Watch it as a kid, and itís as entrancing as The Thief of Bagdad. Itís not until years later that you notice the Babylonian statue in the middle of a Greek plaza, or the leviathan flattening Mediterranean cities when he should be swallowing Viking ships somewhere in Norway. Mount Olympus is a health spa for toga-clad thespians, Zeus (Laurence Olivier) is a fate-manipulating horndog -- he beams with thatís-my-boy pride at Perseus (Harry Hamlin) while vengefully deforming Calibos (Neil McCarthy). Both mortals vie for Andromeda (Judi Bowken), who has the sphinxís burden of repeating the fiendís riddles to unfortunate suitors. The juvenile coupleís premature happy ending is interrupted by Thetisí (Maggie Smith) demand of a vestal sacrifice for Poseidonís pumped-up pet salamander, the Kraken. Only a gorgonís stare can quell it, say the Stygian witches, so off goes the hero on a voyage of winged horses, two-headed watchdogs, Grim Reaperish gondoliers, and comic-relief robotic owls. "I was partial to tragedy in my youth," the old playwright (Burgess Meredith) mutters, possibly trying to figure out the filmís tone. The great Ray Harryhausenís swan song, this mythological mishmash showcases one of his grandest creations: The Medusa, a slithering Hellenic Wicked Witch whose toxic blood gives birth to giant scorpions. (Her decapitation is out of Caravaggio, the camera lingers on her headless body for one last rattle.) When the creatures take over the screen, this affably tacky fantasy becomes a noble tribute to the stop-motion artisans who could play deity with dolls and maquettes, and a poignant eulogy to Harryhausenís handcrafted illusionism in a decade of increasingly synthetic effects. Directed by Desmond Davis. With Claire Bloom, Ursula Andress, Sian Phillips, Flora Robson, Jack Gwillim, Susan Fleetwood, and Tim Pigott-Smith.
--- Fernando F. Croce