Monday, September 22, 2014

Movies You May Have Missed - Clash of the Titans (1981)

I'm not here to convince you to take a gander at the original Clash of the Titans (the 1981 release—NOT the eyeball-searing 2010 remake), though I'm a huge Ray Harryhausen fan and can enthusiastically recommend Jason and the Argonauts or Golden Voyage of Sinbad for almost any occasion. Clash of the Titans, while aiming high and definitely enamored of Greek mythological tales, is not as narratively successful as those earlier films. The live-action and animated scenes are not as seamless as in Harryhausen's past work, especially for the post-Star Wars age. The pacing by director Desmond Davis is often turgid, partially saved by some twinkly character-acting by Burgess Meredith. But Meredith can't be in every scene—he's just one man. And the film's leads, Harry Hamlin and Judi Bowker, are not burning up the screen with swashbuckling energy, more like walking through in a Valium haze.

Which is why I'm spending my precious, valuable time on Earth presenting this here. Because, upon watching it 30 years after its release, I had a realization—Clash of the Titans may be one of the most drugged-out movies ever made. I'm not on drugs. I'm a clean and sober Mom these days, unless you count melatonin for my sleep issues, but while watching Clash of the Titans, I got a contact high. Maybe it's the weird choppy story throwing Perseus across geographical time and space. Maybe it's the Gods tinkering with their human offspring and assorted masses as pawns in a game (a concept first explored in 1963 in Jason in the Argonauts). Maybe it's that elusive Harryhausen magic that makes otherworldly creatures somehow mesh into the mythical world we think we know. Let the visuals convince you. And now...

There's this:

And this:

And this:

Disco Zeus

What a trip! Then of course there's the Kraken, of "Release the Kraken!" fame.

The Kraken myth is actually of Norwegian origin and was most likely based on giant squid sightings by freaked-out sailing men, so what's he doing here in ancient Greece? It's a mythological mish-mash.

Look at Poseidon's face (Jack Gwillim) when he gets to Release The Kraken.

Clearly, he's a god in need of an intervention.

The Kraken wreaks all kinds of havoc for the city of Argos. Lots of death and destruction when you let the Kraken out of its undersea lair. And all because Perseus' mother, the gal-pal of Zeus, is sent to sea in a coffin with their baby Perseus by her uptight creep of a father. Zeus protects his earthly family and crushes her father in his powerful Laurence Olivier hand, so that takes care of that. Unfortunately the people of Argos are squished, drowned, and run screaming only to be crushed by marble columns.

The gods are a vengeful, sadistic lot. As played by a truly god-like roster of esteemed thespians, including Olivier, Claire Bloom and Dame Maggie Smith, they're directed to stand around like statues, looking mostly irritated with one another. Certainly Olivier, who was suffering serious health issues, was not in the best condition to portray unbridled infallibility. He comes off as a cranky despot with a fine mellifluous voice. These gods are portrayed as, dare I say it, middle-aged in appearance and demeanor. They look tired. Gods aren't supposed to get tired!

Claire Bloom as Zeus' long-suffering wife, Hera. Ursula Andress as world-weary goddess of love, Aphrodite, and Maggie Smith as sea goddess Thetis, mother of Calibos, part man/part animated creature thingy.

And who is this Perseus, now grown and ready for adventure? It's Harry Hamlin—you may think of him as Jim Cutler on Mad Men, ruthless accounts executive and speed-freak, but here he is in his youth and he's darn pretty and ready for mind-expanding adventure.

Harry Hamlin - a long and illustrious career

Which brings us back to drugs. Want to take a ride to the center of your Greek Mythology mind? Come along if you dare...

This is the bustling and cursed city of Joppa, with its visible matte lines. I bet when Harryhausen saw this shot, he winced. It needed a little more "massaging" before completion.

This is a giant vulture who shows up at Princess Andromeda's bedchambers while she sleeps and steals her somolent soul for a while (her soul enters the little cage here—are you having a bad trip? sorry).


This is Perseus taming Pegasus, only Perseus is wearing a helmet that makes him invisible, so he's just a rope in mid-air. Whoa.

This is Calibos. He was a handsome guy but he killed everything in sight, including Zeus' prized flying horses (except for Pegasus), so Zeus turned him into a monster-guy. This is actually close-up-Calibos, nicely played by Neil McCarthy, who suffered from acromegaly, which is a form of gigantism.

But wide-shot-Calibos looks like this.

Wide-shot-Calibos in close-up reveals a disparity between the look of his close-ups and his action shots, which are animated with Harryhausen's usual flair for the dramatic, especially his thrashing alligator-like tail.

These are Calibos' only friends and they all live together in a swamp and write riddles to Princess Andromeda's sleep-soul, who has to memorize them and take them back to her kingdom to present to would-be suitors. Failure to solve the riddles (and there have been some failures) results in death. It's a total bummer.

Dang, Calibos' hand is creepy.

McCarthy's close-ups add a welcome dose of pathos to his otherwise despicable character. I believe the original idea was for an animated-only Calibos but it was decided that he needed more of a personal story, so McCarthy and dialogue were added.

Typical Calibos, *tsk*.

The problem is that while both versions of Calibos were fine on their own, they didn't mesh with each other, which creates a jarring effect. This fighting Calibos has a different face going on. Hence, audiences really have to suspend their belief above and beyond the usual Harryhausen outing.

Thetis talking through a beheaded statue of herself like something out of Disney's Haunted Mansion (which I like, by the way). It's OK, man. I'm here for you. I'm your guide through these bad parts...

Perseus and Andromeda are the dullest love-pairing in fantasy-cinema history. Hamlin wasn't up to scenery-chewing in his youth and Bowker in this role has all the allure of a preschool teacher-in-training. Hamlin had more of a connection with his off-screen lover, Ursula Andress, Aphrodite herself.

Poor Bowker, in polyester Easter-egg pastels throughout the entire film

Burgess Meredith loved playing playwright and thespian, Ammon. Here he is, all merriment and joy, with goofy mechanical owl, Bubo.

Meredith, having a blast
I'm not a fan of Bubo. His clumsy, blooping shenanigans seem forced to me. Owls are cool but Bubo looks awkward when he flies around, like RT-D2 with wings, Still, you can order your own Bubo costume accessory for the next Comic Con, so what do I know?

Back to the fun! These three blind cackling Stygian witches always cheer me up. True comic relief.

She's the absolute best

Perseus messes with the witches a bit but it's all in good fun. Until he takes a ferry ride to the Isle of Medusa with the boatman Charon. Bad vibes all around.

Low-budget, but it works

And then, JAWAS!

OK, not really. It's a two-headed guard dog. Harryhausen said three heads would have been too complicated to deal with and as it was, keeping the fur smooth throughout the shot was a big problem for the animators. Consequently, not a great action sequence—kind of like a stuffed animal gone berserk. I told you it was druggy.

Ruff! Ruff! Ruff! Ruff! Owhooooooo! Ruff! Ruff Ruff! etc.

As you probably know, Medusa has the power to turn men to stone with just one look. Thus, her decorating scheme is...intimidating.

This is very Return to Oz

Now here we go. This is it. The Medusa sequence. This is where Harryhausen poured his heart and soul. I think it stands up to many monster-movie confrontation scenes. Just A+ work all around. And Hamlin steps it up too—perhaps the creepy set gave him the proper heebie jeebies. He looks scared out of his mind. AS HE SHOULD BE.

Shadows from the firelight, multiple snakes moving around—can you imagine animating this?

What an entrance

Medusa is a badass archer and formidable foe


More visual complications for Harryhausen. What a master he was.

Hooray! But also, darn, I liked Medusa, in a way

And then there's more Kraken. Can't have too much Kraken.

Kraken hand

Mr. Kraken

Pegasus and animated Perseus going down

Disco Medusa

And there it is. You're back now—how do you feel? Was your mind expanded? Was it inner-eye opening? Would you do it again? I did and I turned out fine. Hail, Harryhausen—he loved fantasy storytelling and created so many memorable creatures to haunt us forever. Oh, I forgot to mention the giant scorpions. They go clackity-clackity-clackity-clack! when they attack. Sorry if I harshed your mellow.

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