Released: June 12th 1981
Directed By: Desmond Davis
Stars: Harry Hamlin, Laurence Olivier
Score: 6/9 Hammers
Clash of the Titans. I can do this. I do not think anyone remembered this 1981 film until the recent remake entered it back into cultural consciousness. Up until then I believe most people forgot that this mythological epic was a box office success upon its release and now stands as the last work of Ray Harryhausen, legendary visual effects director who did dozens of 50’s and 60’s science fantasy movies that no one cares about but that I can name by memory. Clash of the Titans, in its own right, owes most of its loyalty to an older generation of fantasy films. Before Conan and the 80’s lot would usher in a new era of cinema fantasy, Clash of the Titans would celebrate the lunacy of Greek Mythology with unbelievable claymation. We might as well get this out of the way now. Yes, there will be a Kraken released at one point.
I haven’t seen the updated version of Clash of the Titans or its sequel Wrath of the Titans so please tell me if this plot was preserved in the remake. Zeus is a whore. The all-powerful god impregnates Danae, a beautiful mortal, who gives birth to Perseus. Danae’s father, Acrisius, is furious and does what any sane father would do, burial at sea inside a death coffin. See, reasonable. Zeus, the deadbeat father, is pissed at Acrisius for his actions and decides to rain down holy fury upon him and his city Argos by releasing one of the last titans, The Kraken. We will get to the point of the Kraken not being a Titan later. See, you did not have to wait that long for the Kraken joke. If it were not for the Kraken’s size and additional limbs, I am sure he would have been the one picked on in Greek High School as he looks awkward and unsure of himself. Well, now I feel bad for the Kraken and imagine him eating lunch by himself. Do not worry, there will be more Kraken appearances to come.
It is important to take the time and highlight one of the film’s main antagonists — Zeus. Well, maybe not antagonist, just one of the films most unbearable assholes. Not only is it Zeus’ unbridled horniness that started this whole mess, but throughout the film Zeus is constantly showing favor towards his new son Perseus by sliding the odds in his favor. Usually by means of magical equipment. Here, a sword than can cut through anything. Here, a helmet that makes you invisible. Here, a shield that fucking talks. Additionally, Zeus makes it clear that he doesn’t give a fuck about anyone except for himself and his now favorite son. Zeus cursed Thetis’ son Calibos for accidentally killing all of his flying horses except for one — Pegasus. It was an accident, chill the fuck out Zeus. Calibos resides, as a deformed monster with gaudy taste in jewelry, in the swamps ruminating the loss of his bride to be, Andromeda. Yes, if things are starting to get a little complicated wait until the mechanical golden owl starts chirping.
The main narrative for Clash of the Titans involves Perseus attempting to win over Andromeda in the face of insurmountable odds. Well, in the face of Thetis and Calibos trying to fuck him over while his rich Dad keeps sending him things. You want a Land Rover Perseus? Sure. How about more beer money or time served on that DUI charge? You got it. Perseus rescues Andromeda from Calibos, the Disco Demon’s, swamp and cuts off the funky monster’s hand to bring it back as some weird wedding gift. Thetis, enraged, demands Andromeda be sacrificed to the Kraken for their mortal insolence. Zeus, not to be outdone, orders bird lover Athena to give Perseus her owl Bubo. Hey dickhead, just calm the fuck down, you are draining the Olympic bank account. Athena, in understandable defiance but odd logic, has a copy of her owl cast in gold and sent down as a mechanical replacement. A mechanical replacement that looks like C-3PO and sounds like R2D2. Alright, we are still here, keep going. The mechanical owl leads Perseus and his group to Medusa. Why? Because Medusa’s head will turn the Kraken to stone. Yes, that is what the three blind witches told him. Oh fuck, I forgot about that part. Just imagine every crazy fucking thing happening and it being dealt with as if it is completely normal.
Clash of the Titans remains an interesting film for its showcase of fantastic mythology. People forget how integrated the extraordinary and ordinary were and how close the gods stayed to the mortal world. The gods didn’t just sit around having godly orgies. No, they toyed and played with humans like new puppies or someone else’s children. They also fought with each other like children and fucked around dressed up like birds. The script for the film was written by Beverley Cross, who wrote the narrative for the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts. Jason and the Argonauts was famous for its use of stop motion animation by, yes, you guessed it, Ray Harryhausen. Clash of the Titans is a part of a larger fraternity of sword and sandal fantasy with larger than life clay monsters. For as amazing as the story would become, nothing compared to these towering beasts. For all of its dense plot, clunky special effects, and cocaine party-esque set designs, the film still retains the core tenets of a successful hero story. Yes, there will be a Kraken again.
Perseus travels to Medusa’s island ala Go Go Gorgon to take her head for his own needs. Medusa is a shitty archer and is thwarted when Perseus sets up a stone mannequin to hold his shield. The arc from Medusa to final Kraken is the best part of the film because Medusa’s head glows sci-fi green when in stone gaze mode. Sure this would be the end but Calibos can’t leave well enough alone and tries to thwart Perseus again by making the Gorgon’s blood turn to goddamn scorpions. If it wasn’t obvious at first, Perseus has the backing support of the most powerful god, ergo, Calibos gets trolloped on the dance floor. Don’t fuck with Zeus. Fast forward to the dramatic scene of the Kraken emerging from the sea to eat the virgin Andromeda and Perseus, the golden child, turning him to stone with the head of Medusa. Freeze. Stone. Crumble. Cheer. You know, that Gorgon head would make a pretty powerful weapon, well there it goes into the sea. Guess that is that. Thanks Perseus.
Despite some hilarious special effects and the fact here are zero actual Titans in this movie, with the closest you actually get being Medusa who is actually one of the three Gorgon sea deities, Clash of the Titans is saved on the wings of decent storytelling. Seriously, not one actual Titan. I don’t demand authenticity or anything but its in your damn title. Not just one but two are require for some sort of clash or small collision. The newer Clash of the Titans essentially does the same the original did by making the effects the centerpiece. Well, I guess that is what they intended, otherwise why would Zeus glow like that? The original, however, retains an outdated charm that is lacking from the vapid modern edition. I also find charm in a film that preserves the complexity of mythology without dulling it for contemporary audiences. In closing, Ray Harryhausen died this year at the respectable age of 92. Starting with Voyage of Sinbad in 1958, this man created wondrous effects that thrilled and scared the shit out of generations. I find this film a fitting tribute to a man who made monsters walk, with jarring rhythms, upon the earth.