Movie Rewatch of Great Nostalgia

A Love Letter to Ray Harryhausen: Clash of the Titans

Hey there, groovy Tor.commers! I’ll have you know this Movie Rewatch of Great Nostalgia is really happening in a far out way!

Today’s entry for the Movie Rewatch of Great Nostalgia is 1981’s Clash of the Titans. There are Titans! They clash! You should come see what we thought of it!

Previous entries can be found here. Please note that as with all films covered on the Nostalgia Rewatch, this post will be rife with spoilers for the film.

And now, the post!

 

LIZ: We need to get out of this 80s rut.

KATE: For real.

Though I pointed out that as people whose childhoods took place almost entirely in the 80s, it’s not exactly surprising that the majority of our childhood nostalgia movies were made in that decade… well, probably, yeah.

KATE: Let’s do an older movie! The 70s, baby!

LIZ: Yeah. Something with wacky effects and groovy disco vibe!

clashtitans01

…Yeah, so, we are geniuses. Because we thusly leaped upon the idea of doing Clash of the Titans, and it wasn’t until movie night itself that we realized that our groovy 70s movie had actually been made in… 1981.

Oops?

KATE: Eh, whatever. 1981 is honorary “the 70s”, anyway.

She’s not wrong, really. The 80s kind of took a while to shake off the “Me” decade, at least in some respects. Certainly when it came to hair.

clashtitans02

I totally want to try to make my hair do that, y’all.

Anyway! The original Clash of the Titans (I have not seen the 2010 remake, nor do I have any particular plans to do so) is that most bizarre of phenomenons: a throwback within a throwback. By which I mean, it’s already a throwback in that I am watching a film made in 1981 in 2017, but it was also a throwback of sorts even in its own time.

The guy in that clip is, of course, none other than Ray Harryhausen, the special effects artist famous for his pioneering work in stop-motion animation effects throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Clash of the Titans is the last feature film he did the effects for, though he worked on a number of smaller projects before his death in 2013.

Harryhausen is neither the first nor the last major figure in creature effects, or even in stop-motion animation effects in particular, but he is regarded with near worshipful reverence by practically everyone in the field. Among his ardent fans are filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, and Tim Burton, all of whom have credited Harryhausen’s work as inspiring their own. The folks at Pixar paid homage to his contribution to the animation field by naming the sushi restaurant in Monsters, Inc. after him. George Lucas has said that there wouldn’t have been a Star Wars without Harryhausen.

But the funny thing (to me, anyway) is, the special effects of Star Wars may have been inspired by Harryhausen, but they unquestionably were also far more sophisticated and realistic than the claymation techniques Harryhausen was known for. Which is what makes Clash of the Titans so odd, because it was made four years after Star Wars, and yet looks primitive enough by comparison that my sisters and I immediately assumed it must have been made at least ten years earlier than it actually had been. Yes, shame on us for not checking right away, but seriously, look at this movie and tell us we were off base, there.

ray-and-medusa

So really, it seems like what Clash of the Titans was, was a love letter to Ray Harryhausen more than anything else. Which is great… if that happens to be your thing.

It does not, in fact, happen to be my thing.

KATE: Not mine either, really.

LIZ: GASP!

Liz was, as I’m sure many of you out there are as well, appalled by Kate’s and my lack of enthusiasm for the work of the patron saint of monster effects. And maybe we are appalling. But I feel like I can appreciate the historical significance and the retro charm of stop-motion claymation animation effects, while still vastly preferring the advances in technology that allow those effects to truly be seamless and believable. A lot of purists mourn the advent of CGI in movie effects, but personally, while I certainly agree CGI can be used badly, I am of the opinion that computer generated special effects are the best thing that ever happened to science fiction and fantasy fans.

[ETA: As I am informed by the comments, Harryhausen’s techniques are stop-motion animation, not claymation. I stand corrected!]

medusa

Liz disagrees, somewhat. She likes CGI too, but unlike me, she has a background in traditional animation techniques, and is therefore in a much better position to be appreciative of the detail and labor that goes into stop-motion animation than either Kate or I am. She also argued that the jerky primitiveness of the animation in Clash of the Titans was on purpose. I am a little skeptical of this claim, because it seems to me that there is a hard upper limit on how smooth you can get any stop-motion movement, especially when juxtaposed with actual human movement in the same frame, but admittedly this is not my arena, so maybe I should hush up. But indeed, judge for yourselves:

That said, it’s worth pointing out that despite what I wrote above, I still have no desire to go watch the 2010 remake of this movie, even though it is guaranteed to have the vastly superior CGI effects I just professed to prefer. Eh, sometimes nostalgia trumps even aesthetics. And consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, so there!

Also, there’s Bubo!

bubo-gif

One thing I know for sure is that I loved Bubo the mechanical owl when I saw this as a kid. When this movie was brought up as a possibility for the MRGN, Bubo was instantly the first thing I thought of.

ME: I want a Bubo!

KATE: I dunno, he’s kind of the poor man’s R2D2.

Liz then accused Kate of being a Debbie Downer, but she has a point, really. I loved Bubo as a kid, but, well, Lucas really did do “bumbling robotic comic relief” much better at least as long as you don’t count the prequels but there are no prequels what on earth are you talking about.

That said, if I had lots of money to spend on stupid things I would totally want a Bubo replica to perch in my living room.

clashtitans05

 

KATE: Also, Zeus is a dick.

LIZ: A dick with LASERS.

ME: Well, that’s mythologically consistent, at least.

LIZ & KATE:

ME: The dick thing, not the laser thing. Sheesh.

Seriously. While the actual storyline of the film played quite fast and loose with the particulars of the myth it was based on, they certainly captured the spirit of the Greek gods, who as a group can probably be most efficiently summed up as “Celestial Mean Girls”. They are all, in one way or another, selfish, vain, capricious and/or cruel, and Clash of the Titans nailed that aspect of them even if it made something of a random hash of how Perseus’s story played out.

clashtitans06

It also, incidentally, provided us with Maggie Smith and Laurence Olivier getting to be magnificently bitchy at each other in togas, which is not something you get to see every day. Plus additional fun in the form of Ursula Andress having like two lines as Aphrodite.

clashtitans07

Aphrodite: “But Zeus transformed himself into a glittering shower of gold and visited her. Visited her, and loved her.”

Uh-huh. You’d think the Goddess of Love would know the difference between “love” and “rape”, wouldn’t you, but hey!

clashtitans08

KATE: SO. DISCO.

ME: Did they have silver lamé in ancient Greece?

LIZ: I wouldn’t call that lamé. It’s more like a glitter mesh.

ME: Okay, did they have glitter mesh fabric in ancient Greece?

KATE: We’re just lucky she’s not naked.

clashtitans10

Although, there was a bit more nekkidness than I remember in this movie. But we only ever saw it on TV, which would have been edited for content, so that’s undoubtedly why.

But back to Andromeda! The amount of sexism in this movie was probably more or less inevitable, considering the source, so I tried not to let it get to me too much. It helped that even though Andromeda is literally the textbook definition of a damsel in distress—she’s a virgin sacrifice chained to a rock, ffs—the film depicts her as being strong-willed, independent, and generally deeply unimpressed with the various people who victimize her throughout the film. She still doesn’t ultimately have much agency over her life, but at least she has an actual personality. I’ll take what I can get.

clashtitans11

Sigh.

And then there’s the hero of the piece, Perseus himself, portrayed by Harry Hamlin’s loins.

hamlin-loins-2

And hair.

 

clashtitans12

KATE: Man, does he look dumb.

LIZ: Kate!

KATE: Well, he does! I keep wondering where his cave is!

Again, she’s… not wrong. It’s the brow, I think. I dunno, I remember that Harry Hamlin was a fairly big star in the early 80s, and presumably there were people who thought he was attractive, but I can state with authority that I wasn’t one then, and am definitely not one of them now. Even if he does have objectively lovely loins.

In any case, I don’t know that I can say Hamlin did a good acting job in this movie, because he… kind of didn’t. But honestly that might have been because he really didn’t have much to work with, because almost everyone in the cast came across just as wooden and stiff. Except Maggie Smith, who is awesome no matter what she’s doing. And except Laurence Olivier, who was far too busy Oliviering all over everything to be beaten down by mere shoddy material.

clashtitans13

LIZ: Plus, LASERS.

Zeus: RELEASE THE KRAKEN!!

clashtitans14

ME: Oh, yeah, that’s where that came from.

LIZ & KATE: Put that thing back where it came from or so help me…

 

clashtitans15

LIZ: Now the ferryman, I remember. He was so creepy and cool.

ME: See, the effects are so much better when they’re not claymation!

LIZ: Ugh.

Yeah, well. I’m aware that I’m veering around kind of wildly in this post, critically speaking, but what can you do? I have a lot of very fond memories of watching Clash of the Titans as a kid, but I have to say that watching it again now rather soured those memories more than anything else. My nostalgia, in this case, was really just not enough to overcome the—sorry—distractingly primitive special effects, the stilted acting, and worst of all, the absolutely glacial pace, which quite efficiently strangled any sense of suspense or excitement I might otherwise have generated.

clashtitans16

Yeah, this shot? Took almost a minute to happen. I mean, come on.

There were moments of brilliance, and some unquestionably iconic imagery, and it’s not impossible that watching this movie was what sparked my early interest in Greek mythology (which I was very into as a kid), but overall I think that unless you are a diehard Ray Harryhausen devotee (or a diehard Harry Hamlin devotee, I suppose, though I feel like there are fewer of those), Clash of the Titans is going to be something of a letdown.

For the record, Liz disagrees with me, mostly. And with Kate, whose opinion of the film is even lower than mine. Which is why, for the first time, we’re going to have to split up the Nostalgia Love to Reality Love 1-10 Scale of Awesomeness by sister, because we really could not agree on a single score.

LIZ:

  • Nostalgia: 8
  • Reality: 6

KATE:

  • Nostalgia: 6
  • Reality: 3

LEIGH:

  • Nostalgia: 7
  • Reality: 4

And that’s all I got for you on this one, my dears! Come on back Thursday after next, and see if we actually manage to achieve escape velocity from the Reagan years! Whoo!

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