If any of you aren't yet aware, there's a little movie coming out at the end of March called Clash of the Titans. Directed by Louis Leterrier, the film follows the adventures of a young warrior named Perseus (Sam Worthington) as he fights off a horde of magical, mythological beasts. Amazingly, however, this story was previously told, and not just by the Greeks that made it up in the first place: it turns out that director Desmond Davis made a film with the same title in 1981 featuring stop-motion effects work by none other than the great Ray Harryhausen.
In anticipation of their upcoming remake, Warner Home Video released Clash of the Titans on Blu-ray this week, not only to provide improved picture and sound for existing fans, but rekindle interest in both films' subject matter for a whole new generation. And while I will reserve judgment on the merits of the original's storytelling, saying only that it used to be one of my childhood favorites, the new Clash Blu-ray is a worthy and well-suited subject for this week's "Making The (Up) Grade."
What's Already Available: Warner Home Video released Clash of the Titans on standard-definition DVD in 2004. That single-disc set featured a new digital transfer and two extra features: the "A Conversation With Ray Harryhausen" featurette, and a "Myths and Monsters" gallery.
What's In The New Set: Warner's Blu-ray, which is being released March 2, 2010, comes in their "digibook" format, which packages the disc with a 40-page booklet that includes trivia, cast and crew information, and background details on the production. Additionally, the set comes with an insert booklet about the '10 Clash remake.
What's The Difference In The Movie Itself: The presentation of a film like this one is always going to be subject to a number of issues, not the least of which is its extensive use of stop-motion animation, and therefore the need for multiple layers of content in individual frames that degrade picture quality and leave it inconsistent when held up to closer scrutiny. This isn't a reflection upon the accomplishments of Harryhausen and his crew, but the way in which movies with effects were made in the pre-CGI era, and as a result, transfers of these films, even in high-definition, can look underwhelming and sometimes even terrible.
Unfortunately, the transfer of this Clash disc is both underwhelming and terrible, although I'm pleased to report that it seems like none of the stop-motion work is to blame. It appears the DVD producers missed an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of Harryhausen and co. by presenting the film via this transfer: the images are extremely grainy and inconsistently clear, and while they're pretty clean, that only further highlights the mediocrity of the overall quality.
The reason for this, it seems, is that the mastering process was done based on entire sequences rather than individual shots; for example, during the scene with Cerberus, and later, Medusa, the entirety of the sequence was color-balanced or mastered according to its brightest shot. As a result, only those bright shots look clean and true, while the rest of them are all over the place, some deeply grainy, some less so, and the shots no longer match (backgrounds go from day to dusk to high noon with each cut). Admittedly, this may be due to poor cinematography during principal photography, but the fact that no one at least attempted to correct this is a fairly egregious oversight since effects-savvy viewers are the ones who will probably be scooping up this disc first.
Furthermore, what makes this most offensive is the fact that it's not even the effects shots that necessarily suffer most; in many cases, the worst shots are static, effects-free images that only involve lighting and actors, and have no excuse or reason not to look good.
What's The Difference In Everything Else: Except for the enclosed booklets, which are fairly interesting, especially for folks anticipating the new movie, there's nothing her you haven't seen or don't have on previous standard-definition releases.
What's The Final Grade: D+. Clash of the Titans may or may not be a movie that benefits from updated special effects and enhanced storytelling, but as a classic example of stop-motion animation and a high water mark in fantasy filmmaking before the age of computer-generated imagery, this Blu-ray is significantly less than it deserves. It would be one thing if the producers fleshed out the disc with a deluge of new bonus materials, but without extra content, you really have to consider how big a fan you are of the film before you purchase a transfer this crappy.