Clash of the Titans

(1981) ** 1/2 Pg
118 min. United Artists Films. Director: Desmond Davis. Cast: Laurence Olivier, Claire Bloom, Maggie Smith, Ursula Andress, Jack Gwillim.

/content/films/3728/1.jpgClash of the Titans is a curious specimen, indeed. Watching it today, the monster-movie-cum-sword-and-sandal adventure (which plays like a boy's dream of a half-remembered lesson in Greek mythology) unmistakably belongs to a bygone Hollywood era, not least because of its greatest selling point: the special effects of producer Ray Harryhausen.

But Harryhausen's last hurrah as special effects king isn't all that's on display here, not by a long shot. You can smell 1981 on every frame of Clash of the Titans, along with the sweat of Harryhausen's producing partner Charles H. Schneer. "Superman had Brando—get me Olivier for Zeus!" "Can we get a little of that Star Wars magic in here? How about a clockwork owl? It'll be just like that rolling ashtray robot!" "I know, I know, it's for kids. But a little T&A for Dad, no?" The results are kitschy as all get out, which is part of what saves Clash of the Titans from the junk heap. Having stars—even when they have little to do—does help: a little Ursula Andress here, a lot of Burgess Meredith there, and a little bit of a lot of Olivier. And, yes, though Harryhausen's glory days were past him, he and his team do provide some magical moments.

Classics majors, don't skip your reading homework for this one. Screenwriter Beverly Cross cobbles together snippets of this myth and that to justify the film's parade of creatures. Enjoying a big break, Harry Hamlin is accomodatingly wooden as stolid ascendant hero Perseus. One of Zeus' many illegitimate sons, Perseus narrowly escapes infanticide to grow up and reclaim his birthright as a hero, thus doing Daddy proud. Step one is to return home and vie for the hand of the beautiful Andromeda (Judi Bowker). Problem: she's in need of rescue, having been once promised to man-turned-monster Calibos. Perseus must trounce Calibos and then answer his potential mother-in-law Cassiopeia's Sphynx-ish riddle before he can claim Andromeda.

It doesn't end there, of course. A typical Mount Olympian squabble erupts, the goddess Thetis acting on behalf of her wronged son Calibos. Thus, Zeus is obliged to "Let loose the Kraken!" (okay, it ain't Shakespeare, but it pays good), all the better for a King Kong-style climax: the heroine shackled to a rock awaiting sacrificial doom to a giant beast (in this case, Poseidon's Sea Monkey, alas, but an angry mutant reptile). It's all in good fun, even when the effects can only klutzily marry live-action to stop-motion. Best in show goes to Medusa, in a surprisingly intense showdown with Perseus, a close second going to the flights of fancy provided by super-cool winged horse Pegasus.

Never mind that the flick confuses Titans with Olympians, and Greek mythology with Scandinavian (the source of the Kraken). And the less said about that mechanical owl, Bubo, the better—except for this fun fact: "bubo," in Greek, means "groin." Aw, nuts—Clash of the Titans is educational after all.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Street date: 3/2/2010

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Gotta love synergy. With the remake almost out of the pipeline, Warner gives 1981's Clash of the Titans its hi-def Blu-ray debut in a special edition with deluxe book packaging and Movie Cash applicable towards the remake. The source material for Clash of the Titans is problematic, but I'm convinced that this transfer makes the most of it. The old-school photographic special effects techniques (which often let in the dirt) are damaging to the image's consistency, but digitally erasing those signs would be an act of revisionism. On the whole, such distractions are few, the picture generally appearing bright and detailed, with accurate color representation. The retro picture quality is matched by a serviceable, old-school DTS-HD Master 2.0 mix.

The disc launches with a "Clash of the Titans Sneak Peek" (5:07, HD) focused on the 2010 remake and, in particular, its special effects. Interviewed in brief are Sam Worthington, Ralph Fiennes, Liam Neeson, director Louis Leterrier, animation supervisor Max Solomon, visual effects supervisor Tim Webber, lead modeler Scott Eaton, visual effects supervisor Gary Brozenich, animation supervisor Greg Fisher, and Alexa Davalos.

"A Conversation with Ray Harryhausen" (12:12, SD) is a delight, with Harryhausen talking a bit about his inspiration to enter show biz, and how and why Clash of the Titans came together. This interview leads into seven Myths and Monsters segments that allow Harryhausen to comment, one by one, on each effects creation: "Calibos" (1:19, SD), "Pegasus" (1:21, SD), "Bubo" (:47, SD), "The Scorpions" (:40, SD), "Medusa" (1:53, HD), "The Kraken" (1:28, SD) and "Dioskilos" (1:06, SD).

The 40-page book, in keeping with other WB book packages, includes bite-sized contextual essays, cast bios, character briefs, and trivia, illustrated with color photos and promtional art from the archives. Also included is a promotional eight-page color pamphlet sampling color stills and production notes from the remake.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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