Julien Neaves, Editor
As a child I stumbled upon the novel Men and Gods, an anthology of Greek mythological tales by Rex Warner, and it blew my mind. I was instantly enchanted by the fantastical tales of gods like Zeus and Hera, demigod heroes like Perseus and Hercules, and creatures like the Hydra, the Minotaur and Medusa. I credit that book for inspiring a love for Greek mythology which I hold to this day.
And while these tales have been adapted to the screen on multiple occasions none, and I mean NONE, have done it better than director Desmond Davis’s (hey, that’s alliteration) 1981 classic Clash of the Titans. And yes, that includes both the lacklustre CGI-stuffed 2010 remake and its 2012 sequel. The less spoken about those two films the better.
The original film celebrated its 40th anniversary on June 12 and you know what that means? You don’t? It’s retro review time. I thought that was obvious. Anywho, with a Kraken-sized SPOILER ALERT let’s revisit this iconic film in three slices:
Slice 1: Men and Gods
For those unfamiliar with the film (and if you are, then that makes me sad) Clash of the Titans reimagines the Greek myth of Perseus, the son of Zeus and a human princess, who goes on a quest to take the head of Medusa to save his love Princess Andromeda before she is sacrificed to the gigantic, monstrous Kraken, the last of the Titans.
The film featured quite the star-studded cast. You have screen legend Laurence Olivier as Zeus, who brings his theatre experience into playing the larger-than-life king of the gods. Actually all the acting here has something of a Shakespearean flair, which doesn’t normally translate well to film but works here because of the setting. You also have Burgess Meredith as the wise Ammon, Dame Maggie Smith as petty goddess Thetis and original Bond girl Ursula Andress as goddess Aphrodite, though she doesn’t get much to do other than stand around.
Harry Hamlin, who was years off his breakout role on L.A. Law, stars as Perseus. And Hamlin certainly looks the role and is believable as a hero in the action scenes. But his performance otherwise is like a man perpetually in a dream or a daze, and it’s a little weird. Not bad, but just odd.
Judi Bowker plays Andromeda and while lovely the writing for her is just a notch above your prototypical damsel in distress. And there is some random nudity with her (the scene where she gets out of the bath) and two with Perseus’s mother Danaë played by Vida Taylor. Now the boob flash while she is holding baby P is understandable but what was that scene with her and young P walking buck naked on the beach? Is that something mothers do with their sons? Should I tell my wife about it? But I digress. Back to the cast.
English actor Neil McCarthy played the beastly villain Calibos. I learned just today while researching this article that McCarthy suffered from the disorder acromegaly, which can cause enlargement of the forehead, jaw and nose. And this, combined with some great practical effects work, made him a perfect fit for the character’s unusual features. His performance is one of the best of the film, as he brings a dread and menace to the grotesque character.
Slice 2: Sights and Sounds
You can’t talk about Clash of the Titans without talking about the masterful effects work by special effects legend Ray Harryhausen, who also co-produced the film. This fantasy adventure features some of his best work, and if you are familiar with his filmography you will know that is saying something.
In a time when CGI was still light years away Harryhausen used a combination of practical effects, editing and his wonderful stop-motion animation to bring a world of creatures to life, from the soaring winged horse Pegasus to the crawling giant scorpions, from the gargantuan Kraken to the tiny mechanical owl Bubo. And yeah, Bubo does feel a bit inspired by R2D2 with his clicks and beeps which only Perseus can understand. But he is just so dang cute you have to love him. Who’s a good robo-owl? You’re a good robo-owl!
But for me Harryhausen’s best work on display is Medusa. This ghastly Gorgon looks simply amazing, from the way her snakes slither about to the way she, well, also slithers, and fires her arrows. That is when she is not petrifying Perseus’s poor allies with her death stare. Through stop motion animation Medusa feels alive and very lethal, and 40 years later she still stands up well (until Perseus cuts off her head of course). Really fantastic stuff.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the great music by Laurence Rosenthal. From the whimsical themes for Bubo to the dangerous instrumentals in Calibos’s swamp to the soaring score of the final battle, Rosenthal’s music helps to immerse the viewer in this world of gods and monsters.
Slice 3: Perseus and the Titans
The film is packed with so many iconic scenes and moments. The image of Zeus moving around the clay pieces of people is one that has always stuck with me. I wonder if the pieces themselves grow older or he has a guy making new ones. “Hey Claudio, I need an 18-year-old Perseus. Thanks.” “No problem Z-Man.” “I told you to stop calling me that!”
You also have Perseus receiving his divine weapons, the hero riding Pegasus for the first time, the comedic visit to the blind Stygian witches with their one eye, the ride over the River Styx, and the clash with Calibos and the giant scorpions. And a quick question here. Did Medusa’s blood create the scorpions or were there tiny scorpions in the rock that grew? Feel free to hypothesise.
But the most memorable scenes are the thrilling battle with Medusa and the final defeat of the Kraken with the Medusa head. The image of Medusa’s glowing eyes and then the Kraken turning to stone, cracking into pieces, and falling into ocean will forever remain etched in my mind. I could go on but I would be here forever.
I must also praise the fight choreography and the sound editing. You hear and feel every grunt, stab and decapitation (heads up Medusa) and it really helps to solidify the fantasy action.
Clash of the Titans has long been one of my all-time favourite movies and I was pleased that it held up beautifully when I rewatched it last week. And while as a film reviewer I am able to better notice the flaws, the film remains a blast to watch and easily one of the best fantasy films ever made.
All I have left to say is, “Release the rating!”
Editor Jules’s Score: 9 out of 10
So are you a fan of Clash of the Titans? What’s your favourite creature? You can check out more Ray Harryhausen-related content below:
Revisiting 1950s Invasion Classics ‘Earth vs the Flying Saucers’ and ‘Invaders From Mars’
Remembering Ray Bradbury in Five Films: 100th Birthday Celebration
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.