Myth-conceptions.

clashoftitansWhen I heard that there was a new film of Clash Of The Titans, the first thing I thought was, Does everything have to be remade? From what I remember the original wasn’t that good. It did have its high points. For one thing it was the last major film of the great Ray Harryhausen, and while the Kraken looked a little too much like the creature from 20 Million Miles To Earth—or maybe an overcaffeinated Creature From The Black Lagoon—Medusa with her rattlesnake tail was pretty wicked and the model of Pegasus was breathtaking in its detail. And I realized that this is one of the great myths, and myths have been told and retold from the very beginning. Some myths, I think, have to be retold so that each generation has a chance to make it their own. In ancient times numerous writers retold the story of Perseus. While Apollodorus’s version remains the most complete we still have, Horace added a few details of his own, and Pindar wrote in a way that’s really hard to translate. The classical writers wrote sequels and prequels, some trying to tie all the myths together into a single unit. Of course the 1981 film isn’t just a retelling. They had to make some pretty major changes to the story to make it make sense to modern audiences. I’m curious to see if the new version keeps any of those changes, and also what other changes they’ll make. Here are a few things to look for:

  • In spite of the title there are no Titans in the 1982 film. The only Titan to appear in one version of the myth—a version Ovid tells—is Atlas. On his way home, having slain Medusa, Perseus finds himself in Atlas’s home. Atlas has been told that a son of Zeus will try to steal his golden apples, so he tries to drive out Perseus. Courtesy to travelers is a common theme in Greek myths. If you’re in a myth and someone knocks on your door, you’d better invite them in and treat them nicely. The consequences of being a bad host could be deadly–or worse. To reward Atlas for his lack of hospitality Perseus whips out Medusa’s head and turns him into a mountain.
  • Danae, Perseus’ mother, is exiled by her father Acrisios because he’s been told by an oracle that he will be killed by his daughter’s son. I don’t think this is ever explained in the 1981 film, but that was a different time when people took it for granted that that was how you treated single mothers. Anyway, mythic oracles aren’t astrologers. If you’re in a myth and an oracle tells you how you’re going to die you might as well just hang it up because anything you do is just going to move you closer to your fate.
  • Poseidon doesn’t release the Kraken to destroy Acrisios’s kingdom. In fact kraken is a Scandinavian word. Maybe the filmmakers thought it was better to call it something other than “sea monster”.  Acrisios doesn’t really meet his foretold end until very late in the story.
  • Calibos is not a character in any of the original myths. Calibos is apparently based on Caliban, from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I have no idea how he got into the story.
  • The reason Perseus goes to get the head of Medusa is because he and his mother are living in the kingdom of Polydectes. Polydectes desperately wants to marry Danae, but he’s afraid of Perseus (who is, after all, the son of a god). Depending on the myth Polydectes either demands a tribute or tells Perseus he’s going to marry a completely different woman and would like the head of Medusa as a wedding gift. Either way it’s a ploy to get rid of Perseus.
  • Perseus does get some gifts from the gods, but not while he’s hanging out with Burgess Meredith. Athena gives him a sword, and Hermes gives him a helmet that turns him invisible and winged boots. I think the filmmakers made a smart choice having him ride Pegasus instead, even though in the original myth Pegasus doesn’t show up until later. It was a smart choice having Perseus lose the helmet too. Being invisible might have its advantages, but it doesn’t make for very interesting pictures. Maybe that’s why so many artists–such as Edward Burne-Jones with The Doom Fulfilled–portray Perseus as wearing the helmet but still visible.
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  • Medusa is one of three sisters. She’s just unlucky enough to be the only one who’s mortal. I’m sure there’s a reason for this, but the film will have to be successful enough to be a franchise with sequels and prequels for us to find out what it is. Perseus finds them all when they’re asleep and cuts Medusa’s head off. When he does Pegasus springs out. I have no idea why. Maybe Pegasus had always been around and Medusa swallowed him at some point. Also, drops of Medusa’s blood do not produce giant scorpions, but instead produce poisonous snakes, which is still pretty cool.
  • Perseus does some sightseeing on the way back to deliver Medusa’s head. He sees Andromeda and stops because, hey, it’s not every day you see a beautiful woman chained to a rock. Maybe it’s a photo shoot for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and you know how those draw a crowd. Her mother, Cassiopeia, made the mistake of saying Andromeda was more beautiful than the sea nymphs. If you’re in a myth never ever compare yourself to the gods. They have a whole team tapping phones and monitoring e-mails for just that kind of thing. Cassiopeia’s words angered Neptune, so he flooded the land and sent a sea monster rampaging across it. Andromeda willingly offered herself up as a sacrifice to save the land. Perseus does not use the head of Medusa to destroy the creature but instead engages it in close combat.
  • In Ovid’s telling, Perseus sets the head of Medusa down on some seaweed, which hardens under its touch. This is the origin of coral. It’s not something that would fit into a movie, but I think it’s an interesting story.
  • Andromeda has actually been promised to her uncle, Phineas, as a bride. Aside from the fact that incest is seriously wrong even if you’re not in a myth Phineas is pretty much a coward who refused to rescue his own niece from the sea monster. He brings a small army to Perseus and Andromeda’s wedding feast. Perseus shows them all Medusa’s head, and suddenly the banquet hall is full of statues.
  • After marrying Andromeda Perseus heads home to visit his grandfather Acrisios and make peace with him. Acrisios hears Perseus is coming so he flees to another town where there’s a sporting event going on. Perseus, coming through the same town, signs up for the discus throw, but he slips and his discus flies into the crowd and accidentally kills Acrisios.

That would make an interesting surprise ending for the movie, but it’s also kind of a downer. The original film also scores some accuracy points for the Stygian Sisters, for instance, who are thoroughly creepy, and for little touches such as when Thetis tells her fellow goddesses that Zeus once tried to seduce her disguised as a cuttlefish. She responded by turning herself into a shark.