Good news! I have had an abstract accepted for the Enduring Monsters conference, which is going to celebrate the films of Ray Harryhausen and their contribution to the classical tradition in film for the last however-many years. I’m very excited about this opportunity, both as a chance to meet people in the UK reception circuit I’ve not yet had the pleasure to meet, and to speak about something that means I get to talk about my research interests of film, space and gender in one neat and interesting package.
I thought I’d do a quick outline the abstract that was accepted, just to give you a flavour of what the final talk will look like. The title of my paper is “The dragon-green, the luminous, the dark, the serpent-haunted sea”: Monsters, landscape and gender in Clash of the Titans (1981 and 2010). So, I’m talking about the original Harryhausen Clash of the Titans and the recent 2010 remake, and comparing the ways in which the two films handle monsters and landscapes. Monsters, after all, don’t just turn up – they have to turn up somewhere. As I was watching the 1981 Clash as preliminary research for writing this abstract (and yes, I love my job), it struck me that whenever monsters appeared, water was somehow involved. They appeared in oceans, close to lakes or in swamps. They also all had a fundmental connection back to the sea goddess Thetis. She’s a fairly minor character in the traditional corpus of Greek myth, primarily noted for being the mother of Achilles, but in the 1981 Clash her desire to avenge her previously unknown son-turned-monster Calibos drives the plot. The film seems to construct this very intricate set of interactions between water, monster and female.
When I went to look at the 2010 Clash remake, of course, no such pattern appeared, not least because the film cuts Thetis and reinstates a kind of traditional three brother-gods ruling creation kind of mythic world view that’s totally lacking in the 1981 Clash. But the loss of Thetis actually severely impoverishes the film on a number of levels, not least narrative thrust, but also conceptual unity of its monsters. You get episodic set pieces rather than plot coherence. You also get monsters who appear in radically disparate landscapes, without any connecting elements. Some of this is due to the increased possibilities offered by CGI and other modern technology; some of it is driven by the demands created by the Hollywood Summer Blockbuster genre. But the loss of that central concept of “monster”, and a sense of connectedness to the locations in which the plot takes place, means you lose a lot of the complexity that makes the 1981 Clash such a pleasurable viewing experience.
So, my paper is going to set out what I see as the connections between gender, landscape and the monsterous in the 1981 film, how the 2010 remake deals with these issues differently to emphasise different things, and what those changes tell us both about the shift in the nature of classical reception of the thirty or so years between the two films and about Harryhausen’s legacy to the film industry. Given the very self-conscious way that the 2010 Clash includes a couple of set pieces (not least of which, the giant scorpions) to show how it is superior as a remake, no, really, it’s actually interesting that a choice to return to a more “faithful” version of classical myth actually leads to a weaker film.
I should also note that I’m kind of interested to see how this question of space, gender and monsters plays out in the sequel to the 2010 Clash that we are supposedly anticipating. Courtesy of the Rogue Classicist, I picked up a piece on Cinemaspy.com that brings us photos of filming on Tenerife - most notably ruddy big boats. Clearly at the moment, the sea is playing an important role in the sequel – will it regain the prominence it had in Harryhausen’s original? I suppose we’ll just have to see what comes out at the box office.