A look back at the Ray Harryhausen fantasy film from 1981 making its BluRay debut
How does a stop-motion epic play to kids in the digital age?
Instead, I give them choices. And let's be honest... I stack the deck. I filter out things I find objectionable so they're never even in the pool of options that are presented to Toshi to choose from. That's just basic parental common sense. And the options I present them with are all things they could enjoy or that they've already asked about. That's a big part of the dialogue I have with Toshi in my office these days.
He's begun to browse.
"Daddy." Only these days, that two syllable hailing signal is more a sound, a siren full of want that is about eight syllables longer, whined at full volume. "Daaaaaaaaddeeeeeeeeee." It means, "I am about to ask you for something and I'm letting you know in advance that if I don't get it, I'm going to make sure you hear about it."
"What's this purple movie?"
"Bring it to me."
"I like this one. I think it's maybe my favorite, so I think I should watch it with you."
"This is 'Beetlejuice.'"
"Yeah. 'Beetlejuice.' That's the one I like."
"I don't think so, pal."
"I really like it when we can watch 'Beetlejuice.' Really, Daddy. Tonight, okay, Daddy? Deal?" He knows that if I say, "Deal" back to him, that's binding in a court of law, and he's always fishing for it as a result. "Deal, Daddy?"
"I don't think so."
In those situations, when it's time for him to be allowed to watch something, I'll steer him away from the forbidden fruit, but I'm always careful to explain why.
"This looks very funny, and it is, but I think it's also sort of scary for you. I don't think you'd enjoy it. Not yet."
"Okay, then, maybe... I can see it when I'm thirteen. Deal?"
I'm not sure why "thirteen" has become his go-to number on things, but I guess he figures that sounds adult enough to be allowed anything. He doesn't even try to haggle. If it's not age-appropriate right this minute, then thirteen will have to do and let's move on.
Toshi, like all kids, is innundated with media marketing of all sorts, all day long. In particular, there's a giant billboard across from his kindergarten, and every day, he sees that billboard and comments on whatever's being advertised up there. For the past month and a half, it's been the shot of the Kraken advertising the new "Clash Of The Titans," and Toshi's been announcing, each and every time we see that billboard, that he wants to see the new one in "Free-D." I was already determined not to take him to see it because of the rating and the probably intensity, but having seen the new film and having hated the post-converted 3D, I am resolute in that decision.
I haven't seen the film in many years... probably since I was in my early 20s. And I remember thinking that it was a fairly hobbled film, script-wise, with some great Harryhausen creature work. Not a surprise, really, since many of the Harryhausen films are memorable because of the monsters, not because of the stories they tell. I'm frequently met with reactions of horror and anger from other geeks who resent the accusation that the films are anything less than perfect gems. I'm a huge fan of "Jason and the Argonauts" and "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad" and "20 Million Miles To Earth" and "It Came From Beneath The Sea," among others, but not because I think each one of them is beautifully written. I think the script for the film by Beverley Cross is nonsense, a random hodgepodge of mythology, Edith Hamilton in a blender. There's a harmless sort of amiable charm to it that has a lot to do with Cross's age as a writer (he worked on movies like "Jason and the Argonauts" and "Half a Sixpence" in the '60s) and director Desmond Davis's English-TV sensibility that made it feel dated even when it was released. The optical printing and composite work in the film is almost shockingly bad, like in the opening of the film where the Kraken is first released. Poseidon's underwater scenes are just terrible, almost surreal. It's not even that the effect is unconvincing; it's unclear what you're supposed to be looking at it. It's just a failure.
But no matter. Harryhausen's stop motion work is legendary not out of a misplaced sense of nostalgia but because when the Kraken is unleashed, so to speak, the movie is just amazing. Harryhausen was a storyteller and an actor and a magician all rolled up in one. Medusa, the Kraken, the Harpies, the two-headed hound, the scorpions, the Roc, Calibos, Pegasus... it's wall to wall in the original film, and all of it is beautiful, produced with heart and skill. That alone makes "Clash" worth owning, and the DVD of the film is produced as well as can be expected for when the film was made and how the elements that exist were originally photographed. It's an archival print of the film that reveals every one of its technical flaws while helping preserve every one of its considerable merits.
I had a feeling that the film would play just fine for Toshi. He's gotten comfortable with several other Harryhausen movies that are out already on BluRay. He's watched each and every one of them at least a half-dozen times. He scrutinizes them when they play. He would watch them all back-to-back every day if I let him right now. That's how much he is intrigued by them. For his first viewing of each, I watched with him, watching to see if he was too scared by something, ready to explain things if he wanted, and poised to shut it off if I miscalculated.
We sat down on a late Sunday afternoon to watch "Clash Of The Titans," and I made the executive decision that Toshi's little brother Allen was not ready to join us yet. He gets too worked up by any sort of monster movie, and I didn't think it would be appropriate for him to see the movie yet. He can sit with us for certain things, but not everything. Toshi likes when he sees a movie that his little brother can't see, and he likes feeling like he is a big boy. We both had a luxury beverage (Diet Mountain Dew for Daddy, Sprite Zero for Toshi), we each had our own chair, and we had two hours to ourselves.
One of the things I forgot since seeing the film at the age of eleven is that there is a fair smattering of nudity in the film. In particular, there are a lot of boobs on display. When the first instance happened, I thought about covering Toshi's eyes, but when I watched his reaction, I decided not to comment at all. He didn't seem to even notice the nudity. Like it didn't occur to him to comment on it. He was too concerned with how long it would be before we saw the next monster. I intentionally didn't react any of the times we saw nudity in the film, about four moments in all, and as a result, I don't think Toshi even realized there was anything unusual about the scenes. The moments I remember most vividly when I was in a theater as a kid were the moments where my parents would cover my eyes or interrupt a movie. Something's only shocking if someone acts shocked.
Besides, Toshi did plenty of covering his own eyes. He was genuinely scared by much of the movie, and he took the initiative to abandon his own chair and climb up on my lap for most of the film. "I'm braver if I sit here," he told me at one point. The Medusa scene got him so freaked out that he asked me to "make the movie stop on pause!" We took ten minutes off, and he interrogated me about the reality of Medusa and the likelihood of running into her while out and about. Only once he was convinced that he didn't have to sweat it were we able to resume the film. Almost immediately, the movie entered his "can I watch that again?" rotation, the highest compliment that he can offer a film. There are movies he loves in the short term, watching them a few times, and then dropping them, and there are movies that he keeps close at hand so he can revisit them often. "Clash Of The Titans" worked for him completely, the way I assume it worked for many of the people who loved the original when it came out. He may be a digital kid, but he's more than able to give his heart to a stop-motion fantasy.
Film Nerd 2.0 is an irregular column, in every possible meaning of the word.
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