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Film: Clash of the Titans
Director: Desmond Davis
Animator: Ray Harryhausen
Performers: Harry Hamlin, Laurence Olivier, Neil McCarthy, Judi Bowker, Maggie Smith, Burgess Meredith
Dog featured: Dioskilos, the two-headed dog
Production information: MGM, 1981 (US/UK)

Thus far in 2013, the celebrity death that most shook my world was that of stop motion animation pioneer, Ray Harryhausen. He passed away on May 7, 2013 at the venerable age of 92.

Bowdu and an Italian movie poster for the 7th Voyage of Sinbad

Bowdu is pictured above with my Italian movie poster for Harryhausen’s Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958), the first iteration of his famous “skeleton fight” sequences. His artistry compelled me to sit through many a hackneyed romance (like the entire Sinbad franchise) knowing his monsters would be summoned to terrorize the mortals — delayed gratification, frame by precious frame.

Clash of the Titans was frequently on television when I was growing up. There was something impossibly alluring about that mythological world, where the animated creatures were more often sinister than friendly — Bubo the Owl and Pegasus were exceptional in his mostly monstrous pantheon. Yet the monsters’ perspectives often seemed more multidimensional to me. In this particular title for example, Medusa and Calibos seemed to possess stronger personalities and more complex back stories than the hero, Perseus, and his impeccably primped princess, Andromeda.


As I was thinking back on Harryhausen’s monsters and which would be bloggable here, the two-headed dog at Medusa’s temple ruins came to mind. He was not three-headed, and not to be mistaken for Cerberus the guardian of Hades. Harryhausen claimed that three heads was too “awkward” to animate.


Not that the two-headed dog was exactly seamless… but that’s half the charm of Harryhausen’s stop motion animation. The completion of his fantasy world is left, in part, to the viewer’s willingness to adore his creations as the product of human labor. This is not to deny that computer animation also involves intensive work and skill. I just think that tactility and malleability lends a gravity to the creatures that is sometimes missing from animations not based on physical models.


Anyway, as I was sorting through the DVD extras in preparation for this post, I learned that the two-headed dog actually has a name — Dioskilos.


If Dioskilos has a back story (Medusa’s pet?), we are not privy to it, as he is slain by Perseus and his men after a fairly brief battle.


In this version of the myth, we are told that Calibos, the arrogant son of Thetis, is punished with physical deformity for his avarice and disregard for life. He overhunts the land, driving even winged horses like Pegasus to extinction. Yet, it always struck me as hypocritical that the “heroes” seemed guilty of similar charges. Dioskilos, Medusa, and the Kraken were such unique, singular beasts, all killed off in the name of “good” — which ultimately boiled down to noble Perseus getting to bed his princess Andromeda, because Zeus wanted it that way.

Well, like Ray Harryhausen said, “Every legend has to be modified.”

Clash of the Titans was Harryhausen’s final feature. His monsters were perfectly tailored to complement audience imagination, and he retired at an appropriate time to preserve his legends for all they were worth.

A clip of the fight between Perseus’ men and Dioskilos is available on Turner Classic Movies.

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