Clash of the Titans
Starring: Harry Hamlin, Judi Bowker, Burgess Meredith, Maggie Smith, Laurence Olivier, Ray Harryhausen’s Menagerie
DIR: Desmond Davis
Blurb: [after our focus on Harry’s other outstanding work]; Olympian gods, mythological monsters and heroic mortals populate this imaginative spectacle. Harry Hamlin is Perseus, mortal son of Zeus and champion of captive Andromeda (Julie Bowker). From that storyline [um, is that descriptive a ‘storyline’ or just a… y’know… barebones sentence describing not one whit of plot?], Harryhausen unleashes sea creature Kraken, snake-haired Medusa, swamp denizen Calibos, flying horse Pegasus, two-headed dog Dioskilos, giant scorpions and all manner of eye-popping adventure. Let the clash begin!
My Blurb: Geez, far be it from me not to bow down to the master of stop motion puppeteering that left me in awe, grinning like a fool and totally believing in the reality of his creations, but we’re really not gonna get a single line about just what the story itself is concerning? No?
Nothing about Dame Maggie Smith? Laurence frickin’ Olivier? Nuthin’, huh.
Well. We know who really should’ve been listed first in the ‘Starring’ credits, then.
Also, there will be a lot of images in this one… Harryhausen… a lot of different creatures… how could I not screen cap ridiculously?
Scene 01: We open on soldiers marching in unified step along a rocky shoreline’d beach. The wind blows, but despite this, there is a light fog. Our phalanx carries among them a large box with an overall feeling of grimness.
There is a woman following along.
Cut to waves crashing on the beachhead and not a word is spoken.
Scene 02: Cutting back, we focus on a Captain of the Guard outfitted man, who we will learn is The King of Argos. He has a major case of the deep frowns.
We cut to a distance shot to see our King raise his arms to the sea. Our lady stands close to what appears to be a coffin.
Our woman is holding a baby, as King intones to Zeus and all of Olympus that he is condemning his daughter Danae to the seas. Along with her baby, Perseus, as she has sinned against her family by being a tramp, and cost him his honor. He calls upon/demands that the Gods purge her crime and restore his personal honor.
[And hey, Ancient Greece had modern dental fillings! Who knew?!]
The woman Danae and her male child are placed, locked within, the coffin carried to the beach and set adrift to die. A gull watches this barbarity, and the King glares as his former daughter and her bastard are taken by the tide away from the beach.
Our King gives one last angry glare at his drifting away daughter and her child and then turns away in a huff to march back to the city-state over which he holds dominion.
Insert our credits as we following that nosy sea gull and get what is a really stirring, exciting and quite wonderful score by Laurence Rosenthal who gets our first kudo. We will continue to follow our bird and its viewpoint over mountains and forests and other scenery porn-ness as the rousing score gets us readied to be dazzled by adventure.
Weirdly though, all through the opening credits, I felt like I was catching the credits of a TV movie. They’re so… B-ish, for having A-list actors in the project.
Scene 03: As our theme wraps up, and we’re wondering why we’re following this stupid bird through snowy capped mountains, all becomes clear. For the stupid bird is actually a stupid god and is returning to Mt. Olympus.
Our god is Poseidon, and he reports in to Zeus that as feared, our king’s anger was not to be quenched and he has in fact set loose his daughter to the sea. Zeus … being the grouch that he is… ordains punishment upon the mortal fool.
Hera tries to speak up for King Acrisius’ past loyalties and devotion to the Olympians, but Zeus is not to be distracted from his rage. The intended murder of his own daughter and her child has condemned the king of Argos to death… and not only him, but all of the denizens of the city-state. No stone is to be left standing, no life left crawling upon the land. Zeus orders, to the shock of Poseidon that the last of the Titans, The Kraken, be set loose to annihilate Argos.
He also commands that Danae and her son are to survive. He calls upon Poseidon to see to it that a gentle current brings the sea coffin to safety on a remote island far from the dangers of mortal man where Perseus will be allowed to grow to adulthood unmolested.
Commentary: There are a few things to touch on here. The first is the issue with this set. Despite the attempt at [sometimes extreme] soft focus and the mists, this set just looks on the cheap and empty side without any grandeur that should come with being in Olympus.
Also, Laurence had a habit of skirting into Ham on occasion, and he does so here, but because we’re talking about Zeus it’s hard to fault him. His booming voice, honed for the stage, is a marvel to behold, and quickly pulls attention from the lackluster setting.
Scene 04: As Zeus goes into the antechamber to gaze on a clay representation of Danae and her baby, Hera wonders at his utter lack of mercy for the poor people of Argos.
Thetis [the incomparable Maggie Smith] very cattily informs Hera that her husband fell in love with Danae and seduced [hmmm… *suck air between teeth*… um… the line between ‘seduce’ and ‘that was rape, you asshole’ is pretty thin when it come to Zeus and it’s no different with Danae] her. The child, Perseus, is Zeus’ own and that is why Argos has been doomed.
Scene 05: With Argos, the day is darkened with angry cloud. But its people are otherwise unaware of the wrath that their king has brought down upon their heads.
Commentary: To be fair, if Zeus had bothered to appear to the king and informed him that the child was half-god, I don’t think he’d have been tossed into the sea and none of this would be necessary. But Zeus is a prick. An arrogant, slutty, violent prick.
Scene 06: Under the seas, Poseidon calls forth the Kraken from it’s caged cave.
Even as he releases the Titan, Poseidon looks horrified at Zeus’ commandment.
[Which led me to think there would be some intra-Olympus fighting going on later, but this never comes to pass. Whatever the Gods and Goddesses think of Zeus, and however they attempt to undermine him, they’re never openly rebellious.]
Commentary: And this scene, which we’ll get a repeat of later, is really unfortunate. The special effects are just awful for Poseidon interacting with the sea bottom, and the insertion of him and the controls for the mighty gate locking the Titan away is really badly done. It’s like an animated set of Colorforms was put on screen. Animated Colorforms that are jumpy and skippy and just the worst type of blue screen imaginable.
Scene 07: In Argos, the people sense that something very wrong is happening as a foul wind blows through the city. Acrisius himself will not be around to see his city’s destruction. For in Olympus, Zeus snatches the clay figurine representing him and crushes it in his hand, and on Earth, Acrisius is also crushed where he stands.
But despite his vengeance having been served by the king’s death, Zeus still exacts revenge on Argos itself [because Zeus is a prick].
Around Argos, the winds pick up to damaging speeds. The sea roils, and a mini-tsunami rushes through its streets with the arrival to the coast of The Kraken!
Commentary: The first view of The Kraken is kept brief… really just a teaser, and he doesn’t actually, physically attack Argos but as a kid, he was still extremely exciting to see. I must’ve been dazzled at the time with adrenaline because I didn’t notice then just how crappy the blue screen once again is… and how the animated water doesn’t look so good. And that one peasant dude whose shift is lifted high by the wind to reveal a pair of green 1981 sports shorts hiding underneath. Ooops.
Oh Great God, Harryhausen, quickly - blind me to these imperfections!
Scene 08: Out on the seas, Danae and Perseus drift quietly onto a rocky shore.
At Mt. Olympus, Poseidon reports to Zeus that he has delivered Danae and the child to the shores of the island Seriphos. Zeus decrees that she and the boy will live in peace.
We time skip with naked Danae and her son walking along peaceful beaches as time passes.
And Perseus grows to adulthood, without a care in the world.
Scene 09: In Olympus, Zeus gazes with tenderness on his son’s adult form and for some reason thinks all of the other gods give a good damned about his spoiled brat’s happiness.
But Thetis has her own concerns and she approaches Zeus about her own son, Calibos. Zeus tells Thetis that his crimes are unforgivable, but Thetis pleads for pity on her son’s behalf.
But Zeus [well, as I’ve said…] isn’t in a pitying mood. Mostly because Calibos has been hunting and killing his favored animal, the winged horses and now only Pegasus survives. He points out how Calibos had everything handed to him, being the son of a goddess and still he’s a cruel, vain creature. Zeus decrees that Calibos is to be twisted into an ugly mockery of mankind, and live out his life in exile - his outer appearance a reflection of his inner vileness. To Thetis’ heartbreak, the clay figure representing her son is transformed [in a very nicely done shadow effect] into a tailed, horned, cloven-hoofed man.
Thetis mentions that Calibos is to marry the princess of Joppa and rule over that city state and all of Phoenicia. But Zeus says to let Princess Andromeda gaze upon him now as he regally swoops out of the room.
Scene 10: Hera approaches Thetis. She tells the other goddess to be comforted that Zeus may change his mind [but there is an undercurrent to Claire Bloom’s recitation, hinting that Hera is being a bit of a bitch for Thetis’ previous pettiness in throwing her husband’s dalliance in her face the way she did; I really love how all of the gods are being presented as powerful -- but petty and small].
Thetis despairs. She says [pretty rightly] that if it were Perseus there would be mercy, but because it is her son, there is to be no hope [conveniently ignoring that Perseus wouldn’t be wandering around and slaughtering Zeus’ own creations].
More - she also determines that if her son is not to marry Andromeda, then no man will be allowed to do so. She decrees that she’ll send a message down to her loyal priests in Joppa. She decrees that only a man who can solve an ever changing riddle will be allowed to claim Andromeda’s hand in marriage, and that those who guess the riddle’s answer wrong will be executed.
She tells Hera that she promises that as Calibos suffers, so too will Andromeda, looking far too pleased with herself for her injustice. [Bitch]
Scene 11: On Seriphos, Perseus runs up the beach in the tropical evening and collapses happily on the sands, where he stares up at the moon and falls into a restful slumber.
Thetis remains [understandably] both pissed at Zeus and resentful of all of the advantages given to Perseus, ensconced as he is in paradise. Well… she can’t strike out at Zeus or his son directly, but she can change the terms of Perseus’ mortal life.
Thetis takes Perseus’ clay representation as her face blots out the moon on Earth. She tells Perseus that it is time for the winds of chance to intervene in his fate. She bitterly tells him that it is time for him to see the grim realities of life and be exposed to the ugly things in the world outside of Seriphos.
She lifts Perseus’ sleeping form from Seriphos and places him outside of Joppa to let him experience life outside of Zeus’ bubble of peace and protection.
Commentary: One of the issues with movies like this one, of course, is that the human characters can so rarely capture one’s interest because it’s all about the monsters. As we delve deeper into Perseus’ “history” as hero on his various quests, this will be a constant thing here, too. As such, despite the high-caliber actors we have working as the gods, they’re really given little to actually do.
To this point, Maggie Smith has been a pretty bland background figure. Here though, oh here I adore her performance as she recites to Perseus’ clay figure about how he’s been far too sheltered from the world, and it’s past time that Zeus’ spoiling runs into the “real world”; Past time for him to “grow up”, as it were. She’s wonderful in this scene.
Scene 12: Perseus on waking, is a bit non-plussed to find himself lying in an empty amphitheater, with no idea where his island went. A voice booms out from the dark corridors to identify himself.
A door opens and smoke billows out as the booming voice again demands that he give his name. But Perseus counter-demands that the voice’s owner show himself.
He does… a man in robes with a golden mask dramatically traverses the steps. He demands again that Perseus reveal who he is. Perseus demands instead to be told where he is. Well, this gets the robed man’s interest and he whips off his mask to reveal an old poet and playwright who will be named Ammon [Burgess Meredith]. Ammon asks what the hell does Perseus mean, “Where am I?”
With confirming that Perseus isn’t some drunk looking to cause trouble, the two men get down to how Perseus doesn’t know where he is because he isn’t where he was before he fell into slumber.
As they discuss Perseus’ wild claim, Ammon is old and wise enough to recognize that the hands of the gods’ are surely involved in his translocation across the seas. As Ammon welcomes Perseus into his home inside the offices of the amphitheater, Zeus’ son mentions the rundown state of things. Ammon shares about the curse that hangs over all of Phoenicia and especially the city of Joppa.
Scene 13: Inside, Perseus tells of being the heir to Argos and is shocked that Ammon knows all about Perseus’ history, including his being thrown to the sea with his mother. Ammon councils that Perseus should find a way back to Seriphos as quickly as possible, warning that the gods of Olympus are erratic in their temperament and deeds. But Danae has filled Perseus’ head with a mandate to reclaim the throne of lost Argos and rebuild its glory. He determines to stay in Joppa as the starting point to restoring Argos… somehow.
Ammon then insists if he’s to stay, then he must wear something more becoming a prince than the loincloth he arrived in, and provides him with a cloak as fine as a theater costume can manage.
Scene 14: In Olympus, Zeus confronts Thetis… quite annoyed at her interference in his son’s destiny. She claims “Chance”, he calls ‘bullshit’. Thetis feigns ignorance of how Perseus could’ve just so happened to find himself in her patron city.
But what is done, is done, what with Perseus now deciding for himself to remain in Joppa for the time being. But he orders that his son is not to be left with a wooden sword and an actor’s cloak only, for protection. He orders the providing of a sword, helmet and shield of divine creation.
Thetis mocks Zeus, after he again exits, for doing all of this over one mortal woman, but Hera corrects her. This isn’t about Danae, who he probably doesn’t even remember, but is about his pride in a handsome son.
The ladies of Olympus joke at Zeus’ propensity for playing games of seduction with all of these shape changing tricks and laugh at his foolishness.
Scene 15: The morning after Perseus’ arrival in Joppa, he’s in the amphitheatre, practicing swinging around his practice sword and dreaming of re-establishing Danae’s homeland.
A light catches his eye, and he gazes in wonder as the sunlight is striking off of a golden helm. He wanders over, but another burst of reflected sunlight draws his attention to another golden object mysteriously appeared -- a proper sword.
Ammon arrives to greet the day, and Perseus. They discuss the strange metal of the sword Perseus reports finding, and when Ammon swings it around a bit, he hit’s a bit of marble, cleaving the rock in two, to his astonishment. He pronounces the weapon is of the Gods.
Ammon suggests that Perseus find out as to what the shield and helmet can do, as surely these things are meant for his use. Perseus decides on the helm, but is interrupted by a voice calling out from behind the shield.
The voice, though cartoonish for no real reason, is that of Zeus. His face appears in the reflection from the inside of it, and tells his son that he is to guard the shield, for one day soon it will guard his very life. Zeus also reveals that the helmet will give Perseus the power of invisibility. Perseus asks who this stranger is, but in reply he only gets a command to find and fulfill his Destiny.
Ammon councils Perseus not to questions divine gifts, only accept them.
Perseus tries on the helmet, and vanishes from Ammon’s sight. Fortunately, the helmet takes note of the fact that he has clothes on, and goes ahead and cloaks them, and anything he holds, too. He chooses to run out to explore Joppa so hidden, and Ammon calls after him to take his sword, but the boy is already gone.
Ammon whines about the impetuousness of youth.
Commentary: These props, specifically the shield and the sword are really beautiful to look at, and I commend the makers who created them. The sword especially captures light beautifully, making it easy to buy that the gods’ hands are on its creation.
The scene itself is a bit too long, and slow. Perseus has a habit of s-l-o-w-l-y asking wondering questions, like he’s partially a dullard and would just stand there blankly if it wasn’t for Ammon being there to prod him a bit.
I like Burgess Meredith’s work, but he can -- just a bit -- get wrapped up in the theatricality of his role. It does fit the character, a playwright remember, but some of his recitations are a bit too overbroad. Or it just appears that way because Harry Hamlin gets those moments of immobile blankness on his gob.
The one who you would expect to overact is Laurence, but in this particular scene, he almost painfully underacts. His recitation is… exhausted sounding, really. This may be because he was. During this point, Olivier was growing weaker due to worsening health issues and surely he had good days and bad days on set. It’s just unfortunate for this scene, because he sounds like he may fall out at any moment.
Scene 16: Perseus takes the helmet off just outside of the city, gazing in pleased wonder at the size of it. Thankfully, nobody in the background noticed and nobody managed to see his footprints appearing by themselves in the soil.
In Joppa, he wanders among the throng and finds his way funneled by the crowd into the central marketplace. Wander, wander, music, magic tricks, cart owners, wander, wander.
Perseus finds himself approaching the hill which would eventually lead up to the palace of Queen Cassiopeia & Princess Andromeda. He’s distracted by a guardsman who notices by his dress that he’s not from around there. Strangers have been scarce in the city of Joppa, due to that whole curse thing hanging over the city, despite the locals' attempts to carry on as normal.
It’s pretty difficult when the central square is dominated by a dais on which a dead man, burned alive, is propped against a pole.
From my Centurion Movie Boyfriend, Thallo, Perseus learns that all suitors to Andromeda’s hand and ergo heir to the throne must answer a riddle which changes which each attempt. Those who fail to solve the riddle end up executed, burned alive. And for this reason, despite her royalty, now any man may come forward - be he of noble blood or no.
The subject of Prince Calibos is broached and Thallo tells Perseus that the city lives in fear of him and of what he may yet do to their princess.
Commentary: If this is striking you as a naked data dump, yeah - it so is. Thallo is apparently quite the talkative sort to mysterious, half-dressed strangers to Joppa. Right down to pointing out just which room in the vast castle Andromeda remains in self-exile. Very helpful, Blabbermouth.
On the other hand, the way he watches Perseus walk away, maybe he was chatting him up for some ulterior motive but just didn’t get around to asking him to join him later for a flagon of wine.
Scene 17: Perseus wanders over to give himself a good eyeful of the fate that will befall him, should he determine to save Joppa from their accursedness.
Scene 18: That night, Andromeda sleeps in her bed chamber. Perseus slips in to perv on her invisible, where ‘natch, he falls in instant love because… well, she’s blonde and has boobs I suppose.
For reasons unknown [almost as if he realizes there is an audience watching!] he removes the helmet and creeps up on her bed. He gazes down at her, when his attention is taken up by a horrible squawk of ill-omens.
Wing beats soon follow, and a giant, dark buzzard descends to the balcony where it releases a gold cage from its claws. Perseus puts the helm back on, while Andromeda begins to stir. As he watches, he sees Andromeda’s spirit image get up out of the bed and head to the waiting cage, where she gets in, sits down and his lifted aloft by the giant buzzard.
Perseus is unable to follow, so he takes the helmet back off because… sure….
He stands in blank-faced, attempted-thought at what just happened. He goes back over to the body of Andromeda and hovers tender fingers over her hair. He whispers that he has found his Destiny.
Commentary: Okay, I’m ragging a bit on Harry Hamlin, but honestly he’s not bad in this role for the most part. When things get actiony a bit later on, he handles the role of Perseus well and he’s certainly handsome enough. He was just better on L.A. Law.
The man does have a pair of lips that you could just gaze on all day, but it would be really nice if the rest of his features weren’t molded in unmoving, dense foam whenever he reaches for “deep considering”.
Scene 19: The following morning, Perseus sits in the Joppan Amphitheatre, considering the thorny problem of Andromeda’s ex. He tells Ammon that the vulture flew toward the East, which the old man identifies as the swamps, and home to the unfortunate but brutal Calibos.
Perseus wrestles with how to follow the vulture the next time it comes for the Princess, when it can fly. Ammon suggests there is a chance. But it is remote, and must be that very night.
Scene 20: That evening, in the deserts of Phoenicia, Ammon leads Perseus to a small oasis in the middle of scrub country. He’s done so out of a local myth that when the full moon shines on this small pond, Pegasus comes to drink his full from the bubbling, smoking water…[! I’m afraid… don’t drink that shit, Peg!!].
How convenient that Pegasus shows up right at that very moment!
[Despite the horrible fact that this is VERY CLEARY day-for-night, rather than full-moon night.]
With the help of the Invisibility Helmet and a rope, Perseus sets out to capture and tame Pegasus to use as steed to follow the vulture to Calibos’ lair.
[Interestingly, Ammon hands the rope to Perseus after he turns invisible and the rope doesn’t vanish from sight.]
Perseus’ helmet flies off, which only furthers Pegasus’ resistance to being wrangled. After leaping onto the winged steed’s back, Perseus rides the wildly flying and bucking horse until it exhausts itself and signals it’s defeat and taming.
Commentary: I really liked this scene, and the way it was done with the intercutting between the horse and the Harryhausen stop motion beastie. I think I probably fell in love with the idea of having a flying horse because of this film, where before it seemed clumsy and impractical to me. But Harryhausen’s magic worked it’s charms on my young teenaged imagination and I wanted a Pegasus of my very own. Which, I never got… damn it.
The taming of Pegasus is a bit too long, again. Since we’re basically viewing back projection scenes of mountains, forests, blah, blah again like with the title sequence. And let’s face it, our humans cannot compare when we’re all waiting to see what the next Harryhausen critter is that will show up.
Scene 21: So after the [blue-screened and stop motioned] travelogue of Pegasus’ semi-taming, Ammon congratulates Perseus on a job well done.
Commentary: I want to put in a kudo here for the music and the way it is used to make this more exciting than it could’ve been due to the limitations of the blue screen effects when Harry is in the shot, vs. the stop motion action - which is jerky by its nature. There was some excellent use of the uplifting theme to carry us over.