Clash of the Titans (1981)
Directed by Desmond Davis

Artistic Value: * *
Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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Perseus (Harry Hamlin), the banished heir to the throne of Argos, arrives in Joppa, where he meets an eccentric old poet, Ammon (Burgess Meredith), and resolves to marry the Princess Andromeda (Judi Bowker). Unfortunately, as she is being tormented by Calibos (Neil McCarthy), the deformed son of the city's patron goddess, Thetis (Maggie Smith), he must first free her from this fiend's curse. His efforts to do so eventually anger Calibos' mother, who commands that Andromeda be sacrificed to the Kraken, an enormous monster imprisoned by the gods in an undersea cave. Perseus consequently sets out on a quest to retrieve the head of Medusa, the sight of whose face can turn any being into stone, so that he can use it to slay the Kraken and save the woman he loves.

Desmond Davis' Clash of the Titans is an enjoyable, exciting, often delightful, but never entirely satisfying film.

The story the director tells, which is vaguely based on various Greek myths, is entertaining. Sadly, however, the protagonists are all so smarmy, adorable, or boringly good that not only are they unlikely to engage the viewer, but they may actually annoy him. Perseus, for instance, is devoid of any personality and is entirely forgettable. Ammon is far too pleasantly quirky, and Andromeda is a complete nonentity. Actually, the most interesting character in the film is Calibos. While he may not be a sophisticated individual, his pride, his anger, his unrequited love, and his indignation give him a modicum of appeal which no one else in the film has.

Clash of the Titans' most pleasing characters are not, however, those portrayed by the actors, but those played by Ray Harryhausen's various puppets, all of which are moved by means of stop motion animation. Medusa, in particular, is amazing to look at. Harryhausen has created a monstrosity with the body of a woman which, below her waist, becomes that of a writhing snake, and has adorned her brow with countless continuously wriggling serpents. She is truly a wonder, but she is not, by any means, the only intriguing puppet in the film. Elsewhere, Harryhausen delights the moviegoer with a flying clockwork owl, giant scorpions, the gigantic Kraken, an enormous vulture who carries a golden cage, in which Andromeda is conveyed to Calibos, an overweight two-headed dog, a winged horse, and more. Not only has he given life to all these marvelous creatures, but he has also caused them to interact with the human actors. The whole of the movie is, thanks to their presence, suffused with a distinct magical quality that transports the viewer to some imaginary world and permits him to remain there throughout the duration of the tale he is being told.

Moreover, Harryhausen's puppets make the film in which they appear genuinely thrilling. The action sequences the director has included, in which the human characters fight or otherwise interact with one or another of these puppets, are consistently well realized. Whether Perseus is battling the hideous Calibos, riding his flying horse, Pegasus, through the skies, or trying to behead Medusa without looking at her, his adventures are both visually enthralling and wonderfully exciting.

Neither the movie's special effects nor its action sequences can make up for its bland characters, about whom it is impossible to care, but these elements are likely, at the least, to retain the viewer's interest. While I cannot say that Clash of the Titans is a good movie, it is, thanks to Harryhausen's talents, often entertaining to watch.

Review by Keith Allen

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