Sometime during the very early 1980s (I don't recall the exact date since I was only about five years old), I remember my dad coming home from work one day bearing a gift--a gift of the gods is probably more fitting for this review. What he brought with him was our very first VHS movie, and he sure got his money's worth as we really put that poor tape through the wringer. Even as our collection grew, the only other videotape that saw more play time in our household was a Chip n' Dale feature we picked up at Disney World that my younger brother wore out and swiftly sent to VHS heaven. Anyway getting back on topic, the film that launched our home video library, if you haven't already guessed by now, was none other than 'Clash of the Titans.'
Being a personal favorite from my childhood, I had purchased the 'Clash of the Titans' DVD that came out a few years ago and was also looking forward to an eventual Blu-ray release down the road. I figured when Sony gave us the 'Ray Harryhausen Collection' someone would have surely followed suit and prepped the stop-motion legend's final feature film for a high-definition bow, but sadly over a year passed by without any inklings whatsoever. All hope seemed lost, until finally, thanks to the blockbuster remake hitting theaters next month, Warner Brothers had the perfect opportunity to dust off the original and take full advantage of the hype.
'Clash of the Titans' is basically a loose retelling of the Greek myths of the heroic Perseus (Harry Hamlin) and his perilous quest to save Princess Andromeda (Judi Bowker). When Perseus was just a newborn, he and his mother were sent to their deaths at sea by his grandfather King Acrisius (Donald Houston) in a cowardly attempt to prevent his own downfall. This of course angers Zeus (Laurence Olivier), the King of the Gods and Perseus' actual father, so he commands Poseidon (Jack Gwillim) to complete two tasks: ensure the mother and child make it to safety, and unleash upon the Kingdom of Argos an enormous sea monster called the Kraken--which destroys the entire city and all of its people.
However, Zeus' actions infuriate a jealous Thetis, whose own mortal son Calibos (Neil McCarthy), who was in line to marry Andromeda, had been transformed into a grotesque creature by her superior and banished to the swamps. To get her revenge, the goddess brings a now grown Perseus (time obviously flies on Mount Olympus) to Joppa so he will fall for the princess and meet a ghastly fate due to a terrible curse. Fortunately, Zeus is no fool, and sends down magical gifts for his son to give him a fighting chance. Now with the aid of his new items, a wise elderly playwright named Ammon (Burgess Meredith), and a winged steed named Pegasus, Perseus must overcome a slew of horrors including witches, giant scorpions, Calibos, the snake-haired gorgon Medusa, and the occasional curveball from Thetis, in order to find and fulfill his destiny.
Although the movie stalls briefly in the middle and the dialogue could have used more attention (Perseus has an odd tendency to repeat the things he's told for example), I still really love almost everything about this story. Normally I hate it when writers stray from the original source material, but let's face it, Greek myths are often awkward and really don't translate well to film. Writer Beverly Cross (who was actually married to Maggie Smith for a bit of trivia) has taken the stories involving Perseus, woven them together with a few creative liberties, and created one cohesive tale filled with action, adventure, drama, romance, suspense, and horror. There's a little of something for everyone, and this is one of the main reasons why the film has touched the hearts of many over the past thirty years.
The cast is also pretty well-rounded, if overly melodramatic at times. Hamlin is stiff as our hero, but does come into his own eventually and looks great in his mop-top and toga. Bowker delivers the weakest performance, wide-eyed and practically spaced out for most of the picture, but again, I've seen much worse miscasts to be honest. Meredith and Smith are solid as always, and Olivier, who was apparently very sick during filming, is the perfect choice for the head honcho of Greek deities. Yet it is easily McCarthy's sinister take on Calibos that offers the most memorable human element in the entire film.
But upstaging the actors in every possible way is Ray Harryhausen's masterful handiwork. With the advances in CGI technology these days, it's rare to see stop-motion visual effects anymore and except for the odd animated feature like 'Coraline' and the recent 'Fantastic Mr. Fox,' the style has become a lost art. The technique was even pretty well phased out by the eighties, but Harryhausen wanted to prove that it was still viable with this picture. It's plain to see how much care went into each creation, as every model is meticulously crafted with exquisite detail. It also must've been a very time-consuming job, as the snakes forming Medusa's hair all have a life of their own and the fur on Droskilos the two-headed dog hardly ever leaves imprints from being moved by the animators. So while there's no question Harryhausen's work is certainly dated now with their herky-jerky motion and their rough integration with live performers, to this very day they're still visually impressive and exude plenty of charm.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Clash of the Titans' arrives on a BD-50 Blu-ray disc housed inside a gorgeous metallic-embossed 40-page hardcover digibook. The book contains production notes, cast and creature bios, trivia, full-color photos and illustrations, and more -- a very elegant edition especially if you're a fan of digibook-style releases. There's only one forced preview on startup (more on that later) before booting up to a main menu screen. The disc is also reported to be region-free and therefore should function properly in all PlayStation 3 and standalone machines.
Warner's 1080p/VC-1 (1.85:1 aspect ratio) encode on this Blu-ray is nowhere near as repulsive as the lovely specimen to the right, but like many films from the eighties the transfer is still a far cry from reference material.
The quality of the original film and the way it was put together results in a rather uneven viewing experience. Grain is very heavy throughout the picture, but it usually spikes in any scene involving stop-motion or animated effects. These moments tend to have severely faded coloring, weaker black levels, and occasional blurring. The effect shots are also often flat and it's obvious when the actors are standing in front of a screen as soon as they encounter one of Harryhausen's creations. The intricate detailing in the monsters is periodically shrouded in murkiness, too.
There are occasions where the transfer really shines, though. Quite a few cases--like when Perseus first discovers the glistening gifts from Zeus in the amphitheater or strolls through the markets of Joppa--have pristine sharpness, exceptional depth, and bold vibrant colors. Close-ups can be a bit soft, but offer solid texture and accurate skin tones. There's considerably less dirt, debris, and other imperfections when compared to the DVD, however a number of specks and splotches still remain. The picture also seems to be free from DNR or unsightly artificial sharpening as far as I can tell.
Overall, this Blu-ray presentation of 'Clash of the Titans' is a satisfactory, albeit a relatively minor bump up from past releases.
'Clash of the Titans' never had a surround audio presentation, but Warner has at least upgraded the standard stereo track from past releases to a lossless DTS-HD 2.0 soundtrack on this Blu-ray.
Dialogue is clear and intelligible, though occasionally it can sound slightly suppressed depending on the scene. Other sound effects are presented nicely, from the beats of Pegasus' wings to the chilling rattles of Medusa's tail. I also found the score composed by Laurence Rosenthal to be a pleasant surprise as it feels much more airy than I expected. Directionality and pans are decent for the type of track, too. However, the LFE is practically nonexistent except for the few Kraken appearances, and even then the bass is very underwhelming. In the end, I think some people may be disappointed if they're used to having a 5.1 experience, but purists should be pleased just fine.
The disc also includes Czech, German, Portuguese, and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks; French, Spanish, and Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 tracks; and optional English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Thai and subtitles. Whew!
The 'Clash of the Titans' Blu-ray unfortunately doesn't have much in terms of supplements, but it does recycle the Harryhausen pieces from the previously released DVD. All of this content is presented in standard-definition (1.33:1 aspect ratio).
Although severely dated by today's standards, 'Clash of the Titans' is still a wonderful adventure and a fitting finale to stop-motion legend Ray Harryhausen's illustrious cinematic career. The Blu-ray won't blow viewers away, but it does what it can with the limitations of the original prints and bests any prior release. While the supplements are mostly recycled content, the digibook is a nice addition and the movie cash does help offset the initial higher price for early adopters. For those of you who appreciate older fantasy films and may not already own this fine classic, now is the perfect time to pick it up and enjoy the original 'Clash of the Titans' with your families for years to come.