In many ways, the quest for a sacred artifact is the most pure kind of adventure. It is usually housed in scary, dangerous places, surrounded by otherworldly beings and elaborate traps. Two sides fight to obtain it. One side will use it for good, the other side for evil.
And often times it doesn’t matter who wins, because the gods are gonna do what the gods are gonna do.
Clash of the Titans is a great melting pot of Greek mythology. There’s nary a story that doesn’t turn up in some shape or form. Flying horses, battling Olympians, sea monsters, people turning to stone, mechanical owls.
Wha…? Yes, there is a mechanical owl named Bubo. He’s sort of like R2-D2, forever bailing the mighty Perseus out of trouble. Athena gave him to Perseus because Perseus lost his magical shield while fighting the gorgon Medusa, whose head is the aforementioned sacred artifact. Perseus needs the head because the kraken sea monster is coming to steal away Andromeda, because Perseus answered Andromeda’s riddle and won her hand away from the evil Calibos, who once tried to kill Pegasus, angering Zeus, who happens to be Perseus’s father.
If none of that makes much sense, don’t worry. You’re there for the giant scorpions.
Master animator Ray Harryhausen did his last, best work on Clash of the Titans. Harryhausen worked at a time when the only way to make a realistic sea monster was to sculpt it in minature, stuff a metal armiture inside it, and painstakingly pose it one frame at a time.
Animators revere Harryhausen, and with good reason. He took stop motion animation to new heights. We are spoiled with CGI today. We sometimes forget that it wasn’t until Jurassic Park that CGI finally cracked the mainstream for good.
The AT-AT Walkers in Empire Strikes Back? Stop motion.
Those demonic dogs in Ghostbusters? Stop motion.
The Terminator? Stop motion, with Cameron painstakingly posing Arnold one frame at a time.
Back to the melting pot thing… Clash of the Titans is a million myths rolled into one, all because Harryhausen wanted to try his hand at a believable flying horse, but didn’t want to be tied down to cavorting fauns. I’m not sure any of these scenes are direct descendants of actual Greek myths, but they sure feel like it. And I bet Theseus would have welcomed a mechanical owl when he was fumbling around in the minotaur’s labrynth.
Clash of the Titans is also known for its stunt casting. Sir Laurence Olivier plays Zeus. Bond girl Ursula Andress shows up as Aphrodite. Kenny Baker played Bubo. And none other than Harry Potter house leader Dame Maggie Smith shows up as sea goddess Thetis.
When it finally came time to remake the movie in 2010, some of these same elements survived. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes provided the stunt casting. CGI provided the effects. And Bubo became a snarky in-joke. The film could have used Harryhausen to breathe some life into Sam Worthington’s acting.
Up next, #75…