Shakespearean-trained actors hamming it up in togas. Plot holes larger than the last of the Titans. A mechanical owl named Bubo. Elements like these do not a classic movie make.
Yet nearly three decades after its release, Clash of the Titans remains a guilty pleasure that – despite being packed with more cheese than The Melting Pot -- holds a fond place in the hearts of many Fanboys who came of age in the 80s. For many future film nerds, the mythological mashup was the gateway drug for epic film fantasy.
“We loved the 1981 movie as kids because it was a timeless epic with cheesy special effects,” said Fandango editor Chuck Walton. “But it was [also] relevant to our lives because we were learning the mythology at school and the movie helped bring it to life.”
Louis Leterrier gets it. The director of the updated version of Clash of the Titans, which opens in theaters in 2 and 3D Friday, has fond memories of watching the first “Clash” over and over. Which was why, when he was approached to do a remake of the cult favorite, he thought long and hard about whether he should even attempt it.
“I didn’t want to do it just to make it different,” Leterrier told Newsarama. “I was also very afraid of re-doing it. I’m not just saying this. I’m a huge fan of the original. So [I thought], is it worth remaking?”
Several factors eventually led Leterrier to come onboard the project. One being that the original film, while impossibly charming, is incredibly dated. Even the most die-hard fans will agree that the movie is purely and inescapably a product of its time.
“As much as I like the original movie, the only thing that was not working for me, at least, I was not understanding why this young man [Perseus] would go on this kind of suicide mission for the love of a woman he’s just met,” Leterrier said. “That was me, as a kid, not understanding this… love at first sight and accepting that you’re the son of Zeus…I decided to change it a little bit and make it a little bit more personal.”
Perseus (played by the industry’s go-to action epic guy, Sam Worthington) is set loose on the path of vengeance after his family is killed by the wrath of the Gods. He renounces his Godly lineage, and sets out on a mission to save Argos and its Princess.
Another wrinkle in the remake is the brewing war among the gods. Humans have grown resentful of the gods’ interference in their lives, and have started lashing out by destroying the temples and statues built to honor the deities. As you can imagine, this doesn’t go over well within the halls of hallowed Olympus. Hollywood heavyweights Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, who play Zeus and Hades, respectively, both lobbied to appear in the film, according to the director.
Leterrier and screenwriters Travis Beecham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi crafted a story that theorizes that humans were created by gods as a means to sustain them.
“Gods are alive because you pray to them. Our prayers feed them. So that’s what it was. We made it very simple.”
The director, who read many tales of Greek myths as a child in France, said he didn’t want to just make another fantasy fable.
“I just wanted to…not make it a fantasy movie. Not to make it, ‘once upon a time.’ [Instead] a long time ago, here’s what existed.”
To that end, Leterrier also ripped a page from the original’s playbook and shot much of the movie on location in places such as Wales and the Canary Islands, to provide a backdrop worthy of the epic nature of the story.
While the motivations behind the story have changed a bit, the new film follows the first one quite closely through the central plot. Our hero Perseus still has to undertake a deadly mission to find the one artifact that can kill the last of the Titans, the Kraken.
Perseus and his not-so-merry band of soldiers have to face winged demons from Hades’ underworld, giant Scorpions, bribe the ferryman to cross the river Styx to visit Medusa’s lair, and contend with Calibos.
Today’s special effects technology being what it is, the revised creatures are substantially improved in terms of detail and complexity. One look at the monstrous Kraken or the smooth flying motion of Pegasus, who’s back in Black for this adventure, tells you all you need to know about how far Hollywood FX have come from the days of stop-motion. That, along with attempting to improve a weak story, is good enough reason to do a remake, according to Fandango’s Walton.
“Today’s technology can better serve the story – and thanks to CGI and 3D effects, these surreal worlds and mythic monsters will look a little less cheesy,” he said.
Of course, the outmoded special effects are basically the stars of the movie. Created and released at a time before fantasy films were released in bulk to theaters, the movie gave fans a rare cinematic glimpse at the world of myths, legends and lore. And the first thing that pops into mind for any fan when “Clash of the Titans” comes up isn’t the clunky dialogue, goofy costumes or even Olivier spitting out dialogue like ‘Find…and fulfill, your destiny’ as if he were at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
It’s the stop-motion effects created by the film’s producer and Hollywood legend Ray Harryhausen.
“Ray Harryhausen was simply the best at what he did,” according to Constantine Nasr, a producer of DVD special features for New Wave Entertainment. “The reason is not just because of the technological leaps that Harryhausen achieved in everyone of his movies, but because he breathed life into the models and designs he created and filmed.”
“’Clash of the Titans’ is fondly remembered by many of my generation,” Nasr added, “because it is the one film we all saw in theaters. It was our first major exposure of Harryhausen’s genius.”
Harryhausen epitomized the ‘anything is possible’ philosophy that the film industry’s most creative minds have always subscribed to. In an interview that’s included on the recently released Blu-ray edition of Clash of the Titans, the industry icon said his main inspiration for creating the creatures that have been his defining work was simple.
“In those days, you always heard about the mythological creatures, but you never saw them,” said Harryhausen, who is retired and living in London, and had no involvement with the remake. “So, I was determined to put those things on the screen.”
Dr. Eric Chrol, Assistant Professor of Classics at Marshall University, credits Harryhausen films such as “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” and “Jason and the Argonauts” – along with the first “Clash” – for sparking his interest in mythology.
“There is something about the Harryhausen aesthetic that just feels like the ancient world to me,” Chrol said, adding that his exposure to those imaginative interpretations of classic tales forever influenced his viewpoint.
The impact of Harryhausen’s most fondly remembered movie has already been felt in theaters. The recently-released “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” – adapted from a book series noticeably influenced by “Clash of the Titans” – had its hero go on a dangerous journey and encounter familiar faces like Medusa and the Gods of Olympus. Sound familiar? Incidentally, Percy is shorthand for Perseus.
So when Clash of the Titans debuts in theaters, it’s not just competing against other movies for the attention and dollars of the multiplexers. It is squaring off against the legacy of a movie that is hopelessly outdated, hysterically over-acted and impossibly charming. And the credit for that lasting appeal goes to the producer and creative visionary who brought his bombastic creatures to life onscreen.