Heavenly Sights: The Special Effects of Clash of the Titans



Every period throughout recorded human history has eventually found its way on screen since the invention of the motion picture. No historical era is without representation on film, from the human race’s beginnings to far in the future. The time prior to the death of Christ is referred to with the designation B.C. and it groups the Egyptian, Roman, and Greek cultures of that period under the term “ancient times” as well. Aside from being rich with production value possibilities, this period also provides interesting historical events to recreate and spectacular mythology to bring to life. Clash of the Titans is an example of this, adapting the myth of Perseus for the big screen in 1981 and 2010. Both versions of Clash of the Titans feature superb special effects work as an integral part of bringing the story to life.

Though each film is different, Clash of the Titans and its remake both detail the Greek myth. Perseus was the son of the king of the gods, Zeus, and a mortal woman. Perseus proves to be a demi-god hero when he reaches maturity. The original myth is changed in each version of the film, but the 1981 incarnation follows Perseus as he wins the heart of the beautiful Andromeda, princess of Joppa. Her mother has angered the goddess Thetis, who decrees that Andromeda should be sacrificed to the sea monster, the Kraken. (Zeus’ favoring of his son Perseus and deforming of Thetis’ mortal son Calibos, who was previously engaged to Andromeda, doesn’t help.) Perseus has only one chance to kill the Kraken—with the head of Medusa, whose gaze can turn any living being to stone even after she is killed. Despite gifts from Zeus to help, Perseus faces many trials on his quest but in the end he is successful. The 2010 film is very similar in general plotlines, but the biggest change is that the conflict among the gods involves Hades instead of Thetis. Also, Andromeda is not Perseus’ love interest—the mythological figure of Io is instead. Of course, there are smaller differences as well.

A significant way the adaptations differ is special effects. To achieve the eye-popping feats Perseus must carry out, filmmakers were faced with completing work much more involved than simply letting the camera roll. Technology advances at a swift pace, so the effects used in 1981 were vastly different from 2010’s. The 1981 version left the effects under the creation of one man, so much so that his name is the one most associated with the film now: Ray Harryhausen. As far back as the ‘60s, Harryhausen was the master of stop-motion special effects and his work in Clash of the Titans is one of his most enduring legacies. Medusa, Pegasus, giant scorpions, and especially the Kraken all make an impression because of his efforts, and the results were impressive to audiences of the time. Even now, the effects have not dated as badly as some work from films that actually came out later.

The effects in the 2010 remake were created in a very different way. By this time, the advent of computer-generated imagery had permeated visual effects. After taking certain steps on the physical set, the filmmaker could guide a team of artists working on computers to create and add in nearly anything the story required. Naturally, as it was a big-budget extravaganza, the effects were increased in scale—the giant scorpions are bigger, the Kraken is a massive, tentacled ugly beast. The film was not successful with critics because they felt the abundance of CGI indicated a weaker story. There is no denying the eye has a feast in both versions, though.

As an interesting side note, the popular young adult books of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan (notice the similar first name of the title character?) also draw on classical Greek mythology for it’s inspiration and the first in the series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Thief has Percy face Medusa and cut off her head. A film version was also released in 2010.

The extraordinary creatures and events of Greek mythology require the special effects of a film adaptation to be an indispensable success. The audience has to believe and be wowed by what they see. Perseus is not the only ancient hero to take his place in film—Hercules has appeared on screen many times and Theseus appeared in Immortals in 2011—but his adventures in Clash of the Titans are certainly unforgettable. ♥


Rachel Sexton is from Ohio and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Arts. She loves her parents and her dog Lily. But what you really need to know is that she has to have acting, film, reading, and dance in her life and her favorite fandoms are Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jane Austen, and Once Upon a Time. Plus, she is most described as quiet and her biggest vice is cupcakes. Her main hobby is editing fan videos.


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