"Clash of the Titans" 1981 vs. 2010, or CGI vs. Stop-Motion

by Phil Fava on March 31, 2010

in Blogs

Why bother remaking a 1981 stop-motion classic (“Clash of the Titans”) if you are removing the one thing that made it fun in the first place?

Before a single important filmmaker had any bearing on my cinematic life, there was Ray Harryhausen. The stop-motion animation he refined was a fixture of countless monster movies, beginning with “Mighty Joe Young” in 1948 (which won an Oscar for best visual effects) and ending most notably with “Clash of the Titans” in 1981, the remade version of which is being released this Friday.

As a kid growing up in a post-”Jurassic Park” special effects world, there was still no greater joy as a spectator than watching the craftsmanship of Willis O’Brien in “King Kong” and the work of Harryhausen, his protegee, in “Clash of the Titans,” “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963), “Jack the Giant Killer” (1962), and my personal favorite of all his endeavors, “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” from 1958. I rented it dozens of times during my childhood and never tired of it. Still haven’t. The cyclops battling the dragon outside the evil magician Sakura’s cave is just as iconic and thrilling to me as Kong’s battle with the tyrannosaurus-rex in the original “King Kong.”

The advent of CGI in the past two decades revolutionized not only visual effects in films, but the enterprise of filmmaking as a whole; just look at what Pixar has achieved since the release of “Toy Story” in 1995. Vast, intricate, towering worlds have been created and populated by thousands of equally intricate, vividly rendered creatures. Now, in the specific case of CG-animated films, the issue of realism is far from prevalent and far from meaningful, but with live actions films that use CGI, it’s extremely important.

Does really well-funded, painstakingly executed CGI look convincing? Of course it does. What Peter Jackson was able to create in the “Lord of the Rings” movies as well as his “King Kong” remake was nothing short of amazing. But the fact remains: whatever fantastic visual you’re beholding in any of those films is not actually physically extant. It is, in fact, a computer-generated image.

What stop-motion animation was able to supply, in addition to a charm absent from almost all CGI, was tactility. Does O’Brien’s Kong look as realistic as Jackson’s? No. But that’s not the point. O’Brien’s Kong took up physical space and existed in the same world as the actors around it; the illusion there was his mobility and size, not his existence itself. Contrarily, Peter Jackson’s Kong had the appearance of a real 25 foot gorilla down to the smallest detail, but he didn’t actually exist (not outside of Andy Serkis‘ motion-capture work, anyway).

And now we have another remake of a stop-motion classic coming down the pike. “Clash of the Titans,” coming out on Friday, is the remake of Harryhausen’s last film and again tells the story of Perseus from Greek mythology. Watching the trailer, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed. Liam Neeson seems to be doing a lot of Liam-Neeson-bellowing and Sam Worthington seems to be lost, yet again, in a swirling torrent of CG-mayhem. You know what you’re getting into with this one.

The original film, directed by Desmond Davis and starring Laurence Olivier and Harry Hamlin, was, above all things, charming as hell. It was campy and earnest and had so much fun with its special effects that the cheesy acting and less interesting story components didn’t matter much (as is the case with most of these movies). With computers replacing sets and CGI replacing stop-motion, the new version will likely be much more convincing but far less fun; I guess that’s the trade off of my generation.

It’s all the same. I just can’t help but take all of this objective silliness very personally. It’s a part of who I am. Quoting and reenacting many of the films Harryhausen worked on is what defined a large part of my youth. As a matter of fact, “[r]eleas[ing] the Kraken” has been a staple of my household for as long as I can remember. Make of that information what you will.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Emerick March 31, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I have to agree with almost everything you said, but being the stickler to detail that I am, the actual Olivier line from the 1981 film was “Let Loose the Kraken.” Otherwise, I too am not looking forward to having another childhood staple of mine tarnished by modern Hollywood. Let’s be honest, no body who read “Where the Wild Things Are,” saw that as a psychoanalytical book about an angry child, or maybe I am the only one who thought it to be a light-hearted, whimsical tale?

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2 Emerick March 31, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I have to agree with almost everything you said, but being the stickler to detail that I am, the actual Olivier line from the 1981 film was “Let Loose the Kraken.” Otherwise, I too am not looking forward to having another childhood staple of mine tarnished by modern Hollywood. Let’s be honest, no body who read “Where the Wild Things Are,” saw that as a psychoanalytical book about an angry child, or maybe I am the only one who thought it to be a light-hearted, whimsical tale?

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3 Phil Fava March 31, 2010 at 8:14 pm

9:18:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2RhseYj7F4&feature=related

Making a film based on a previously unadapted book is totally different than doing a remake. They already got it right with the original “Clash” (for the most part), so the need for this upcoming version is just about artistically nonexistent.

In the case of “Where the Wild Things Are,” I really don’t want to reiterate things I’ve stated better elsewhere: http://www.scene-stealers.com/blogs/overlooked-movie-monday-where-the-wild-things-are/. I will say this, however: suggesting that what Spike Jonze did with that book is somehow comparable to what Leterrier (the guy responsible for the bloated “The Incredible Hulk” with Edward Norton) is doing with this film is patently absurd. WTWTA was beautiful and radical and anything but an expected product of “modern Hollywood.” This new “Clash,” on the other hand, is exactly what one would expect from that corporate shit machine.

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4 Phil Fava March 31, 2010 at 8:14 pm

9:18:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2RhseYj7F4&feature=related

Making a film based on a previously unadapted book is totally different than doing a remake. They already got it right with the original “Clash” (for the most part), so the need for this upcoming version is just about artistically nonexistent.

In the case of “Where the Wild Things Are,” I really don’t want to reiterate things I’ve stated better elsewhere: http://www.scene-stealers.com/blogs/overlooked-movie-monday-where-the-wild-things-are/. I will say this, however: suggesting that what Spike Jonze did with that book is somehow comparable to what Leterrier (the guy responsible for the bloated “The Incredible Hulk” with Edward Norton) is doing with this film is patently absurd. WTWTA was beautiful and radical and anything but an expected product of “modern Hollywood.” This new “Clash,” on the other hand, is exactly what one would expect from that corporate shit machine.

Reply

5 Brandymaye April 1, 2010 at 7:12 am

It wasn’t a good movie. They didn’t stick to original or the book. I wish they wouldn’t have messed with it. It was boring, cut up and they changed alot of things. And it still seem cut up. The original was unique it sparked your imagination and took you places you never been before. And wanted to go back. This one made you just want to get up and leave the theatre. They should do a run of the original in theaters that would be the shit. 2010 Clash of the Titans can go to HADES….

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6 Brandymaye April 1, 2010 at 7:12 am

It wasn’t a good movie. They didn’t stick to original or the book. I wish they wouldn’t have messed with it. It was boring, cut up and they changed alot of things. And it still seem cut up. The original was unique it sparked your imagination and took you places you never been before. And wanted to go back. This one made you just want to get up and leave the theatre. They should do a run of the original in theaters that would be the shit. 2010 Clash of the Titans can go to HADES….

Reply

7 Emerick April 1, 2010 at 7:22 am

I should have chosen my words more carefully. I wasn’t comparing WTWTA to bloated Hollywood productions, I was merely citing it as an example of something from my childhood that I believe lost its luster after being made into a movie (or in the case of Clash of the Titans, remade into a terrible movie).

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8 Emerick April 1, 2010 at 7:22 am

I should have chosen my words more carefully. I wasn’t comparing WTWTA to bloated Hollywood productions, I was merely citing it as an example of something from my childhood that I believe lost its luster after being made into a movie (or in the case of Clash of the Titans, remade into a terrible movie).

Reply

9 Ian Fisch April 8, 2010 at 4:42 pm

I think the tactility of stop motion special effects kindof falls apart when it comes to interacting with real people. The two just don’t mix very well compared to the mix of real people and cgi effects. This isn’t too surprising since you can tweak a cgi creature’s animations until it reacts perfectly to a live actor.

For instance, you can tweak cgi Golem’s head position every frame so he maintains perfect eye contact with the hobbit. This would be a lot more difficult, though not impossible, to do with stop motion.

I will admit there’s something charming about stop motion that I can’t quite put my finger on.

Reply

10 Ian Fisch April 8, 2010 at 4:42 pm

I think the tactility of stop motion special effects kindof falls apart when it comes to interacting with real people. The two just don’t mix very well compared to the mix of real people and cgi effects. This isn’t too surprising since you can tweak a cgi creature’s animations until it reacts perfectly to a live actor.

For instance, you can tweak cgi Golem’s head position every frame so he maintains perfect eye contact with the hobbit. This would be a lot more difficult, though not impossible, to do with stop motion.

I will admit there’s something charming about stop motion that I can’t quite put my finger on.

Reply

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