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DVD SAVANT

Clash OF THE Titans


Clash of the Titans
Warner Home Entertainment
1981 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 118 min. / Street Date August 6, 2002 / $19.98
Starring Harry Hamlin, Judi Bowker, Burgess Meredith, Laurence Olivier, Claire Bloom, Maggie Smith, Ursula Andress, Sian Phillips, Flora Robson
Cinematography Ted Moore
Production Designer Frank White
Visual Effects Ray Harryhausen
Film Editor Timothy Gee
Original Music Laurence Rosenthal
Written by Beverley Cross
Produced by Ray Harryhausen, Charles H. Schneer
Directed by Desmond Davis

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Frankly, Savant didn't even go see Clash of the Titans when it came out, having been disappointed by the lack of entertainment value in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad seven years before. I'd been a devout fan, lining up to see all his work from The Three Worlds of Gulliver at age 8, to The Valley of Gwangi in college, but I finally had to admit that I'd outgrown the kiddie aspects of Harryhausen's fantasies - they just weren't making 'em like they used to.

Now, in a sparkling widescreen transfer and multi-channel sound, Clash of the Titans looks and sounds much better than it appeared on cable in the early '80s. Most of pizzazz of Harryhausen's earlier work is gone, but the story is sound and some of the production well-done. It's certainly better than his previous two Sinbad films, and not a bad note for Ray to retire on.

Synopsis:

Jealous because his wife Danae (Vida Taylor) was impregnated by Zeus (Laurence Olivier), King Acrisius (Donald Houston) has her set adrift at sea with her infant boy. At Olympus, Zeus makes big plans to intercede on the baby's behalf. He claims he wants to punish the father for his cruelty, but his wife Hera (Claire Bloom), Aphrodite (Ursula Andress) Athena (Susan Fleetwood) and especially Thetis (Maggie Smith) know he's just showing a favoritism denied Thetis' son Calibos (Neil McCarthy), transformed into a monster for his mortal crimes.

Kept safe by Zeus' intervention, the baby grows up to be the young and handsome Perseus (Harry Hamlin), whose adventure begins by meeting an old poet, Ammon (Burgess Meredith). With Olympic gifts of a magical sword, shield and helmet, he finds his destiny - to win the beautiful hand of Andromeda (Judy Bowker). Her mother Cassiopeia (Sian Phillips)'s kingdom is beset by a curse levied by Thetis, as retribution for the ill fate of Calibos, who now inhabits a haunted swamp. Calibos sends a giant vulture to fetch Andromeda during her sleep, in the hopes of winning her favor. Normal suitors for the hand of Andromeda are being burnt at the stake regularly, for failing to solve a riddle that would win not only the princess but the Kingdom.

Perseus confronts Calibos and solves the riddle, but only sets further havoc in motion. Thetis demands that Andromeda be sacrificed to the giant Kraken, a colossal sea monster no man can defeat. Perseus sets out on an even more perilous quest to save her, and must face (indirectly) an even more impossible foe - the hideous Gorgon Medusa.

On the surface, Clash of the Titans has the things always denied Ray Harryhausen and Charles H. Schneer: top-flight actors and a budget enabling them to shoot in four major locations across Europe. The symphonic score by Laurence Rosenthal is not bad at all. But there's still a lot missing.

Clash of the Titans has Ray's last great setpiece, and one of his greatest: Perseus' encounter with the serpent-like Medusa in a firelit cave. Stylized with great mood lighting, beautifully blocked and directed by Ray, it's a beauty of slithering menace.

There are plenty of other impressive effects in the show, but none are as consistent as the Gorgon encounter, nor anywhere near as innovative. We're left with a bunch of tame repetitions like the vulture and the scorpions, and some very nice animation with the flying horse Pegasus and the two-headed dog. The model and live-actor Calibos combo at first don't mix, but his animation is so smooth, we forget about the cheat. With the exception of the Medusa (itself a retread of the snake woman from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, the design of the new monsters is lacking. Even the Kraken is an unwieldy mix of monster shapes. Its head is yet another variation on the Ymir of 20 Million Miles to Earth, and its body is one of those patchwork jobs, with hands on the end of tentacles, etc., that seems like a better-sculpted version of one of the sloppy creatures from Jack the Giant Killer. The less said about Bubo the better. The comedy-relief mechanical owl wasn't as offensive this time, but in 1981, it seemed someone had decreed that Perseus needed an R2-D2 robot sidekick, and Savant wasn't buying.

What's really missing here is a unifying visual look or directorial style. The direction is pedestrian throughout, and the actors only shine by force of will. The lack of good dialogue hamstrings them all, and they were obviously cast for a powerful billing block, not because the show needed them. Of the entire Olympic bunch, only Olivier and (briefly) Maggie Smith get to say much; poor Ursula Andress, I believe, is allowed only to stand like a statue and nod. Olivier certainly rolls some nice expressions from his face, but Niall MacGinnis, Honor Blackman and Michael Gwynn were much more developed in Jason and the Argonauts, with half the effort.

Visually, Clash of the Titans is flat and dull. The locations utilize so little real construction that far too many shots are opticals, resulting in a very grainy, 2nd generation look. Every place looks much the same as any other; just changing from a beach to a mountaintop to a real Roman ruin doesn't conjure anything special if the filmmakers don't know how to create a mood. The mythological story here is nicely plotted, but poor Perseus' quest reminds more of the dull journeying of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger than the surprises of Jason or 7th Voyage. There's some interest in the concept of showing the Gods to be moody, selfish, and rebellious to Zeus' imperial caprices, and Olympus is never dull, even if the direction up there is just as stiff as on Earth. With his closet full of clay action figures for the mortals whose destinies he toys with, Zeus comes off as the ultimate Dungeons & Dragons dungeonmaster.

Harry Hamlin is an acceptable, good-looking Perseus,  1 and the charming Judy Bowker makes a classy Andromeda. The script allows nobody to jump forward and express anything really affecting, however, and the even as we admire the contours of the story, it doesn't have much suspense or surprise; it's just too straight and un-poetic to break through and really become memorable. Critics often prodded the Harryhausen films for being too old-fashioned; Clash of the Titans doesn't have the classic visual sense of Ray's old shows (or the models he based them on) and doesn't compensate with a new or interesting approach.

In the final analysis, Clash of the Titans is classy but tame, prestigious but sparkless. Its great success, which allowed Ray to retire, after three uniformly solid boxoffice performers in a row. I prefer to remember it as a couple of fabulous scenes that Ray really cared about, with a Just-Okay movie wrapped around them.


Warner's DVD of Clash of the Titans easily bests all previous discs and tapes. The widescreen image crops the frame more satisfactorily than earlier flat releases, and the telecine pulls the best color it can out of Ted Moore's less-than-sparkling photography. It's still easy to see the limitations of Ray's processes, that rephotograph frames and result in many a grainy and sometimes unsteady shot; the camera tricks are mostly familiar, so it's only the excellent animation that keeps us in the illusion.

A pair of extras flesh out a rather bland interview with Harryhausen, who says nothing very illuminating about the production in the main interview docu. The music is annoyingly loud in relation to Ray's voice. Individual snippets about the various monsters in the movie allow Ray to mention each of their source (or lack of source) in mythology. Ever the gentleman, Ray acknowledges the animation help from Jim Danforth and Steve Archer, and the modelling work of Janet Stevens, heretofore only given credit in fan articles. Very classy of him, and atypical of attention-magnet special effects people in other DVD interviews.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Clash of the Titans rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Very Good
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Ray Harryhausen interviews
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: August 3, 2002


Footnotes:

1. After the frightening The Last House on the Left, he looks a lot like villain David Hess's good twin.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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