While liberal in its take of Greek myth, one could do worse than “Clash of The Titans” for a crash course on the subject — a colorful tale of the heroic, half-god Perseus (Harry Hamlin) and his fight to save the fair Princess Andromeda (Judi Bowker). All while fighting various beasties and overseen by the Olympian gods (led by Sir Laurence Olivier as a h***y, pompous Zeus), and played by a British cast including Maggie Smith (Thetis), Claire Bloom (Hera), and the late Susan Fleetwood–sister of Mick–as the owl-toting Athena.
Make no mistake: for Perseus and others in ancient Greece, polytheism is a bitch.
The gods are fickle and tempermental, toying with their mortal subjects on a whim. Risk great peril for true love, and you’re “rewarded.” But sneeze on a Tuesday, and it’s “He will be punished! Release the Kraken!” — a lesson which Perseus (and others) learn the hard way, chasing his destiny beside a humble playwright (Burgess Meredith).
But let’s cut to the particulars: as the heroic Perseus, Hamlin’s acting is downright Shatnerian, whispering his lines (“Calibos!” “Magical!”) in wooden astonishment. Even the truly immortal Sir Laurence hams it up as Zeus. Yet considering “Clash’s” melodramatic script–which feels appropriate for this subject–perhaps we should expect no less.
Verily, the acting and plot in “Clash” are beside the point, upstaged here by the craftsmanship of Ray Harryhausen.
A pioneer in stop-motion animation, and designer of groundbreaking visual effects seen in “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” (1953) and “Jason and The Argonauts” (1963), “Clash” sadly marked Harryhausen’s last feature — his craft soon outmoded by CGI and other modern forms of animation. But make no mistake, to those who know him Harryhausen is justly idolized as a special effects god, blazing the trail for countless filmmakers (Spielberg, Winston, Baker) who followed his example. And although dated, Harryhausen’s professional swan song in “Clash” is wonderful — highlighted by such stop-motion villains as giant scorpions and a nasty, half-serpentine Medusa with a thing for bowhunting.
In any school, it’s beautiful work, even by today’s ultra-slick special effects — many of which are inferior to Harryhausen’s patient skill.