A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 253 – Clash of the Titans (1981)

Clash of the Titans (1981) – November 8th, 2010

A little over 100 movies back we reviewed Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, which was okay in general and a fairly decent adaptation of the book. It was based on Greek mythology, but not on any one particular story. It’s more about taking elements and figures from the ancient myths and bringing them into a new setting. This here, on the other hand, is a wee bit different. For one, it’s the story of a particular figure: Perseus (Percy Jackson’s namesake, but I digress). For two, it’s telling what appears to be an adaptation of the story of Perseus, but it’s wildly different from every version of the myth I’ve ever read.

I mentioned at the end of my Percy Jackson review that I’m a sucker for Greek mythology. When I was little I read a lot. Like, a hell of a lot. And my parents practically threw books at me in hopes of keeping me busy. One such book was D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire. I love this book. I could probably recite bits of it from memory. I read it and re-read it and memorized it and lingered over the illustrations for years. So while I wouldn’t ever presume to call myself an expert in Greek mythology, I do know some things. And one thing I know is that this movie is not precisely true to the original legend.

Since the movie follows Perseus, of course there’s a good deal of Perseus’ story. But the thing is, it’s all be altered here and there to make for more action and tension and epic vastness. After all, why just have a sea monster when you can have a supposed Titan? And why just have a Titan when you can steal the Kraken from another mythos? You can’t be too picky about the mythology here. If you are, it sort of ruins what is otherwise a fun movie. Personally, I do find it harder to handwave the alterations made here than those in many other movies (like last night’s), but I manage. What does it matter really? The root of the story isn’t all that dissimilar to the one I knew from my childhood.

Perseus, the son of Zeus, sets forth to slay Medusa and collect her head. His motivations in the movie are new and different, but still, off to Medusa he goes. And he does indeed meet the Graeae with their one eye, and he does indeed use Medusa’s head to turn a sea monster into stone, thereby saving Andromeda from being sacrificed. So what if he did it all specifically for Andromeda, instead of stumbling upon her just in time? The point is that the story does indeed follow some of the same arc as the myth, just with more sensationalism and divine bickering and Ray Harryhausen.

So here we are at the heart of the matter. While I do enjoy the sort of mix-and-match mythology of the plot, and I can appreciate why certain changes were made for the story to follow a good cinematic arc, the point of watching this particular version of this movie is the special effects. And they are indeed special in the non-ironic sense. They are so very memorable that they have become iconic. The Kraken is one of those things that gets shown in montages of memorable monsters. Medusa is amazing with her head full of snakes. There’s so much in here that is so much fun to watch purely from a technical point of view, it makes the cheese factor of the rest of the movie totally worth it. And there is cheese. This is a fantasy epic made in 1981. Of course there’s cheese.

But there are also a number of amazing actors involved, like Lawrence Olivier and Maggie Smith. There’s the fantastic Harryhausen effects and animation. Despite the cheese and the comic relief mechanical owl (fun to look at, but a real Scrappy Doo sort of role much of the time) and the sometimes odd changes in the details of the myths, it’s still fun. There’s something about the combination of it all that makes it enjoyable. You just have to put the Greek mythology books on the shelf and pretend you’ve never looked at them before.

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November 8, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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