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Clash of the Titans (1981)

Clash of the Titans (1981)

Movie Review

Another childhood favorite of mine, Clash of the Titans was the last movie Ray Harryhausen worked on. Though I was already fascinated with Greek mythology as a youngster this film further fueled my curiosity.

In his first starring role, a very young and beautiful Harry Hamlin has the lead role of Perseus, mortal son of Zeus (Laurence Olivier) and slayer of monsters. Perseus is also the heir to the Kingdom of Argos.

As the film opens we see his grandfather, King Acrisius forcing the infant Perseus along with his mother Danae into a wooden sarcophagus and flinging them into the sea. King Acrisius is performing an “honor killing” since his unmarried daughter Danae conceived and gave birth to Perseus, thus bringing “shame” to both he and his kingdom. What the cruel father doesn’t know is that his grandchild’s father is Zeus, king of the Olympian gods. Zeus is not about to let any harm befall Danae and their son. He commands Poseidon (Jack Gwillim) to deposit them both on a safe island and takes revenge on Acrisius by destroying Argos.

Once Perseus reaches young adulthood the gods in Olympus begin to toy with his fate …as they do with all mortals.

Zeus, while proud of the handsome young man Perseus has become, is angry and indignant at the cruelty of Calibos (Neil McCarthy) son of the goddess Thetis (Maggie Smith). He transforms Calibos into a hideous he-beast. Thetis, out of spite, transports Perseus to Joppa (where all the action is going on) while he’s napping. The poor guy wakes up not knowing where he is but has the poet Ammon (Burgess Meredith) to guide him.

Calibos was betrothed to Princess Andromeda (Judi Bowker), the daughter of Queen Cassiopeia (Sian Phillips) of Joppa, but the wedding is cancelled as Calibos is now more beast than man. In revenge, Thetis decrees through her priests that if her son is not to marry Andromeda than no man will.

Each suitor must try to solve a riddle given by Calibos to Andromeda each night in order to break the curse and win her hand in marriage. If they fail and they invariably do the price is death.

Of course, our hero, Perseus with the help of magical tools such as a sword, shield and helmet provided by the gods solves the riddle and wins the hand of the princess. But at the festivities later, vain and silly Queen Cassiopeia overdoes it in boasting of her daughter’s beauty going so far as to insult the patron goddess of Joppa, Thetis.

It’s on! Thetis is now beyond rage and orders Andromeda be sacrificed to the sea monster the Kraken  (Kraken? Wait, isn’t that Norse mythology?) in a month’s time or Joppa will be destroyed. Oh and another thing, Andromeda must still be a virgin at the time of the sacrifice. There goes the wedding and the honeymoon!

Perseus is determined to save both his bride and their future kingdom. He learns that the only thing that can kill the Kraken is the head of Medusa, the gorgon, a once beautiful woman now hideous creature with snakes for hair. Simple enough, right? Except Perseus first has to kill her; it’s not like Medusa’s going to voluntarily hand over her own head. But no living creature can look upon her without being instantly turned into stone.

Perseus and his men now depart on an even more perilous journey to the isle of the Dead to confront the dreaded gorgon and return alive with her head. But first they must battle the two-headed dog Cerberus before going into her lair.

The battle scene between Perseus and Medusa is rightly considered the highlight of the film. Aside from the fact that Medusa is arguably Ray Harryhausen’s best creature in his career the scene itself is the kind of tense edge of your seat moment that many audiences enjoy. But between successfully decapitating Medusa and destroying the other Titan (the Kraken) Perseus still has to take on some overgrown scorpions, resolve unfinished business with Calibos and still make in time back to Joppa.

The movie has its weaknesses to be sure. This was before CGI but still even for its time there were other films that were doing special effects wonders. While Medusa is the best and strongest of Harryhausen’s creatures, there are some laughable cardboard special effects moments.

Another weakness the film has that is difficult to ignore is that although it boasts of such stage and screen titans (pun not intended) such as Laurence Olivier, Claire Bloom, Maggie Smith and Burgess Meredith the acting is sometimes over done or woodenly read from the script. It’s possible that even these screen luminaries couldn’t do much with the mediocre script from Beverley Cross.

Clash of the Titans is not and will not go down in cinematic history as one of the great films. However, it remains a cult classic for many people of my generation and slightly older as a wondrous celebration of camp and a nostalgic and entertaining fantasy film. I still watch it every now and then.

To view Clash of the Titans on Amazon Instant Video just click on the following link.

To order Clash of the Titans on DVD from either Amazon USA, Amazon UK or Amazon Canada click on one of the corresponding links below.

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