An animator on the recent Disney film The Princess and the Frog says he broke into a dance when he first heard that the movie would be made in the hand-drawn style of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He relished the "hand-made" quality.
The same sentiment applies to Clash of the Titans - not the upcoming remake with its slick computer-generated monsters, but the 1981 original, with stop-motion pixilation by master model manipulator Ray Harryhausen ( The 7th Voyage of Sinbad). After director Desmond Davis finished his live-action photography, Harryhausen and his assistants spent 18 months adjusting small rubber and metal models of Medusa, Pegasus and other creatures from Greek mythology, frame by painstaking frame. As Harryhausen once wrote, it's a great weight-loss program. "The animator walks miles in a day, back and forth between camera and the model for each single frame exposure." If there is a flaw in the Blu-ray edition being released next Tuesday, it's that the clarity exposes a few of the joins between the special effects and the real backgrounds, shot in Spain, Italy and Malta.
The movie is best recommended to those who enjoy the Saturday-matinee spectacle of warriors doing battle with scaly or horned creatures that move creakily by today's standards but impress those who know how the effects were achieved. Laurence Olivier was hired to play Zeus after the producers considered Orson Welles and John Gielgud. (Liam Neeson got the nod in the remake.) Olivier was sickly at the time, but his voice is powerful ("Let loose the Kraken!"). Fellow toga-wearing gods include Maggie Smith, Claire Bloom and Ursula Andress, looking a mite awkward as they stand around on the studio set of Olympus.
Harry Hamlin, who had yet to make his name in L.A. Law, was picked to play Perseus, though the distributors had wanted a pre-fame Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Too reminiscent of the musclemen in cheap Italian Hercules films, Harryhausen felt.) The filmmakers wanted Peter Ustinov or Michael Hordern to play Ammon, the mortal who helps half-god Perseus pursue his kidnapped love Andromeda (Judy Bowker), but MGM said there were already too many Brits in the film. The role went to Burgess Meredith, who has the kind of twinkle that helps in such films, which are meant to be taken seriously but not too seriously.
Where the Blu-ray of Clash of the Titans has several bonus features, the Blu-ray of The NeverEnding Story, also out next Tuesday, has nothing. This is perhaps appropriate, since the villain in director Wolfgang Petersen's excellent 1984 fairytale is the Nothing, a dark cloud that erases any part of the world it covers. That world, Fantasia, exists in a book being read by young Bastian (Barret Oliver), who is bullied at school and has been ordered by his father to shape up and stop daydreaming. The perils of Fantasia relate directly to the lad's insecurities.
The movie is full of magnificent creatures - the rock-eating stone giant, the racing snail - and its desolate swamp is one of the better movie metaphors for depression and hopelessness. But at heart, the film is about the power of the imagination and the thrill of reading. As Ray Harryhausen says in the extras for Clash of the Titans, "Most people feel it's rather childish to have an imagination. I don't agree with that."