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“As long as man shall walk earth and search the night sky in wonder, they will remember the courage of Perseus forever. Even if we the gods are abandoned and forgotten, the stars shall never fade.”
I can’t recall if I ever mentioned it before, but I’m big on fairy tales, folktales and myths. I’ve always been fascinated by how different cultures interpret familiar stories, or use them to relay well-worn morals or their take on how the world was formed. When I was a kid a friend of my parents gave me a copy of D’Auliere’s Greek Myths (which is a must-own for anyone who enjoys these classic stories) and I ate it up like the diminutive bookworm I was, but it wasn’t my first exposure to the pantheon of Greek legends. No, that was a film I saw when I was just seven years old, one that has left an indelible imprint on the collective subconscious of anyone exposed to it at a young age and has since become a cult classic for its take on one of the most famous Greek myths of all time.
Now I wouldn’t call Hercules one of my top ten favorite Disney films, but its zany animation, fun characters and catchy music make for a fun viewing experience. Of course, being Disney, they left out all the family-unfriendly aspects of the original tale and reshaped it into what’s essentially a modern-Grecian take on the Superman/Moses story, but I’m not one to complain about that. You try making an animated film where the main character kills his wife and family in a bout of insanity brought on by his jealous stepmother and literally works himself to death trying to make up for it. Truth be told, about 90% of Greek myths involving heroes follow a similar plot – Zeus gets it on with a mortal, has a child out of wedlock, said mortal gets punished by Zeus’ wife Hera (because victim blaming really is a centuries-old practice), and the new demigod is gifted with special powers or weapons to fight tons of foes but still winds up with a fairly ironic and tragic demise. The one exception to this is the story of Perseus, which is the basis of the film we’ll be looking at today.
Now mythology is no stranger to the man behind Clash of the Titans, legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen. His other notable Greek outing, Jason and the Argonauts, is considered one of the most thrilling sword and sandal epics to have held up for the past fifty years, and is worth seeing for the skeleton battle alone (it also happens to be the favorite film of Sheriff Woody himself, Tom Hanks). In addition he created and animated puppets for the original Mighty Joe Young, the Sinbad movies, One Million Years BC, and more. Though he never directed any of them, these movies are forever associated with the name Harryhausen. CGI would eventually come along to push new boundaries in the field of effects animation, but his work has left an indelible imprint on many a future filmmaker, with big names like Pixar and Tim Burton namedropping him in some their own films. For a time Steven Spielburg even considered bringing many of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park to life using stop-motion, clearly inspired by the dinosaurs that were featured in Harryhausen’s works.
Clash of the Titans was the last film Harryhausen made before he went into retirement, and it holds all his trademarks, both good and bad. So, did his career end on a high note, or does the movie fall to pieces like a poorly made Play-Doh sculpture? Let’s find out.