A reader recently asked if I could remember the first movie I ever watched. Sadly, I can’t. I’m sure I absorbed Disney’s animated classics as a kid, though I can’t quite pinpoint the first film I screened.
I do, however, have a very distinct memory of my first trip to a movie theater. My parents weren’t big movie buffs. That, in and of itself, is strange when you consider what I’ve grown up to become. I think I can count on one hand the number of movies they took me to see in a theater during my childhood. But I vividly recall heading to the local multiplex with my folks on a Saturday afternoon to do a double feature of Superman II and Clash of the Titans. The blockbusters opened a week apart in June 1981, and that trip, for whatever reason, has been stamped in my brain. It likely sent me down this current path.
Desmond Davis’s Clash has been top of mind lately. As you recall, it was remade last year into a muddled 3D thriller with Sam Worthington assuming to role of Perseus, mortal son of the Greek god Zeus. A sequel’s due in theaters next year, and a Clash knockoff (at least, by the looks of the marketing materials) opens this Friday when Tarsem Singh brings Immortals to movie houses.
All of which gives me a proper excuse to pull Titans off the DVD shelf for a revisit. Maybe you are thinking of doing the same. So, let’s challenge the gods, avoid Medusa’s stare, unleash the Kraken and figure out when you can watch Clash of the Titans with your kids.
Red Flags: “It’s time for action, not words!”
If gods and monsters are your child’s thing, though, here are a few aspects you might find noteworthy while sharing Davis’s epic.
For starters, the effects — even for 1981 — are horrendously low budget. Not that our kids are creative snobs, but even casual adolescent viewers likely have been raised to expect a level of polish that’s just not on display in Clash. And I’m not bashing the stop-motion animation, which is part of Clash’s charm. Large-scale shots of ancient devastation looks like three different movie reels have been layered on top of one another to create one “seamless” effect. If you happen to watch the Clash Blu-ray, the substantial disconnect between effect and film reel is even more noticeable.
The quote in the above subhed, meanwhile, belongs to Harry Hamlin’s Perseus, a rambunctious hero who scolds mentor Burgess Meredith in the middle of yet another extended, prose-heavy rant. Young kids might sympathize with Perseus’ impatience. Davis often focuses on “Acting” (with a capital A) over “Action.” Clash embraces the dense mythology of the gods, but unless this appeals to your children, they might get antsy waiting for the next battle.
What of the creature violence? Clash stands out for its surreal antagonists, inspired by myth and created by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. In Titans, your kids likely will discover monsters they’ve never imagined possible, from the giant buzzard that carries Andromeda’s soul away (in a king-sized bird cage!) and three blind witches with their eyes sealed shut to the demonic Calibos (Neil McCarthy) and the gigantic Kraken. Some of Harryhausen’s inventions are legitimately terrifying – particularly the sequence in Medusa’s lair (and the snake-haired temptress, herself). As always, pre-screen before showing your kids and determine whether they can handle what Davis has in store.
Green Lights: The gods must be crazy
The 1981 Clash of the Titans is an odd, Jekyll-and-Hyde entertainment offering. While it boasts two-headed dogs, brief nudity, and a “woman” with snakes for hair (all of which imply an aim at teenage audiences), it also includes a handful of items that clearly were included to appeal to the youngest audience members.
Remember Bubo, the golden owl? Need I say more?
And Titans rides high on a specific brand of imagination that’s geared to lovers of swords and sorcery. As I mentioned, my sons prefer to pretend they’re Power Rangers, slicing up imaginary enemies with Nerf swords. But if your kids dig on Greek mythology such as this, seeking out stories that feed this need, they’re going to devour Perseus’ shield (which directly communicates with Zeus); the flights of Pegasus; the Medusa confrontation; and the final battle against the towering Kraken.
Movie buffs also can use Clash of the Titans as a chance to educate their kids on the process of stop-motion animation and the inspirational work of Ray Harryhausen. Clash, at the very least, moves much faster than The 7th Voyage of Sinbad or Jason and the Argonauts, so if your child is interested in filmmaking or storytelling with these methods, it illustrates what’s possible.
Find the DVD or Blu-ray that comes with a “Behind the Feature” Harryhausen clip – released, I believe, for the Clash 30th anniversary – that includes a lengthy conversation with the animator on his inspirations, his process, and his contributions to Davis’s film. For kids interested in monster movies, fantasy stories, and stop-motion animation, it’s a must.
This isn’t as cut-and-dried as you might imagine. There’s nothing in Clash of the Titans that’s outrageously inappropriate. And outside of Medusa, who’s genuinely terrifying, the cheesiness of the effects diminishes the intimidation factor. If your kids desperately want to see Clash of the Titans, there’s no flag red enough that I’d say you have to wait.
However, the mythology’s so dense – and the style of adventure so specific to the sword-and-sandal – that I honestly don’t know if Clash will appeal to kids who aren’t already interested in this realm. Davis recruits a stellar cast of character actors to play his Greek gods, but their near-Shakespearean prose overshoots the attention spans of the youngest kids, even if they’re entertained by the immature antics of Bubo.
So while I’m willing to say that your average 8-year-old can handle Clash, it’s up to each parent reading to determine whether their kids will even want to bother. If you watch it, let me know how it plays with your children. And as always, thanks so much for reading.