Chief Justice Michael Stailey's last skiing trip could be subtitled "Crash in the Tetons."
You will feel the power. Live the adventure. Experience the fantastic.
The master of stop-motion miniatures, Ray Harryhausen (One Million Years B.C.), and his producing partner in crime, Charles Schneer (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad), ride off into the sunset with a career-capping cult classic. Yes, there is a fair amount of kitsch on display. Yes, some of the visual effects appear woefully antiquated. And yes, Warner Home Video phones in this Blu-ray release. But Clash of the Titans (1981) more than earns its place in the hearts and minds of folklore, myth, and legend fans around the world.
Facts of the Case
What is a bored throng of Greek gods to do to keep themselves entertained? Why manipulate mortals as disposable playthings, of course. And since none of the lesser gods and goddesses hold an unwavering love for Zeus (Sir Laurence Olivier, Richard III)—Hera (Claire Bloom) is tired of his sleeping around, Thetis (Dame Maggie Smith) is pissed he turned her son into a monster, Athena (Susan Fleetwood) will never forgive him for ordering to give up her pet owl, and Hephaestus (Pat Roach) just hates the man—this latest game turns into a strategic chess match, with the fate of Zeus' son Perseus (Harry Hamlin, Veronica Mars) and his lady love Andromeda (Judi Bowker) hanging in the balance. Can this mere human sidestep Olympian traps and challenges to emerge victorious and rescue his beloved from certain death?
Before hanging up their shingle and calling it a career, the two men who gave us more than 25 years of eye-popping fantasy adventures decided to deliver just one more, this time tackling the ethereal and oft-vindictive residents of Mount Olympus. Clash of the Titans is a worthy successor to It Came from Beneath the Sea, Mysterious Island, and the Sinbad franchise. Characters like Medusa, The Kraken, Calibos, and Bubo remain highly recognizable cinematic icons, so much so that Hollywood's remake machine will churn out a 2010 update. It's a testament to the creative vision of Harryhausen, Schneer, and the team they assembled for for this project, even if they don't fire on all cylinders.
English screenwriter Beverly Cross, who worked with Harryhausen on Jason and the Argonauts and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, draws from a buffet of Greek mythology to craft this adaptation of Perseus' story. While the core of this legend remains in tact—cast out as an infant by his paranoid grandfather, King of Argos; slayer of the gorgon Medusa (to save the life of his beloved, rather than fulfill a promise to King Polydectes) with knowledge from three blind women (here referred to as the Stygian witches, rather than the Graeae sisters) and the gift of an enchanted sword, shield, and helmet; savior of and betrothed to Andromeda using the head of Medusa (to destroy the Kraken, rather than fulfill an oracle's prophecy). Other elements such as Calibos and Pegasus were brought in to serve this Odysseyan-like cinematic adventure. The funny thing is my memory fused in a few additional challenges from other mythology pictures, leaving Clash of the Titans a bit brisker in plot and pace than I remember.
Quick digression on Pegasus: Far be it for me to make an Avatar reference, but Perseus' taming of the legendary winged horse quickly brings to mind Sully's bonding with his Na'vi banshee. Just an observation. Something to look for.
Desmond Davis cut his directorial teeth in British television, so it's no surprise that the film has a small screen sensibility. Aside from Harryhausen's expertly choreographed stop motion battle sequences and cinematographer Ted Moore's (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) grand establishing shots, the character moments are quite intimate and minimalist. One could argue there's even a big budget Star Trek: The Original Series or Doctor Who feel to it all, despite being filmed on location throughout the UK, Spain, Italy, and Malta.
There's still plenty of joy to be found in seeing Sir Laurence Olivier and Dame Maggie Smith verbally spar over the fates of these mortals. Despite being ill at the time, Olivier never shows it, and Maggie—who we know best today as Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter series—proves just why she's had such a long and illustrious career. Top that with another scene stealing performance courtesy of Burgess Meredith. Hard to believe they were going to turn him away in favor of a British actor. Doctor Who's Neil McCarthy savors every moment as Thetis' mutated son Calibos, punished by Zeus for killing all but one of his prized winged horses. McCarthy is only shown in closeups, as Harryhausen takes over Calibos' full body action in stop motion miniature. Judi Bowker is delightful as the captive Princess Andromeda. And then we come to Harry Hamlin; exotic looking beefcake who does well enough to keep the film from devolving into Steve Reeves Hercules territory, but wasn't destined to win any awards for his performance.
Presented in 1.77:1 widescreen, the image quality of this VC-1 1080p transfer varies wildly from scene to scene. When the sky is clear and the sun shines brightly, the depth of detail and clarity is impressive, but low light scenes drown in a sea of heavy grain and the color palate washes out quite easily. Like the video presentation, the DTS-HD audio is not anywhere near what we're used to seeing from new releases and big budget restorations. While Warner has plussed the previous DVD release, the sound quality is only as good as its nearly 30 year old source. The dialogue is crisp and but the hearty low-end mix a film like this deserves just isn't here. On the upside, Laurence Rosenthal's regally robust and sometimes bombastic musical score sounds better than ever. Now there have been recent reports of audio problems with the DTS-HD track, but that may be more a case of PS3 owners unaware that the console rather than their home theatre receiver does the decoding. I've enclosed a link to EndGaget's step-by-step instructions for establishing the proper PS3 settings, in the "Accomplices" section on the sidebar. Bottom line: as long as you don't go in expecting miracles, you'll find enough to appreciate about this HD upgrade.
What you won't appreciate is the ridiculous absence of bonus materials. Either Warner Bros. is holding out for the Clash of the Titans (2010) Blu-ray release or it's sheer laziness, but aside from the five minute reboot "sneak peek" you've doubtlessly seen in many other places, the 22 minutes worth of featurettes from the 2004 DVD release are basically one long conversation with Ray chopped into bite size segments. This being another Blu Book release, we also get 40-page booklet bound into the hard cardboard keepcase, with character, cast, and crew bios, production photos, and some background on the film. Warner execs must think they can fool us into believing they actually put some time and effort into this. Fat chance. They are able to misdirect our frustration with $7.50 in MovieCash for the theatrical remake, but that only works if you have a participating theatre near you.
When all is said and done, it's Harryhausen's legacy that defines Clash of the Titans. You certainly can't place it next to advanced visual masterpieces of today, but for its time this was a master class on stop motion puppetry and in-camera practical effects. And without movies like these, filmmakers such as James Cameron, Tim Burton, George Lucas, and Henry Selick might very well have gone into another line of work. For that alone, movie lovers owe Harryhausen a debt of gratitude.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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