Clash of the Titans
directed by Desmond Davis
(MGM, 1981)

With a modern, big-budget remake of Clash of the Titans on the horizon, I thought it only proper to expose my children to the original version that had me so excited in my youth. But it's funny how that thrilling film of 1981 fails to hold up to 21st-century eyes.

The movie is a mash-up of several Greek legends, primarily those involving Perseus, Medusa, the winged-horse Pegasus, the Stygian witches and the pantheon of gods, and, oddly, one Nordic monster, the Kraken.

The special effects, which seemed so grand when I was a kid, seem fairly tame now. Full credit to Ray Harryhausen, who was a master in his day and created many memorable effects during his 40-year career, but very little in this film looks real any more. Worse, the dialogue is stilted, the pacing is slow and the acting is amateurish (even by the great Laurence Olivier, who, as Zeus, can't seem to summon the breath to speak normally to his son Perseus via shield-o-vision).

And don't even get me started on Bubo, a terrible mechanical owl that chirps and wheezes like a Grecian R2-D2.

The film features Harry Hamlin as the chiseled demigod Perseus, the luminous Judi Bowker as Princess Andromeda and Sian Phillips as the vain Queen Cassiopeia. Burgess Meredith, as the playwright Ammon, is along for the ride primarily so he can explain things. And there's an impressive cast as the gods; besides Olivier as Zeus, we have Claire Bloom as Hera, Maggie Smith as the bitter Thetis, Ursula Andress as Aphrodite (too bad she didn't have anything to do besides stand around in Olympus) and Jack Gwillim as Poseidon. Pat Roach, best known for beating up Indiana Jones on several occasions, is the burly smith Hephaestus.

While the Kraken looks like clay half the time and even a flying seagull looks fake, the movie does have its high points -- and no, I don't just mean Andromeda's memorable scene in the bath. The suspenseful climax for me is in Medusa's lair, where she of the horrid face, serpent hairdo and rattlesnake's tail lurks and turns careless men to stone.

But I guess the lesson here is, sometimes the past is best left in the past. Clash of the Titans was much bigger and grander in memory; in reality, it's a dated piece that no longer lives up to its own legend.

review by
Tom Knapp

13 March 2010

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