Saturday, 18 May 2013

Clash of the Titans (5 Stars)

Over the next two weeks I will be rewatching some of Ray Harryhausen's films. Maybe back to back, I haven't decided yet, but not in any particular order. The film that I watched today, made in 1981, was his last film. After this he retired because he saw that the advances in computer technology were making changes to film special effects. The days of stop motion animation had ended. But what a climax this was! This film was the peak of Ray's artistic career and contains more special effects than any film he had made before.

Talking about "Clash of the Titans" as a Ray Harryhausen film makes me smile. Most people who watch films casually know the major actors. When they say something like "That's my favourite Brad Pitt film" we know they mean "That's my favourite film that Brad Pitt starred in". People who are more serious film fans know the names of directors and can see a pattern, a stylistic thread that runs through each one's films. "I'm waiting to see the next Steven Spielberg film" is a common utterance, meaning the next film directed by Steven Spielberg. But that's it. How many people can name the producer of any current film? The producer is an important person in any film, and yet he remains unknown. Apart from two minutes of fame at awards ceremonies he remains in the background. And what about the sound engineers, the cameramen, and all the other people essential to the creation of films? Only industry insiders know their names.

But with Ray Harryhausen it's different. He was unique. He wasn't an actor, and he never directed any films. And yet his name is known to film fans throughout the world. His fame eclipses the directors and actors that he worked with, even though he only created special effects. Let me prove it. Does anyone remember the name of the director of "Clash of the Titans"? Ask that in your next pub quiz. It was Desmond Davis. I can already see the blank look on the faces when they're told the answer. "Who's he?" And who played the leading role in "Clash of the Titans"? Blank faces again? It was Harry Hamlin. Maybe a few people will remember that the great Laurence Olivier played Zeus, but not many. The name of Ray Harryhausen will always be the name associated with this film.

I don't really have to say much about the plot. This is an evergreen film that is repeated on television ad nauseam. In England it seems to be shown at Easter, though I don't see the connection. It's an old Greek myth. Perseus, a son of Zeus, has to carry out great tasks before he is allowed to marry Princess Andromeda. While watching it today I was reminded of the opening words of the televison series "Hercules", which was certainly influenced by this film:

This is the story of a time long ago, a time of myth and legend, when the Earth was still young. The ancient gods were petty and cruel, and they plagued mankind with suffering and beseiged them with terrors.

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