Clash of the Titans (1981) / Fantasy-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG for violence and nudity
Running Time: 118 min.
Cast: Harry Hamlin, Judi Bowker, Burgess Meredith, Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Neil McCarthy, Sian Phillips, Claire Bloom, Ursula Andress, Susan Fleetwood, Jack Gwillim, Pat Roach
Director: Desmond Davis
Screenplay: Beverley Cross
Review published April 18, 2005
One of my childhood favorites, so take this into consideration as you witness what might be an overly nostalgic review of Clash of the Titans. Although it is better known today as the last film worked on by stop-motion animation from creature-creator Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad), it is in the imaginative scenarios, colorful villains, and nicely developed action scenes that this Desmond Davis (Ordeal by Innocence, Girl with Green Eyes) directed fantasy shines.
In this day and age of nearly imperceptible CGI, Clash of the Titans admittedly doesn't really stack up, as the believability of the special effects is wildly inconsistent. In order to appreciate it on its own terms, one has to overlook the artificial looking visuals for some robust adventure, and in that vein, it captures the essence and attraction of Greek Mythology unlike any other film of its era.
The main hero of the story is Perseus (Harry Hamlin, Shoot or Be Shot), mortal son to the leader of the Greek gods, Zeus (Laurence Olivier, Spartacus). Perseus was to have his own kingdom when he grew to adulthood, but a dispute among the gods would find his future kingdom of Argos destroyed, as he would barely escape with his life as an infant. Growing up, Perseus would learn the ways of the warrior, and would soon vie for the hand of the beautiful princess Andromeda (Judi Bowker, Brother Sun Sister Moon), but she is slated to be the sacrificial virgin to appease the last of the Titans, the sea-monster known as the Kraken. The Kraken is nearly indestructible, but with the help of his captured winged steed Pegasus and some magic armor provided by Zeus, Perseus has the tools and determination to complete the marriage to the fair Andromeda by saving her from almost certain doom.
One can easily remember certain key scenes from Clash of the Titans far more than the whole story, but the strength of those scenes are more than enough to make this adventure grand. The battle between Perseus and Medusa is perhaps the key scene of the entire movie, which would frighten me enough to keep my face in my hands as a youth. The enormity of the Kraken, the detail of Bubo the mechanical owl, the graceful flying gallop of Pegasus, the deadliness of the giant scorpions, and the sinister look of the tailed Calibos -- all Harryhausen creations that blend well with the live action to infuse the film with a feel of the fantastic. It isn't always convincing, but it's still impressive given the difficulty of adding stop-motion to live action footage. A gorgeous score by Laurence Rosenthal (The Miracle Worker, Becket) also enhances the tale, meshing perfectly with the sweeping story with grace and elegance.
Clash of the Titans opened up a world of interest in the life, times and beliefs of the Ancient Greeks, and I credit it as partially responsible for my pursuit of a degree in Classics. Although sword and sorcery films would be all the rage at the time of the release of this film, this is one of very few examples of the timeless appeal of these stories, inspired by tales of heroic valor that have survived over the centuries. Dated to be sure, but in a quaint sort of way. Clash of the Titans ends with nostalgic beauty that perfectly encapsulates the reason why it is a treasured film for many who were fortunate enough to see it through the indiscriminating eyes of youth.
©2005 Vince Leo