Saturday, December 24, 2011

Clash of the Titans (1981) (Movie Review)

        Every Kid has that movie experience that’s beyond comparison to anything else they’ve ever seen before, an epic adventure film that’s only a big budget B movie and no masterpiece like “Gone with the Wind” or “Casablanca”, but in our minds it's an A+ masterpiece that goes above and beyond standard B movies. For some people it’s “Star Wars”, and for others it’s “Raiders of the Lost Arch” but for me, one of my favorite movies that I often consider a classic is the 1981 adventure masterpiece “Clash of the Titans”. There are plenty of great movies just like this including “Jason and the Argonauts” and the Sinbad Trilogy, but "Clash of the Titans" came to me first, and had a huge impact on my youth. This is the classy Greek adventure that captured my imagination, brought me into a mythical world, and got me fascinated about Greek Mythology. I became such a nerd on the subject that I had to get my hands on every novel on Greek Mythology I could find. Seriously, if a movie makes a child want to read, then you know it’s doing something good. The film first grabbed my interest with the poster alone, it’s awesome, with hand drawn illustrations and none of that photo shop stuff that’s used all the time today. With that lousy 2010 “Clash of the Titans” remake out, and the sequel "Wrath of the Titans" on its way, lots of people may forget about the original, so it’s my job to make sure that one of my favorite adventure movies doesn’t become a forgotten gem.

         We begin on Mount Olympus, were we learn that Zeus had once traveled to Earth in human form and fell in love with a woman, which led to the birth of our lead hero Perceus. As a boy, he and his mother were cast out at sea, but Zeus protected them, and watched over them knowing that his son would have a great destiny to fulfill. One of the Goddesses named Thetis (played by Maggie Smith, who you might recognize as Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter series) is jealous of Perceus and puts him to the test by transporting him to the kingdom of Joppa. He soon falls in love with the Princes named Andromeda, and he learns that the Kingdome is under a curse. So he bravely embarks on one adventure after another to save the kingdom and the Princes from the evil that threatens it. Well, that’s the clip note version, the story goes a lot deeper but I won’t spoil too much. Zeus is played by Laurence Olivier, who is outstanding in the role, it’s one of those perfect and unforgettable casting performances were I don't even see an actor. It's kind of like with Ian McKellen as Gandalf from “The Lord of the Rings” movies or Richard Harris as Dumbledore from the Harry Potter Series. Olympus itself is stunning to look at, there’s a room full of wooden sculptures representing every living person on the planet. Then there’s Zeus’s throne with a big shining blue light behind it, and golden animal statues on either side.                     
       The films incredibly rich in the visual department, and it fully allows you to submerse yourself into the time and culture. Every shot has rich landscape, temples, statues and sculpture. You begin to feel like you’ve been transported to ancient Greece. It's actually on par with films like “Star Wars” or “Avatar” where I feel I’ve completely left my world behind. The costumes are all great and the musical score is unforgettable. The music track may not be as awesome as the music from “Pirates of the Carrabin” or as classic as the Indiana Jones score but this one has such a memorable melody that I’ve always considered it a classic movie score in it's own right. 
The films worth watching just for all its memorable moments. There’s a scene when the statue of Thetis comes to life with a dooming message for the Princes Andromeda. There’s the part when Perceus consults with the three blind witch’s. Then there’s the scene when our heroes have to cross a poisonous river, with the driver of the boat being a skeleton in a black cloak. There’s also a dream sequences when Andromeda’s sprit is taken away in a cage, and it's all the memorable moments like these that make a movie feel so timeless.

       The characters may not be the most complex ever put to screen, but their still the classic archetypes that I know and love so well. Perceus is the noble hero we cheer for every step of the way, and actor Harry Hamlin dose a fantastic job bringing his image to life. He remains calm but you can always feel his emotions through the tones of his voice. Princes Andromeda is a fantastic damsel in distress character, and personally one of my favorite movie princess of all time. She’s just so innocent and pure that despite being a stereotype, she’s still very lovable, cute, and obviously quiet attractive. The same can be said for her relation with Perceus, while there not 100% believable, they at least look great together and do share some good chemistry, which is just enough to help you care. Finally there’s the classic wise old mentor character named Ammon played by the always terrific Burgess Meredith. Now if you’ve seen any of the "Rocky" movies, you should know just how awesome Burgess Meredith is in the role of the old mentor character.

       Things aren’t going to be easy for our hero, so Zeus and the God’s bless him with special gifts, in other words, magical weapons. There’s an indestructible sword that can slice through anything, whether it be marble or rock. 
Next is his shield which allows him to speak with his father Zeus. Also, he has a helmet that can turn him invisible, much like Harry Potters invisibility cloak. There’s this golden robotic owl named Bubo, which can be annoying at times, but he's very useful to our hero's and he eventually becomes a memorable mascot just like how R2-D2 is to "Star Wars". Finally, there’s the winged horse named Pegasus who makes traveling a lot easier. I remember when Disney’s “Hercules” came out, I always had to let my friends know that Pegasus was Perceus accomplice before Hercules.

      The villains are also very memorable, and monstrous. Calibos is the primary antagonist and mortal enemy to Perceus. He was once a handsome man who was suppose to marry Princess Andromeda but for his cruelty, Zeus struck him down and deformed him. Now he’s a half man half monster that’s out for vengeance against Perceus who ruined his plans to control the kingdom and for taking Andromeda. There’s actually a lot of development that goes into his character and he makes for such a fun enemy to mingle with the hero’s. One of the biggest highlights of the film is the Gorgon Medusa, a half woman half serpent with snakes for hair and the ability to turn people to stone when they look into her eyes. Before I had even seen the movie, I was fascinated with the Greek character Medusa and it was such a treat to see such a frightening and menacing portrayal of her on film. I love how sinister they made her look and her introduction scene was done so well. It actually terrified me as a kid, there’s a strong atmosphere, music building up, great lighting, shadows and it’s such a closterfobic location that to this day, this scene still keeps me on the edge of my seat. The following shot of Perceus holding up her head is one of the most triumphant and unforgettable moments to be viewed in a film.
       The real show stoppers are the charmingly archaic stop-motion animation techniques of Ray Harryhausen. He is the master of Stop-Motion monsters and personally, I think this film was his greatest accomplishment. People today seem to prefer CG effects, and to be fare CG makes creatures look far more realistic but I’m one of the phew people today that still love stop-motion animation. There so awesome to look at because they come from an age before computers and it’s really impressive to see how they brought all these different creatures to life. 

There’s a bit of mystery to this craft, it still makes me wonder how they did most of this but with CG you know it was all done in a computer. The remaining monsters in this film are all pretty awesome, there’s a massive vulture, giant killer Scorpions and a two headed wolf. 

      But best of all, this movie features one of the greatest giant movie monsters of all time, the ancient sea monster known as the Kracan. It is so firkin cool, I never get tired of seeing this. All of Ray Harryhausen’s monsters are fun to watch but the Kracan was brought up on a grand scale, with a fool orchestra boasting its size. It’s certainly a youneek design, with an eagle head and four arms. Certainly not the original Kracan design of Greek mythology but who cares, this was such a spectacle to see as a kid that it’s still far more impressive then both CG Kracan’s seen in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” and the 2010 “Clash of the Titans” remake. 

     The last highlight to mention is at the closing of the film. We get a look at the star constellations that were named after these characters by the Greeks mixed with an amazing narration from Zeus, it’s so subtle and it leaves me with chills every time. Final words, this film isn’t deep or enlightening and it’s a goofy, old-school sword-and-sandal epic at best but it’s done so well. If you’re someone who loves Greek Mythology or are very young and want a good adventure flick, then this is a film I highly recommend. But if you’re someone who doesn’t appreciate the art and enjoyment of stop-motion photography then you’re probably better off with recent adventure films (not including the remake because that was such a wasted opportunity). Usually films like this just get 4 stars or 3 ½ stars but for my own personal nostalgia, I give the original 1981 “Clash of the Titans” 5 stars, I loved it when I was a kid and it’s still one of my favorites. 
                                                      The End

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