In 1981, Ray Harryhausen worked on and produced the last of his stop-motion features, Clash of the Titans. Stop-motion animation required building a model and painstakingly taking shot after shot with only small differences in the model’s position; Harryhausen is considered to be the premier filmmaker of the style. However, new methods of special effects were being introduced even in 1981, especially Industrial Lights & Magic’s go-motion, which added a blur effect to stop-motion for added realism.. Go-motion can be seen in the opening sequence of The Empire Strikes Back as the Imperial Walkers advance from the north ridge. Stop-motion is still in use today, though, as seen in The Corpse Bride and the Wallace & Grommit series. However, stop-motion is seldom seen outside cartoon-like films.
The movie Clash of the Titans was loosely based on the Greek myth of Perseus, one of Zeus’ many, many bastard children, and Andromeda. Perseus wishes to marry the fair Andromeda and must undergo many tests before winning her hand. The monsters, including the serpentine Medusa, the Pegasus, and the Kraken, are all stop-motion and interact with the cast during the action scenes. The cast was composed of a mix of relatively unknown (at the time) actors like Harry Hamelin as Perseus and veterans of stage and film such as Maggie Smith as Thetis and Laurence Olivier as Zeus. Clash of the Titans had a good return, tripling its budget of $15 million. Audiences got what was advertised, though the stop-motion animation was starting to look limited even in 1981.
A new look at an old gimmick came around in 2009. James Cameron’s Avatar took CGI and blended it with 3D technology to create an immersive world. Instead of using 3D for such old tricks as a monster lunging at the audience, Cameron created a world and placed the viewer inside it, surrounding. Insects were annoyingly realistic and close enough to be swatted. The sheer success Avatar had led to other studios quickly adapting movies already in the works to 3D; among the films was the remake of Clash of the Titans.
The remake was set to be released in March, 2010, but was delayed a month to be made into 3D release. The new Clash was also based on the Greek myth of Perseus. Greek myths vary greatly, though, even in the original, so a change there isn’t major. The plot follows Perseus as he battles monsters similar to the ones in the original movie. The main differences are the use of location shots instead of sound stages and CGI monsters instead of stop-motion. Casting-wise, instead of hiring a relative unknown for the lead*, veteran actors were used. Sam Worthington starred as Perseus**, Ralph Fiennes played Hades, Gemma Arterton was Io, and Liam Neeson played Zeus.
The remake did well financially, not so well critically. The main draw of the original was the stop-motion animation, seeing the craftwork on screen done by the master himself, Ray Harryhausen. The remade Clash of the Titans used CGI, common to many movies of all genres. As a further detraction, the last minute change to 3D made the film appear more gimmicky. However, the remake didn’t become a “gritty” version of the original, though. The producers and the director were aiming for the same audience that the original had, with the actors well aware and agreeing.
So, did the remade Clash lose anything? Perhaps a bit of the charm and whimsy that the original had. Both movies had a thin plot held up by the special effects. Both had elements of cheese. But, both are very much watchable and enjoyable for what they are.
Next time, another review. Also, a reminder that Lost in Translation is on a bi-weekly schedule until December. Keep an eye out for guest spots in the meantime!
* Harry Hamelin was in only one movie prior to the 1981 Clash of the Titans, though would go on to star in LA Law.
** Worthington was busy in 2009 and 2010, staring in Avatar, Terminator Salvation, and Clash of the Titans.