Clash of the Titans (1981)
Directed by Desmond Davis
Written by Beverley Cross
Starring: Harry Hamlin, Judi Bowker, Maggie Smith, Claire Bloom, Laurence Olivier, Sian Phillips
Ammon: Oh impetuous… foolish… Ah dear, the young. Why do they never listen? When will they ever learn?
Clash of the Titans is a 1981 mashup of the Greek myth about Perseus with some elements borrowed from other mythologies, Produced by Ray Harryhausen, the special effects genius who popularized stop-motion animation with such films as Mighty Joe Young, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans marks the last hurrah for Harryhausen and the effects technique known in the film industry as Dynamation.
After the movie’s release Harryhausen retired from filmmaking and stop motion animation gave way to newer techniques, including go-motion and, later, computer generated imagery (CGI).
Screenwriter Beverley Cross and director Desmond Davis combine stories from Greek and Norse mythology with elements of Star Wars to deliver a fun action adventure romp set in a fantasy version of the ancient Mediterranean.
Clash of the Titans also features an Anglo-American cast cast which includes Harry Hamiln, Judi Bowker, Laurence Olivier, Claire Bloom, Maggie Smith and Sian Phillips,
The movie begins on a dark note: King Acrisius (Donald Houston), ruler of Argos, imprisons his daughter Danae (Vida Taylor) in a tower to cheat the Fates. According to the prophecy, if Danae gives birth to a boy, he will kill Acrisius when he grows up. The king, of course, doesn’t want to be killed by his own grandson, so he locks Danae up where no man can meet her. This, he believes, is better than killing her.
What Acrisius doesn’t count on is that Danae catches the ever-roving eye of the King of the Gods himself, Zeus (Olivier).
[discussing Zeus’ womanizing]
Thetis: So many women, and all these transformations and disguises he invents in order to seduce them. Sometimes a shower of gold, sometimes a bull or a swan. Why, once he even tried to ravish me disguised as a cuttlefish.
Hera: Did he succeed?
Thetis: Certainly not.
Athena: What did you do?
Thetis: Beat him at his own game. I simply turned myself into a shark.
Zeus is married to Hera (Bloom), but the lightning-tossing ruler of Olympus is not a faithful husband. The philandering god has had many affairs with mortal beauties, often wooing them in bizarre forms.
Per the prophecy, Danae gives birth to a son, Perseus (played first by an uncredited child actor, then by Harry Hamlin). Unwilling to execute his own daughter and grandson, Acrisius chooses to leave matters to pure chance. He places Danae and baby Perseus in a wooden trunk and has it tossed into the sea, hoping that they’ll drift away and starve or drown.
Acrisius doesn’t realize that he’s messing with the gods themselves. The Olympians take infanticide seriously, especially when it involves a child of a god or goddess. Accordingly, Zeus kills Acrisius.
Worse is to come. Because no one in Argus defied their now-late ruler, Zeus unleashes the Kraken, the last of the ancient Titans to destroy the city.
Many years pass and Zeus keeps a watchful eye on Perseus as he grows into manhood.
At the same time, Thetis’ son Calibos (Neil McCarthy) is the apple of his mother’s eyes. He’s also a spoiled, cruel demigod. At first, the gods ignore most of his antics and misdeeds. However, when Calibos kills off most of Zeus’ beloved winged horses except one, he’s transformed into a monster and sent off into exile.
Calibos not only loses his good looks and his humanity, but his banishment ends his engagement to Princess Andromeda (Judi Bowker), daughter of Queen Themis of Joppa (Sian Phillips).
Thetis believes that this treatment of her son is unfair, and because she can’t challenge Zeus himself, she decides to unleash her anger against Perseus. She doesn’t dare strike him down directly, but she uses her powers to speed him to Joppa and place the young man into a perilous situation…..
Clash of the Titans is a fun movie to watch, even though it
Twists the Perseus story considerably
Has special effects that were obsolescent in 1979 (when the movie was made)
Borrows a few details from Norse mythology (the Kraken is a sea monster from the old Scandinavian sagas) and even Star Wars ( R2-D2, the famous robot, inspired the creation of Bubo, the mechanical owl sent by Athena to help Perseus)
Readers of Greek mythology will nitpick at Clash of the Titans’ many “inaccuracies” of the Perseus story. For instance, in the original myth Perseus doesn’t fly around on Pegasus; he is given winged sandals by Hermes, the messenger god.
Another “inaccuracy” in the movie occurs when Harryhausen created Dioskilos, a two-headed dog which protects Medusa. Dioskilos was not mentioned in the original Perseus myth. Dioskilos doesn’t appear anywhere in Greek (or Roman) mythology. The monster is actually a substitute for Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards the entrance to the realm of the dead.
Cerberus was slated to appear in Clash of the Titans, but animating three heads was too expensive. Instead, Harryhausen created Dioskilos.
Nevertheless, Cross’ script is relatively true to the spirit (if not the letter) of the Perseus myth; the basic scenario is essentially intact, with extra villains (such as Calibos) and monsters to stretch the plot for dramatic reasons.
Cross and director Davis also balance the story’s dramatic elements with humor. Some of the lighter material is intended for adult viewers, but most of it is intended for older kids and teens.
The acting, of course, never rises to Academy Award-worthy levels even though the mostly-British cast includes Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Claire Bloom and Sian Phillips. Most of the performances are solid enough to keep grown-ups interested in the proceedings, but not so stodgy or pretentious that kids will get bored.
The score by composer Laurence Rosenthal (The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles) is, in contrast to the sometimes unimpressive visual effects, majestic and elegant. The “Main Title” theme, with its soaring motifs and brassy overture feel, is one of the best compositions created for a fantasy film. Although I prefer John Williams’ score to i, Rosenthal’s music lifts Clash of the Titans up to a level that’s slightly above the average based-on-mythology B-grade action movie.
- Codec: VC-1 (31.08 Mbps)
- Resolution: 1080p
- Aspect ratio: 1.77:1
- Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (48kHz, 24-bit)
French: Dolby Digital Mono
Portuguese: Dolby Digital 2.0
Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0
Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono
English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, German, Italian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Norwegian, Swedish, Thai
50GB Blu-ray Disc
Single disc (1 BD)
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Release Date: January 25, 2011
Run Time: 118 minutes