Goodbye, Childhood – R.I.P. Ray Harryhausen

Ray Harryhausen

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).

Harryhausen filmsRay 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).

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tigertiger

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).

 

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger

When I did my post on Ray Harryhausen (8/23), only the first two of his Sinbad films were available on instant Netflix. Harryhausen’s final Sinbad, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, is now available on Netflix instant play.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger

WATCH: Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) – Rated G

“To break a spell that’s been placed on Kassim (Damien Thomas) — the brother of his lady love (Jane Seymour) — Sinbad (Patrick Wayne) embarks on a journey to enlist the help of a wizard named Melanthius (Patrick Troughton). But Zenobia, the sorceress who cursed Kassim, and her nefarious son, Rafi, are hot on Sinbad’s trail. Sam Wanamaker directs this adventure-fantasy that co-stars Margaret Whiting, Taryn Power and Kurt Christian.”

Netflix has finally added Ray Harryhausen’s 3rd Sinbad film to their instant collection. The first two, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad are still available on instant play. I unhesitatingly recommend all of Harryhausen’s films. CGI is a wonderful invention akin to the printing press for special effects – allowing all comers to put what they envision on film. Ray Harryhausen’s work is more like an illuminated manuscript – an antiquated method of such exquisite care that it is far more art form than science. It took him a year and a half to do the animation for this film alone.

While Jason and the Argonauts has the best creatures – a hydra, the skeletons, and Talos the giant – Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger has many wonderful creatures. Several skeleton creatures, a baboon, a troglodyte, the eponymous tiger, and more are brought to vivid life through his stop-motion animation. It all leads up to a showstopper fight at the climax. If your connection is good enough, you can even watch this in high definition.

This time around John Wayne’s son Patrick fills Sinbad’s shoes and, as is often the case with Harryhausen’s heroes, he looks a little wooden in comparison to the creatures. He is ably supported by the lovely Taryn Power (Tyrone’s daughter) and the ever radiant Jane Seymour. Patrick Troughton becomes the second Doctor (Who) to appear in a Sinbad movie (Tom Baker played the villain in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad). Margaret Whiting gets the juicy villain role here and has a lot of fun with it.

Set design and costuming are very very colorful here. Sadly Roy Budd’s music score isn’t as good as the classic Bernard Herrman scores from other Harryhausen movies but it is serviceable. The director uses a number of exotic locales (Malta, Spain) to nice effect though some of the ice comes off as styrofoam-y. Overall this is a very fun fantasy with gorgeous work from Ray Harryhausen.

People Watch: Peter Mayhew has an uncredited role here as the Minoton – he is more famous for playing Chewbacca in the Star Wars series

Ray Harryhausen

THE visual effects maestro when I was growing up, his wizardry is still gorgeous today. Today’s CGI can range from laughably bad (almost any movie on the Sci-Fi – oops Syfy channel) to absolutely gorgeous (Sin City). Yes computers can do in hours what took him weeks to accomplish but his artistry is still unsurpassed. He was inspired by Willis O’Brien’s King Kong and worked with him on Mighty Joe Young. Sadly as Ray Harryhausen is neither an actor (cameos aside) nor a director, Netflix search engine isn’t helpful. Netflix has three of his films currently available on instant play.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

1.  The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) – “The dauntless Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) heads to the island of Colossa, where only the egg of a giant bird can restore a pea-sized princess (Kathryn Grant) to normal size. The evil magician Sokurah (Torin Thatcher) accompanies him — with ulterior motives to retrieve a lamp and genie (Richard Eyer) he once lost. But before the group can return home, they must conquer a landscape of fantastic beasts, including a Cyclops that hungers for human flesh”

Harryhausen’s first color feature is an absolute masterpiece. This is my 2nd favorite Harryhausen movie behind only Jason and the Argonauts. The villain is nefarious, the damsel is alluring and in distress, and the hero is not as wooden as the next two Sinbads.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

 

2. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) – “John Phillip Law stars as the legendary sailor who finds a talisman and sets sail with his crew for an uncharted island. With a beautiful slave girl in tow, Sinbad takes on evil sorcerer Koura (Tom Baker), who wants Sinbad’s golden talisman to complete a spell. Once on the island, Sinbad and crew must battle a six-armed figure of Kali (courtesy of special-effects master Ray Harryhausen), an enraged Cyclops centaur and a winged griffin”

While Tom Baker (Doctor Who) is a hoot as the villain and the Kali fight is a wonderful highlight, I did not like this one as much as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (it is still excellent though).

Clash of the Titans

3. Clash of the Titans (1981) – “This epic mythological adventure stars Harry Hamlin as Perseus, son of Zeus (Laurence Olivier), who embarks on a series of perilous quests in the hopes of rescuing Princess Andromeda (Judi Bowker) and winning the keys to the kingdom of Joppa. With winged horse Pegasus as his steed, Perseus must answer vexing riddles, capture the head of Medusa and slay a ravenous sea monster. Burgess Meredith and Ursula Andress co-star in this classic tale”

The wonderful cast also includes Maggie Smith, Claire Bloom, Sian Phillips, and Flora Robson but they seem strangely wooden compared to Harryhausen’s creations. Ironically Flora Robson played Livia in Charles Laughton’s unfinished I, Claudius (1937) while Sian Phillips played Livia in the BBC miniseries. While there are many wonderful creations on display here, Ray’s Medusa is an absolute marvel.