Experience the fantastic!
As swan songs go, this one was a doozey for special effects legend Ray Harryhausen. In his decades-spanning career, Harryhausen created some of the most memorable characters and effects ever put on celluloid. Movies like 20 Million Miles to Earth, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and Jason And The Argonauts showcased Harryhausen's unique brand of stop-motion entertainment that has influenced filmmakers from Sam Raimi to Tim Burton. In 1981, Harryhausen both produced and worked on the special effects for the mythological fantasy Clash of the Titans! Starring beefcake Harry Hamlin (L.A. Law), Burgess Meredith (Rocky, Grumpy Old Men), Maggie Smith (Murder By Death), and Lawrence Olivier (Marathon Man), Clash of the Titans wages its war by the gods on DVD care of Warner Home Entertainment!
Facts of the Case
Clash of the Titans is a retelling of the old mythological stories you were forced to read in high school. The film follows the life of Perseus (Hamlin), mortal son of the god Zeus (Olivier) and heir to the throne of Argos. As a baby, the vengeful King Acrisius abandoned Perseus and his mother because of her dirty and unwanted pregnancy. After Zeus destroys the king and his kingdom, Perseus grows up to be a strapping young lad who must find and fulfill his destiny (after he's done with that, he's apparently ready to retire?). Meeting up with the elderly playwright Ammon (Meredith), Perseus discovers the captivating princess Andromeda. Smitten, Perseus decides to solve the riddle that will allow him to take her as his wife…even if it means being burned at the stake if he can't solve her verbal puzzle! For the hand of one woman Perseus (with the help of his winged horse Pegasus and the mechanical owl Bubo) will battle a gaggle of legendary monsters including the sea creature Kraken, the deformed swamp denizen Calibos (Neil McCarthy), a few giant scorpions, a two-headed dog, and the woman crowned "Most Likely to Look Better with Beer Goggles," the snake haired serpentine Medusa!
Let the Clash of the Titans begin!
Not long ago the staff at DVD Verdict received a letter from an impatient reader who stated (in summary), "stop talking about the movies you watched as a child and get to the dang review!" To this faithful reader I respond with "Phhhhhpppptttt" (this sound is complimented by my tongue sticking out and the hand gesture of moose ears on the side of my head). What reviewer (or reader, for that matter) can separate a great film with a great childhood memory? While I love the experience of finding some new cinematic gem at the sharp age of 26, I also love the experience of rekindling the joy of an old movie long lost. This was the experience with Clash of the Titans—a big, grand epic embedded in my childhood collective.
As of this writing there hasn't been any really good mythology movies lately. In fact, thinking back upon the last 15 years I can't recall one movie made about the Greek gods (this doesn't include Disney's animated hit Hercules). This is a shame seeing as there is a wealth of history and fun embedded inside the text of those old mythical scriptures. Clash of the Titans does a fine job of bringing all those great monsters and gods to the sliver screen. I was a little shocked to find Medusa's entrance as eerie and spine-tingling as it was when I was ten. Now that's good moviemaking!
The actors portraying the Greek gods and mortals all do a fine job with the rather stiff dialogue and weird wordplay (Burgess Meredith seemingly croons "By the gods" in almost every other sentence). Harry Hamlin as the hunky hero Perseus looks like a younger, tanner Fabio. Clash of the Titans would end up being Hamlin's only breakout starring role. While he's got all the charisma of Jell-O (lime flavor), Hamlin works well as our shaggy haired hero. Lawrence Olivier as the great god Zeus is commanding and big, a far departure from his bald, meek villain in the thriller Marathon Man. Seeing Olivier at work reminds me of why he was considered such a heavy in the acting field. The rest of the gods (including the always delightful Maggie Smith) are mainly left in the dust. Ex-Bond girl Ursula Andress is given hardly any lines, and Claire Bloom is relegated to standing around looking pensively at Zeus. Only Neil McCarthy as the goat-like Calibos is allowed to chew the scenery so thoroughly that he actually leaves behind teeth marks.
Of course, the biggest draw for viewers will be Ray Harryhausen's timeless special effects. Okay, some of these effects are so obviously fake that even a blind man could tell you it was stop-motion animation. The use of blue screens is extraordinarily present, and some of the monsters really do look like they're made of plastic, rubber, and clay. But this was 1981 and the effects were by the same guy who brought skeletons to life in The Seven Voyages of Sinbad! Forgiveness can be granted on those facts alone. While the effects certainly aren't cutting edge, they're a fun throwback back to a time when wonder and imagination were a suitable substitution for glossy, perfect effects. Seeing giant scorpions rise from the blood of Medusa's head is one of those visceral thrills that just has to be seen. Harryhausen was still the best at what he did, and Clash of the Titans is a prime example of his tremendously ground-breaking work.
Clash of the Titans's only hindrance is that it sometimes lingers a bit too long during the middle. Some of the exposition gets a bit tedious—then again, when I had to read "The Odyssey" in high school it felt like it went on and on and on, so I guess the film is faithful to the printed word. Minor quibbles aside, Clash of the Titans is a thrilling adventure movie by one of the screen's best animated effects men. Recommended.
Clash of the Titans is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Oh, Warner…you've been a naughty little studio. What the heck happened with this print? Sporting a disturbing amount of dirt, grain, and defects, this transfer for Clash of the Titans is mediocre at best. There are far too many soft spots in the image, as well as a fair amount of edge enhancement and imperfections in the picture. I'm a big fan of this film, and it's a big disappointment to see it treated with such off-the-cuff care. Some of the colors and black levels look fine while others are either too soft or murky. Maybe in its next DVD incarnation (complete with a few more substantial extra features!) we'll see this movie get the real treatment it deserves!
The audio for Clash of the Titans is presented in Dolby Digital Stereo in English. Much like the video transfer, this soundtrack could have been much richer. What was stopping Warner from giving this grand movie a well produced 5.1 remix? Could it be that the folks at the studio assume that the fan base for this film is small? If so, I think they'll find they're sorely mistaken. Either way, this is a very run of the mill soundtrack that sports few if any directional effects and a few areas of distortion in the dialogue, music, and effects. The soundtrack is just okay and that's the best I can say about it. Also included on this disc are English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Bahasa, Thai, and (phew!) Korean subtitles, as well as a French Dolby Mono soundtrack.
A great movie deserves some great supplements, right? Apparently not, according to Warner Brothers. This first ever DVD edition of Clash of the Titans (originally released theatrically by MGM) includes only a few extra features. Starting off the disc is "A Conversation with Ray Harryhausen." This fascinating little piece features Harryhausen discussing multiple aspects of the film including his previous stop-motion animation work, the casting of the film (apparently Olivier was very sick during the production), the locations, and the music (supplied lushly by composer Laurence Rosenthal). Behind-the-scenes photos and clips from the final film abound. History buffs will definitely want to take a look at this short (only 12 minutes!) but informative piece.
"Map of Myths and Monsters" is a gallery where the viewer can choose a certain beast (i.e., Calibos, Bubo, Medusa, et cetera) and hear Harryhausen discuss its origins, his thoughts on the creature, and what it took to bring it to the screen. Each of these is basically an extension of the "A Conversation with Ray Harryhausen" featurette.
Finally, there are just two filmographies on Harry Hamlin and Lawrence Olivier, plus a full frame theatrical trailer for the film.
For the right price (under 15 bucks), I think this movie is a fine addition to any DVD collection. I know there are a lot of you out there who remember this from when you were a kid. I am happy to report that, aside of a few slow spots, Clash of the Titans is still a thrilling, chilling, and exciting movie experience. Unfortunately, Warner's DVD presentation leaves much to be desired.
Clash of the Titans is free to go, but Warner is slapped with a major fine for such ho-hum treatment of this stop-animation classic!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• A Conversation with Ray Harryhausen
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