doze off watching on a lazy sunday afternoon; but despite those great moments (which I’ll get to soon enough, don’t you worry), there’s no escaping that this revival of a bygone era makes the mistake of containing the single most noticable flaw of 95% of all monster movies ever made… the humans.
For years, in pretty much every creature feature ever made, the humans are usually a placeholder that we patiently tolerate until the REAL reason we’re watching the film turns up; from Godzilla to whatever cheap piece of crap is terrorising a small American town in a 50’s sci-fi movie, we’re only here to see the monsters god dammit. Jaws and Alien proved that sitting through the human stuff didn’t have to be an achievement you had to unlock in order to get to the cool shit, but unfortunately Titans digs it’s own grave by sticking to a more sedate pace that people spoiled by the sheer pace of Star Wars simply found too slow.
It also doesn’t help that, in keeping with the Greek legends, Zeus and the Gods in general are a clutch of massive pricks seducing humans all over the place, being hideously inconsistent in their judgements and basically act like petty, bitter pieces of divine shit 24-7. While none of them behave quite as badly as Liam Neeson’s version in the remake, who’s Zeus downgraded his seduction techniques to out and out sexual assault, their hedonistic behaviour makes you think that the Gods of Greek myth would be well advised to get back on their meds, like pronto…
Future L.A. Law alumni Harry Hamlin does what he can in his bland, yet scantily clad heroic role, but he’s thwarted somewhat by the massive acts of nepotism hurled his way due to his doting, divine, deadbeat dad who bends over backwards to give his son every advantage he possibly can making Perseus a mythical version of that douchey, preppy guy who gets a high up position in his dad’s company despite being fairly average and has life handed to him on a platter… At least Perseus starts to earn his shit in the second half (despite being handed magic tools and a flying horse for having to do nothing but exist) and his encounters with the villianous, hairy backed Satyr Calibos, who rules a shit hole of a Swamp with it’s army of disheveled dwarves, start to endear him to us.
The rest of the cast (including an exasperated looking Maggie Smith and Lawrence Oliver who seems to be anxiously waiting for his paycheck) act accordingly as history’s most American/English Greeks and a liver scouring drinking game must be invented so that you take a shot everytime Burgess Meredith’s playwright gasps “By the Gods!”, but it’s obviously Ray Harryhausen’s exemplary work on the inhuman members of the cast that have any true staying power.
While admittedly showing off it’s limitations (back then, using stop-motion meant that the camera has to remain as still as a deer in headlights), the assorted menagerie of fantastical beasts are magnificent, but it’s the extended Medusa sequence that impresses the most. Lit by jittery torch light, scored by the raspy rattling of her tail and putting in a legitimately creepy, frame-a-second performance that puts most of it’s CG descendants to shame, it’s a massively tense and hugely memorable set piece that might even top the skeleton fight in Jason And The Argonauts as the best stop motion sequence Harryhausen ever gifted us.
Definately a film that benefits hugely from a Kraken-sized dollop of carefree nostalgia and it’s rousing score (is it me or are most fantasy film’s of this era carried by their composers), it’s a sweet snapshot of a movie that’s unfortunately out of it’s time and struggling to keep up – clockwork owl Bobu is a painfully obvious attempt to ape R2-D2’s beeping and whistling brand of comic relief – and yet it’s charm is more than enough to make you exclaim happily if you stumbled across it on TV…
As Harryhausen’s farewell to an art form he personified, it’s an iconic farewell, but as a rip-roaring adventure, it simply failed to set the world alight showing that for all it’s good intentions it proved to be too tough a nut to Kraken…
This article reads like the film was not successful when in fact, it was in the top 10 box office hits of the summer of 81 and was #11 at the box office for the entire year, a year that had over 200+ films released!! It was a most successful film.
Considering that was in ’81, that was quite a feat!
My opinion is that it was just another casualty of the times. It was a great movie with typical Harryhausen genius but like everything in every genre it’s time has come and gone, think about how it was when 2001 a space odyssey was released, a game changer, it brought in a new era of spaceships with no strings, very realistic planets. Every era ushers in something new, after stop motion CGI began to rear it’s ugly head, and that it over saturated everything, even though stop motion and CGI gave us classics like Jason and the Argonauts and Star Wars people move on. Me personally, as an artist, I will never stop loving people like Harryhausen and would love to be part of something that could revive that legacy.
I don’t think its intentions are all that good. Aside from the Medusa sequence, there’s not a moment that’s not either twee or ham-fisted or calculating or self-indulgent (the idiotic “Mythologicals” bit in the end credits are the cherrie in the lukewarm fudge on the shit sundae). “Clash of the Titans” is a balls-out turkey, and it’s wearying to read people constantly confuse their own nostalgia with any form of objective quality. I’m happy that Harryhausen made Medusa his own, and that his concept has permeated popular culture and myth. That’s nice for him. but his real legacy is in a handful of other, much better movies.