When you think of Ray Harryhausen, you often conjure up stop-motion puppetry images from 60s and 70s films. But while Harryhausen’s final work, 1981’s Clash of the Titans, may have seemed out of place at the start of a new decade when other “superior” visual effects were taking place in a myriad of other films, the film still managed to transport viewers to a faraway land with ferocious and creepy monsters that plagued the land of ancient Greece. The effects may be horribly dated by today’s standards (especially when looking at the 2010 update, which is just frothing at the mouth with CGI), but those who grew up with the epic tale still hold it in a special place.
Before history and beyond imagination! The machinations of gods above and the fates of man and monsters here below play out in a Clash of the Titans. Decades prior to the sensational 2010 version of the tale, Harry Hamlin took up sword and shield to play valorous Perseus, mortal son of Zeus (Laurence Olivier) who sets out to fulfill his destiny by rescuing beloved Andromeda from the wrath of goddess Thetis (Maggie Smith). Perils await Perseus time and again. And eye-filling thrills await viewers as stop-motion effects legend Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts) unleashes snake-haired Medusa, fearsome Kraken, winged Pegasus, two-headed dog Dioskilos, giant scorpions and more. Rejoice, fantasy fans: the movie gods gift us with adventure that’s innovative, heroic, titanic.
Immediately out of the gate the film makes a kind of horrible first impression on Blu-ray—all of the special effects sequences are so filled with noise and grain that I was put off by the clarity right from the start. It did clear up, however, and even looked pretty good for light-controlled sequences, but it was also painfully obvious when a special effects shot was about to take place because an incredible amount of grain would suddenly infiltrate the frame. But aside from the obvious visual issues that a Harryhausen flick would present on the Blu-ray format, it was still a rather entertaining film to watch…if only for the cheese factor.
I never watched this film as a youth, although my brothers did constantly. I couldn’t figure out why until I discovered that this PG rated film had a couple instances of female nudity in it…not distasteful in anyway, but it’s the kind that James Cameron’s Titanic had that likely caused a handful of teenage boys to go froth over the screen multiple times just to get a glimpse of some flesh. 80’s movies never cease to amuse me with how much they get away with when it comes to PG or PG-13 ratings—whether it’s innuendo, nudity or a string of foul language it’s just interesting to see how loose the ratings systems was back then. Of course Clash existed even before the PG-13 rating, so it’s no real surprise it garnered a mere PG back in the day.
But enough about the surprises of the PG rating—with this being my first actual viewing of the film, I was actually quite eager to see what the remake might be able to improve on and considering the cheese level that’s present in this film, I doubt it will be too far of a stretch for the new one to not be able to improve upon almost every little element. The film seemed to take unnecessary steps in progressing the story (particularly the ghostly transportation of Andromeda to Calibos…which we had to watch twice, because the first time Perseus didn’t have Pegasus to persue him…when it could all have been done much more quickly if they’d reversed that order. Oh well.) to the point where you wondered if they had to meet some two hour run-time quota. For what it was the film was enjoyable I suppose, but the pacing issues were really its biggest downfall to me.
Yeah, not even the stop-motion work was worse than the pacing. Honestly the work by Harryhausen is just so much fun to watch in of itself that as hokey and completely unbelievable as some of it looked (what was with the horrendous superimposed bird at the beginning? Yow.), it was just cool to see the old forms of special effects. I will hand it to the film though—that whole scene with Medusa was really, really well done. Even after laughing at all the hokey adventures they’d gone on previously, I found myself a little tensed up in that sequence. It was executed really well and I’m curious if the remake will be able to retain the tension that the original had.
The only other thing I have to say about this film is…man, those Greek gods were real dicks, weren’t they? The description mentions that Thetis has some “wrath” to take out on Andromeda, but Zeus was the real jerk here. For some reason I always thought they were supposed to be kind of helpful spirits, but if you weren’t in their good graces they just screwed you over at every turn. Mention that your daughter’s beauty rivals even the beauty of Thetis and bam, Thetis comes down and starts wreaking havoc. I though the God of War video game series was just full of it, but…nope. I guess the Greek gods were just really big wankers.
Clash of the Titans was definitely an entertaining film, but I doubt I’ll be revisiting it any time soon. It’s something you’d have to grow up with to really appreciate in this day and age and while I definitely see what made it be one of Harryhausen’s more popular works, it’s the story moreso than the visual effects that just doesn’t hold up. Worth a Rental if you’ve never seen it.
In an effort to help advertise the upcoming 2010 remake of the film, Warner has released the original in a digibook package, with a nice foil reflective/embossed cover. Inside the case is a multi-page booklet, an additional mini-booklet advertising the new film (as well as a ticket to it as well—bonus!) and the usual “keep your firmware updated!” flyer inside.
As previously mentioned the video is kind of a giant mess on this film. The VC-1 encoded transfer looks good in daytime or well-lit sequences, with solid detail creeping through the overly soft image, but anytime there’s a special effects shot it just looks…really, really bad. Those shots of Poseidon under the water when he releases the Kraken are quite possibly some of the weirdest and ugliest frames of a Blu-ray I’ve ever seen. The ugliness is also part of the films charm, of course, so I’m not going to dock it points for being nearly 30 years old, but just know that you aren’t going to get a wonderfully new transfer, even though the package does state that it was “remastered utilizing state-of-the-art digital technology.”
Audio is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track and…well, it’s a stereo track. My receiver took over the heavy lifting at times and spread it about the room and LFE as best it could, but in the end it was still a simple stereo track. Everything was crystal clear to the ear, so there are no real complaints from me about its clarity. It definitely sounds dated with the sound effects, but, again, it’s almost 30 years old. Not much you can do about that.
Extras are sadly limited to two: a Conversation with Ray Harryhausen and a Myths and Monsters Gallery. Both are in standard definition and ported over from the previously released 2002 DVD.
Overall this is a Recommended release for fans, but if you’re new to this then the only real positive aspect is the free ticket to the what could possibly be a very cool remake.
Clash of the Titans is now available on Blu-ray.