Ray Harryhausen passed away yesterday at the age of 92. Harryhausen was the special effects creator of only a little over a dozen movies yet his impact was enormous on today’s special effects creators. Nearly all of the special effects Oscar winners of the past several decades credit Harryhausen as their inspiration yet he was never even nominated for an Oscar. The Academy did try to ameliorate this egregious slight by granting him an honorary lifetime achievement Oscar in 1992 (presented by his good friend Ray Bradbury).
Ray Harryhausen was a large part of my childhood and was my penultimate living icon (he is only survived in that by Christopher Lee). Obviously if I were a real fan, the picture above would be of all of his movies but I do have all my favorites. Not pictured is One Million Years B.C. which is in my Hammer box set. I’m missing The Valley of the Gwangi, First Men in the Moon, and Mysterious Island.
Last night to commemorate his passing, we watched Jason and the Argonauts. My favorite Harryhausen sequence is of Talos and my second favorite is that of the seven skeletons attacking Jason so naturally Jason and the Argonauts is my favorite. I’ll probably watch the Sinbads later this week as they are a close second.
In the days before VCRs and cable, I scoured the TV guide each week and would plan my day around a showing of one of his films (usually Saturday afternoon). It didn’t matter whether it was one of his black and white creature features (It Came From Beneath the Sea, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers) or his later color fantasies (The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Mysterious Island).
I was truly amazed in 1977 when my friend Juan and I got to see a Harryhausen movie in the theater (Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger). Of course, being me, I went to see it several more times before it left. I repeated this process with Clash of the Titans in 1981, a last gasp of stop-motion animation as special effects went hi-tech.
I view all of his films as either art or magic as he painstakingly did all of the special effects himself, crafting the models and delicately moving them just a bit and shooting off a single frame of film (1/24th of a second) before repeating the process. The special effects often took longer than filming the movie.
If you remember his films at all, I highly recommend the Blu-Ray transfers in the Ray Harryhausen collection (Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, It came from Beneath the Sea, and 20 Million Miles to Earth) as well as the Jason and the Argonauts transfer as it is clear that they went to a lot of restorative effort. The B/W titles are available in original black and white or a colorized version authorized by Harryhausen himself (which is interesting though I prefer the original). The Blu-Rays also have a plethora of wonderful extras, my favorite being Harryhausen’s career overview, The Harryhausen Chronicles (narrated by Leonard Nimoy).
Sadly neither instant Netflix nor Amazon Prime have any of his movies available for viewing currently. The Sci-Fi Boys is available on instant Netflix and features interviews with Ray Harryhausen and Ray Bradbury (who we lost last year).