Clash of the Titans Blu-ray Review
Clash of Harryhausen's best Titans
1981's Clash of the Titans is a flawed but more earnest effort than its flat remake, most memorable for boasting effects guru Ray Harryhausen's best and last work.Ultimately, the fantastic tale of Greek Gods is far more enthralling on paper than either adaptation has been able to capture. It's story follows the mighty Zeus's human offspring, Perseus, who has to battle all kinds of monstrous creations in his quest to save the beautiful princess Andromeda, as Zeus' battle with opposing Gods Thetis and Poseidon wreak havoc on the human plain. Unfortunately, the first Clash of the Titans movie was borne in a time when both Star Wars and Superman were defining the fantasy blockbuster realm, seeking to cash in on the popularity of large-scale effects and perhaps offer a swords and sandals alternative to the preceding Star Wars movies.To that end, director Desmond Davis' had something of an impossible task, enlisting a young new actor whose talents are not wholly unlike the limited offerings from Mark Hamill as the young Luke, struggling to rise to the weight of the enterprise, instead supplanted by the heavyweight presence of Lawrence Olivier as Zeus (the Brando/Guinness role from Superman/Star Wars). The story meanders all over the place, failing to maintain any sense of urgency and tension but for in the film's most memorable aspects - and ones which leave it endearing even to this day - namely, the best (and last) efforts from the late Harryhausen. It's these which still leave this a veritable classic.
Picture QualityClash of the Titans comes to Region Free UK Blu-ray courtesy of HMV's exclusive Premium Collection, porting over the flawed 2010 US release which was already Region Free.
The years have not always been kind of Harryhausen, or, more specifically his stop-motion animation style - Dynamation. The trouble with this process was that it involved an elaborate variation of rear-screen projection, re-filming pre-shot live action sequences playing as a background to stop-motion animated creations moving in the foreground, matted out to further blend them in. This means that the background images of these shots simply cannot be restored by any conventional means, leaving the effects sequences that dominate the features boasting Harryhausen's work as looking worse than the rest of the film - and no amount of 2K scanning can retrieve the lost background information through filming a filmed background. Furthermore, Harryhausen's process went way beyond filming animated models, taking time and effort attempting to help viewers further suspend disbelief through integrating the models as best as he could. To this end, he would often use smoke and shadows to blend the creatures in, and favoured diffuse lenses to soften the models to the same effect. All of this would leave the highlights of the films that Harryhausen was most famous for as also being the worst looking, no matter how much restoration work has been done.
Unfortunately, there has been less restoration work done to this 37 year old title than compared to other Harryhausen titles and, as a result, this really should look better than it does. It's presented with a 1080p/VC-1-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 1.78:1, and is one of the few newly-released titles that you'll likely to see sporting such an outdated transfer and disc master.
The transfer looks pretty good considering everything it has going against it, but it's certainly not a pretty picture
Undoubtedly crying out for a new scan - or even new AVC encoding, Clash of the Titans is not an all-out disaster on the format, but does require a lot of compromising on the part of fans, who need to accept that, whilst this may not be the best the film could ever look, it's not a film that's ever going to look particularly striking in any way. Certainly Harryhausen's work fares the worst - but this is perhaps to be expected - and it's actually the fluctuations in detail level, softness and grain during the remaining wholly live-action sequences which prove more unjustifiable and thus more inherently frustrating. Nevertheless, the presentation is thankfully devoid of heavy-handed DNR application, and remains relatively clean and debris-less, affording a few nicer shots in amidst the variable content.
Even a more extensive restoration would only fix some of the problems, as both Harryhausen's (understandable) predisposition towards making his effects sequences murky and thus better masking the models he was using, as well as the very process he used to re-film footage playing in the background (rendering that footage incapable of itself ever being cleaned up) hold it back on the one hand, whilst the director's clear desire to implement his own soft focus and questionably stylistic look in the fully live action work holds it back at the other end. Honestly, Clash of the Titans looks pretty good considering everything it has going against it, but it's certainly not a pretty picture.
Sound QualityA solid audio accompaniment
Mirroring the US release, we get a solid lossless DTS-HD Master Audio stereo 2.0 track to accompany the main feature, which, as with the other Harryhausen features in the HMV Premium Collection, remains faithful to the original design and intentions for the film, but which is inherently limited by the technical restraints of a stereo mix. Nonetheless, dialogue gets keen prioritisation and remains clear and coherent throughout, whilst effects are afforded some room for dynamic breadth across the array, and even occasionally given some stereo distinction. The various creatures clearly fare best - again as is only to be expected - with the imaginative animalistic noises bringing them to life (or, in the case of Bubo the owl, the mechanical ticking), and Medusa, in particular, a whole cacophony of sounds that's sure to make anybody with a fear of snakes recoil at. Whilst far from exceptional, and not even close to demo worthy, it's a solid accompaniment and likely pretty close to the best we're going to hear from the film.
ExtrasA couple of relatively short 10-12 minute extras adorn the disc, headlined by another nice little interview with Harryhausen himself as well as a further Harryhausen-led offering that has him look behind seven key effects sequences in the feature. The disc is rounded off by the Trailer but the package, in typical lavish Premium Collection style, affords us a selection of art cards, as well as a DVD and Digital Copy of the film and a nice slipcase to house the amaray.
Blu-ray VerdictThe best (and last) efforts from the late great Ray Harryhausen
The warring Greek Gods tale of Clash of the Titans has never really been adequately serviced, but certainly this 1981 offering has more nostalgic worth, not least in the tremendous work from Harryhausen, which likely remains the strongest selling point for it and - for many - the only selling point. HMV's Premium Collection release is somewhat dressing up old as new, and the film is in need of remastering work, but it's an inherently flawed production that likely will never look quantifiably 'good', so an 'as good as it gets' attitude may be appropriate, and this is certainly a nice package.
You can buy Clash of the Titans on Blu-ray here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.99
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