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Clash of the Titans

****
1981

‘…the last hurrah for an old-school kind of film-making that was effectively blown out of the water by Star Wars…’

‘Let loose the Kraken!,’ proclaims Zeus (Sir Laurence Olivier) in an un-iconic moment from Desmond Davis’s blockbuster family entertainment from 1981, a high-gloss romp pushing an all-star cast through various Greek myths. The Kraken is quite a nasty-ass monster in anyone’s dog-eared school textbook, but there’s a number of other creatures to be dispatched first; with stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen on effects, it’s the monsters which bring back nostalgic shivers here. And although your first thoughts might head to Bubo the mechanical owl, there isn’t a whole lot of Bubo going down here.

Instead, we see an old-school studio film with some modern trappings, a film charming in it’s quaint naivety. We start with a family favourite; a woman and her baby being sealed in a coffin, and finish on a lengthy speech about the dangers of mendacity; what child wouldn’t thrill to these elements? In between, we see the baby grow up to be Perseus (Harry Hamlin), get trained by Burgess Meredith as in Rocky, inherit a magic helmet, sword, shield and horse, and set out on a mission to defeat the fearsome Kraken.

Clash of the Titans feels like it’s been made by a team who know what they are doing; the structure, unwieldy at first as the Gods argue and do their Monday morning quarterbacking while Zeus footers about with his collectibles, pays off in a series of back-to-back, rock-em’, sock-em’ bouts with the satyr-like Calibos, scorpions, Medusa and a top of the bill tussle with the Kraken. Harryhausen’s animation is as awesome as ever, giving these characters as much personality as the actors. But the process-shots are hideous by today’s standards, the all-star gods turn out to be rather dull, and kids at the time found the plot somewhat lumpy.

And yet, Clash of the Titans still stands up well, the last hurrah for an old-school kind of film-making that was effectively blown out of the water by Star Wars. The climaxes are dark and intense, the locations are spectacular, and at least one in every three effects shots is a winner. There’s a lovely anything-goes feeling on unpredictability, with talking statues, deadly tsunamis and the Stygian Witches, surely a great unused name for an indie-rock band. It might not quite have been the hit that the makers hoped for, but as a film worth re-enacting with cushions and paper hats on the couch in these pandemic times, there’s a lot of retro-fun to be had in this world of jittery monsters, stolid heroes and musical metal birds.

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  1. Great old-school stuff, as you say, with Laurence Olivier (Sir? Lord? not much of a shift to god) and Ursula Andress (a goddess surely). Interestingly, Sam worthington was in the inferior remake.

    • It’s fun seeing Olivier working with Andress, although given that Maggie Smith was married to the writer, she gets all the best lines…

  2. I have a very non-strict “no movies with animated covers instead of the actors” line that I sometimes adhere to. It is why I’ve ignored this movie on prime. So far, most of the movies that I have watched that had drawn covers (there has got to be a correct term for that. I feel like I’m stumbling big time here) have been 70’s or 80’s bombs that were completely not my cup of tea.

    How were movies like this blown out by Star Wars? Was it the use of the blue screen, or the SF/space elements, or something altogether different?

    • I hear you, but the line-drawn covers are so vivid here that I had a bunch to choose from. They film-makers don’t dumb down the mythology, and that distance was at odds with a youthful, crowd-pleasing feel of the sci-fi and fantasy movies at the time. And the effects hark back to 50s and 60s techniques which were old hat by 1981. I think you’d dig this if you gave it a whirl…

      • So the Star Wars reference was more about the tech? Or the style of story telling?

        Even while I’m embittered about the current Star Wars, I will always be a fan of the original trilogy and it is something that will get me talking.

        • Both. Star Wars had this whole dirty space thing which seemed original, and while it goes for myth-making, the story structures are modern compared to some of the musty stuff here. And the overall effects are generally consistent in Star Wars, and very erratic here…

  3. Was just putting my finishing touches on my notes for this one. You know, one of these days we are going to post on the same movie on the same day. That will be a day to celebrate.

    As for Clash of the Titans, it’s everyone’s (or at least everyone of a certain age) childhood favourite. Still a lot more fun than the CGI reboot.

    • The reboot is truly horrible, as is the sequel. And yes, if we post the same movie on the same day, that will be a clash of the titans! Oil up your mechanical owl!

  4. Gotta love the classics, although admittedly I haven’t seen this one. But I do love films such as these, and it falls into the category “ They don’t make them like this one anymore”

    • I certainly will; something of the wet Bank holiday about these movies, and as noted, a great film to re-enact at home with the pubs closed…

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