Friday, January 9, 2009

Clash of the Titans (1981)

[Image: (c) MGM / Warner Bros., 1981, Fair Use - low resolution version to provide critical commentary]

Amongst the mountains of revision I've built for myself to climb, I've cleared a little space to work on my pet-project: learning all about the Ancient Greeks. Apart from discovering that they enjoyed making pornographic pottery, I've been learning all about Greek myths. These are stories I learnt in my childhood, but have pretty much forgotten by now. I remember the Hydra, Medusa, the Cyclops, and so on - but I don't remember all the little details.

So, in order to rectify this, a couple of nights ago I watched the cult-classic 80's movie "Clash of the Titans." The stop-motion special effects were by Ray Harryhausen, who did the effects for Jason and the Argonauts.

It's based on the legend of Perseus, Pegasus, Medusa et al. It started well - very atmospheric shot of the sea as King Acrisius of Argos orders his daughter, Danaë, into a coffin with her infant son to be cast into the ocean. Except, in the movie I think they changed the character of Danaë so she is Acrisius's wife - which is a bit creepy (but very much in-keeping with Greek tragedy).

Then cut to Zeus (played by Laurence Olivier, no less) up on Mount Olympus. He is actually the child's real father and he's pretty vexed, what with Acrisius dumping Danaë and Perseus in a coffin and dropping them in the ocean and all. In the original myth there's a lot more to why Acrisius wants to murder his daughter, but I guess they decided to cut all of that gubbins out.

Where was I? Ah, yes - Zeus is spitting chips, and he asks Poseidon to release the Kraken (called Ceto in the original). This bit is great - it's like a Godzilla movie! There are loads of shots of people running around and screaming and then dodgy shots of someone turning a tap on and splashing bathwater over a model of a Greek city. I kept wanting to shout out "Sploosh!" like a two-year old. There's also a very creepy scene with Poseidon padding about underwater. Today, this would all be greenscreened - but I think they must have actually shot the actor in a water-tank and then superimposed his image onto a shot of a model of the seabed.

Anyway, vengence meted, Zeus orders Poseidon to stop faffing about in his paddling pool and go and rescue Danaë and Perseus from a watery grave.

The movie gets a bit dull from this point onwards. To be honest, the problem might be the hero, Perseus. He's much too clean-cut. In the Greek original (from what I've read) Perseus was cunning and fairly ruthless. In the movie though, Perseus is just some bloke. The gods are essentially holding his hand and walking him through the story, telling him what to do.

Things do pick up right at the end, when Perseus fights with some giant scorpions, a two-headed hound and a satyr-type guy. And, of course, Medusa.

I dug this out because I had fond memories of Jason and the Argonauts, and I wanted to see some more of Ray Harryhausen's old-school special effects. On this count, I suppose I was satisfied. Ultimately, though, Clash of the Titans was mildly disappointing.

Rating - 5 out of 12
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