It wasn’t Harryhausen’s best movie (that impressive honor, I think, goes to The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) but the creature effects were superb nonetheless, & the script, by Beverley Cross, struck a fine fairy-tale tone, playful but not campy. Harry Hamlin played the valiant Perseus, & the cast was full of the slumming likes of Burgess Meredith, Maggie Smith, Claire Bloom, Ursula Andress & even Sir Laurence Olivier, as Old Man Zeus himself.
The film has been remade, with Sam Worthington of Avatar taking over the role of Perseus, & Liam Neeson stepping into the omnipotent sandals of Zeus.
The remake also features fantasy creatures realized by the computer-generated special-effects technology that rendered Harryhausen obsolete.
Or did it? There are those of us who feel that even the best, most rock-solid-convincing CGI effects (& the best, like those in, say, Jurassic Park, are very good indeed) lack the whimsical charm, & the human warmth, of Harryhausen’s painstaking stop-motion technique. I suppose the attitude is the cinematic equivalent of being a vinyl record buff in the age of the CD, but I can’t help it; there’s nothing like the jerky stylization of stop-motion for me.
Since the new Clash of the Titans movie checks off most of the original’s high points, & since its CGI effects are at the most lavish & extravagant level, it was a nice chance to compare-&-contrast the Old School & New School in state-of-the-art special effects.
Old School wins for me, I’m afraid. The special effects here are grand enough, but there’s also a phantom chilliness about them, a lack of tactility. The original film’s monsters bristled with personality: Harryhausen’s personality. In a sense, he was an actor, performing through his minutely poseable puppets. The creatures in the new film, even though some of them are clever in design, are digital shadows lacking this humanity. There’s an exception to this, a lovely moment in which a giant scorpion, carrying a howdah on its back, slips a little while climbing up a rocky path. It’s the briefest of fleeting details, yet it gives a sense of reality to the fanciful that is lacking elsewhere. It’s a true Harryhausen touch.
These personal preferences aside, the film is solid enough on its own terms. The French director, Louis Leterrier, does much the same job here that he did on 2008’s The Incredible Hulk: impersonal but efficient. This Clash is less of a kids movie than the original, however. It’s been made grimmer, gorier and more macho, in the manner of 300, & it has some patches of nice writing.
The male-bonding banter between the hunks who accompany Perseus on his quest is sort of amusing, & Perseus is given a fine, short-&-sweet pep talk to give the lads before they take on Medusa. The new Clash isn’t a classic, but as a total-immersion fantasy spectacle, I’d say it gave me, on balance, more fun for less of a tired backside than Avatar.