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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hump-Day Harangue: So Apparently, Ray Harryhausen Sucked...

Titans will clash, indeed. Look, I know that movies about Greek mythology are only very tangentially horror-related, but you'll just have to bear with me on this one. I'm steamed. And I've run out of refills on my antacid medication, so this is not good at all.

I had been hearing a lot of hullabaloo about the new Clash of the Titans trailer, and so I thought I'd search for it online. The first page I found that contained the video was from the website for the New York Daily News, with an article on the subject by one Gina Salamone.

Oh Gina, Gina, Gina. You may have the Italianized version of my last name that I always wanted, but this will not save you from my vitriol. Readers, here's a passage from Ms. Salamone's piece:

The fantasy film based on the Greek mythic hero, Perseus, was a box office hit in 1981, grossing $41 million in the U.S. from a budget of $16 million, largely thanks to a shirtless Harry Hamlin. Over the years, it's gained a cult following for its charmingly clumsy special effects.

From reading the entire article, I will make the assumption that Salamone has never heard of Ray Harryhausen, since his name is never mentioned. What I did learn is that she believes Harryhausen's work to be "charmingly clumsy", and better yet, that she believes the film's "cult following" shares that opinion.

You know what I think is "charmingly clumsy"? The Daily News' prose style. As for Harryhausen, how uninformed does it make a journalist appear when she doesn't even have the wherewithal to research the topic she's writing about? If she did so, she would've discovered that Harryhausen is one of the most respected and influential figures in the history of movie special effects. And that his work was absolutely cutting edge in its day, and continues to impress film lovers worldwide.

Again, I do not know our Gina, but I will assume she is not what I would call a cinema aficionado, judging by a laundry list of previous hard-hitting articles on such topics as Pamela Anderson's new fragrance line, Aerosmith's rumored breakup, Chris Brown's MTV interview, and the dangers of texting while driving. I'm going to guess she's probably never even seen Clash of the Titans, but ran it by a questionable coterie of Gen-X jackasses in the office to get the gist she came up with.

Sadly, however, Salamone's piece is not the first time I've run across this blissfully ignorant denigration of Harryhausen. I distinctly remember Clash of the Titans being included in one of those insipidly addictive VH1 "I Love the '80s" gimmicks, in which some bright light who wasn't Michael Ian Black or Mo Rocca discussed the film's "cheesy claymation effects". Sigh. So I guess Harryhausen worked with clay now. I was never aware of that--thank you, razor-sharp pop culture pundit. Because Jason and the Argonauts looks no different than the California Raisins, right?

Apparently, we're supposed to believe that the CGI which abounds in special effects films of today is such an amazing improvement over the "clumsy" and "cheesy" effects of a Harryhausen. Well, you know what? I watched the trailer, and it looks nowhere near as cool as the Desmond Davis original. It's the same goddamn cookie-cutter CGI we get in every "FX blockbuster", lacking any of the character and distinctive look of the original. Yes, CGI can be quite convincing when done right, but 90% of the time it's just as "non-real" looking as stop-motion. So come off it.

And by the way, I sincerely hope that Creed-like music is not actually featured in the movie--that better not be what replaces Laurence Rosenthal's exhilarating score.

In short, I politely disagree with the Daily News' dismissive assessment in its headline for Salamone's opus that this remake has "better effects". That would be like a newspaper glibly declaring that an upcoming remake of The Godfather looked to have "better acting". I find it a sadly ignorant and uninformed comment to make, and simply couldn't just let it go. Thanks for listening.

15 comments:

Nate Y. said...

To be fair, I'd always felt that Harryhausen's effects in Clash of the Titans weren't a significant improvement over the work he'd done some twenty years earlier in Jason and the Argonauts. Special effects had made some impressive developments that Harryhausen resolutely ignored -- the stop-motion effects in "Clash" were a little antiquated even in 1981.

Incidentally, IMDb lies in its Trivia section. It says that "Clash" was the only film in which Harryhausen had assistants. He'd had assistants in the 1950s, too, but they never received credit (at least according to Rolf Giesen in "Special Effects Artists: A Worldwide Biographical Dictionary of the Pre-Digital Era with a Filmography").

B-Sol said...

I defer to you in matters of classic horror, sir, but isn't it the case that stop-motion was still alive and well in the 1980s? I mean, it was still fairly common in movies like The Thing, the Evil Dead movies, The Gate--even the Star Wars movies used it.
Maybe not to the same degree that Clash relies on them, but anyway my point is that its kind of infuriated how his work is so pompously dismissed by people who probably don't even know his name. Yes, Clash's effects were a throwback to the '50s and '60s, but they were also anything BUT "charmingly clumsy", in any time period.

gord said...

Here here!

RayRay said...

Well said, B-Sol. From what you reported, this was a woefully under researched piece by someone who really didn't give a crap. Good for you for taking her to task, no matter what her surname is. Clash is, has been, and will always be one of my all time favorite films, in large part because of the brilliant effects. I guess Ms. Salamone missed the Medusa.....

Pax Romano said...

Face it, B-Sol, the older you and I get (and I have a head start) the more you will find that the things we held near and dear from the past, will be viewed by the younger generation as "corny", "stupid", "boring", "campy", and yes, even "charmingly clumsy".

Oh, and you were expecting a piece of journalistic competency from The New York Post?

B-Sol said...

It was actually not the Post but the News. So only slightly more unexpected.

Phantom of Pulp said...

I'll just impolitely disagree with this moron (Gina) and say she's a fuckin idiot.

CLASH wasn't my favorite Harryhausen film, but I liked his work very much and I will always honor him for his monumental contribution to our beloved genre.

Couldn't get more patronizing than "charmingly clumsy" from a writer who has just demonstrated lovable ignorance.

Nate Y. said...

B-sol,

Stop-motion was still being used, but usually either by lower-budget productions where it was the cheaper solution or as a supplement to makeup and mechanical effects. Medusa, for instance, could've easily been rendered as a combination of makeup, animatronics, and stop-motion. The overreliance on a single type of effects work (well, two if you include the necessary optical overlays) calls attention to the effects and draws away from the story.

But more to my point, Clash of the Titans is a movie that I loved as a child, but found impossible to sit through when revisiting it as an adult. I think it's largely because I'd gone back and watched some of Harryhausen's earlier efforts, which had better pacing and more, well, let's say humility for lack of a better word. It felt like in Clash he didn't really bring much new to the table, but expected us to be awed nonetheless.

B-Movie Becky said...

Well said about Harryhausen and the reporter's lack of understanding. While the original is undoubted classic, I am still excited to see the new one because I'm a cheesy genre fan (blaring rock music and all). Then again, I have a strange love affair with WWE studios....

B-Sol said...

And you do know I worked there for seven years, right? I went to the See No Evil release party and hung out with Kane :-)

B-Movie Becky said...

NO!!!!!! I did not know that. That's awesome. I haven't been following your blog as long as others, have you done a post about this? If so, I would love to see one sometime.

Christopher Zenga said...

that was great! I could taste your disappointment through my monitor!

It was palpable!!!

later days,

Christopher

Patrick said...

You helped inspire me to see the original, and it rocked. Thank you!

Adam_Y said...

Tell you what, let's give Gina Salamone the same equipment and assistance as Ray had and let's see how charming her fx are...

OK, that's flippant.

The thing is, I still see fx work that is shoddier than that of the original Clash in modern films. Poor CGI will always look worse than poor stop motion or poor prosthetics. Let alone the good stuff.

B-Sol said...

Patrick, I'm so glad my post actually inspired you to see Clash of the Titans. That gives me a warm fuzzy feeling! Welcome to the ranks!
And Becky, I've never really blogged all that much about my WWE days, and definitely not about Kane and See No Evil. Hmmm... maybe when the contest is over!

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