Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Clash Of The Titans

The last Camaro rolled off a Detroit assembly line earlier this year, the final confirmation that the age of affordable muscle cars had given way to the divided era of economy models and SUV behemoths. The march of progress has a way of snatching away pleasures for every new advantage it grants, which is also true when it comes to film. Throughout the '50s and '60s, visual-effects wizard Ray Harryhausen summoned up whole worlds through the painstaking process of stop-motion animation, pitting Jason and his Argonauts against an army of skeletons, sending giant monsters to destroy major U.S. cities, and filling a valley with cowboys and dinosaurs. There was little mistaking a Harryhausen creation. Even though the illusion of life wasn't perfect, they had so much personality that the illusions worked better than absolute verisimilitude. They weren't real, but they were better than real. By the time the '70s came to a close, however, the people Harryhausen had inspired were taking his place. The 1981 film Clash Of The Titans was his valedictory, and a fitting one at that. Re-telling (and largely fudging) the Greek myth of Perseus and Andromeda, Titans featured some of Harryhausen's most imaginative creations, from a winged horse to a four-armed lizard (currently appearing each week in the opening credits to Malcolm In The Middle). Like all of Harryhausen's film projects, Titans forces all aspects of the movie except the spectacle into the background, and historical accuracy isn't much of a concern. (Apparently, Roman centurions, medieval warriors, and what look like extras from a Jesus movie all wandered the streets of mythological Greece.) It does feature a better-than-average cast, however, aside from uncharismatic star Harry Hamlin. Burgess Meredith, Ursula Andress, Claire Bloom, Maggie Smith, and no less a figure than Laurence Olivier—as Zeus, naturally—fill out the ranks of gods and mortals. (Olivier even manages to say the line "Release… the Kraken" twice, without cracking a smile.) Cheaper, smoother special-effects techniques and Harryhausen's own advancing age made Titans his last film, but his influence remains clear. Director Robert Rodriguez dedicated this summer's Spy Kids 2 to him (and to Frank Frazetta), even throwing in threatening skeletons with slightly jerky movements to make the homage more obvious. Watching Titans now, however, it's easy to find poignant moments. Harryhausen seemed to know it would be his last film, judging from small touches like the way the gods talk about the fading of eras, the way Olivier controls mortals in the form of tiny, malleable models, and the way one villain meets his end: hardening into rock and crumbling, never to move again.


Share This Story

Get our newsletter