(The following tribute to Ray Harryhausen is appearing both on my blog and here at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.—Michael Arruda)
A Tribute to RAY HARRYHAUSEN
By Michael Arruda
Ray Harryhausen, the greatest stop-motion animator in the history of motion pictures, passed away on Tuesday, May 7, 2013. He was 92.
I had the pleasure of meeting Harryhausen at a convention in the late 1990s, and the thing I remember most about the experience—besides the fact that he was a classy guy and that he brought many of his miniature creature models with him—was Harryhausen’s love for telling stories. It wasn’t just about the special effects with Harryhausen. It was about the story. It was important for him that his creatures lived in a world that seemed real yet magical at the same time. On the movies that Harryhausen worked, much time was spent hammering out background stories, imaginative settings, and exciting conflicts.
Harryhausen’s genius wasn’t only that he was a master of stop-motion animation effects, but that the creatures he created using these effects lived and breathed in stories that were as memorable as the creatures themselves. Of course, it helped that he was a master animator. His movie creations are like no others. He gave them sculpted bodies, facial expressions and incredible movement, bringing them to life long before CGI technology.
To watch a movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen is to enter another world.
From MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), the first major movie he worked on, under the direction of his teacher and mentor, King Kong creator Willis O’Brien, to CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), Ray Harryhausen’s movie magic has no equal. O’Brien may have created the most memorable stop-motion effects ever in KING KONG (1933), but by sheer volume alone, Harryhausen is king. He dominated the special effects scene from the 1950s through the 1970s, and during these decades, no one else came close to achieving the consistency and quality of stop-motion animation effects. Simply put, he was the best at it.
And the argument can be made that in a couple of his films his animation rivals O’Brien’s work in KING KONG, in films like THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) (arguably his best), and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1962). The sword fight between Jason and his men and the army of skeletons in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS is one of the most exciting and ambitious stop-motion effects sequences ever put on film.
Here’s a partial look at Harryhausen’s movies:
—MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949)—Other than Kong, Joe is the most remarkable giant ape in the movies. The fiery climax, in which Joe rescues children from burning building, is must-see cinema!
—THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) —rivals GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! (1956) as one of the scariest prehistoric-beasts-on-the-loose movies ever. Memorable conclusion involving Coney Island roller coaster. That’s Lee Van Cleef as the marksman at the end taking aim at the monster.
—IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)
—EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) —Ray Harryhausen destroys Washington D.C.! See his alien spaceships attack the nation’s capital!
—20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) —Attack of the Ymir! Yep, that extraordinary monster from Venus is one of my favorite Ray Harryhausen creations. The Ymir was unnamed in the movie, and only picked up the name “Ymir” later from fans.
—THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) —My pick for the best Ray Harryhausen movie of all time. It contains his finest special effects, one of his most memorable creations, the Cyclops, it’s briskly directed by Nathan Juran, has a phenomenal villainous performance by Torin Thatcher as Sokurah, the magician, and a rousing music score by Bernard Herrmann.
—MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961) —That animated crab is the real thing! Harryhausen used a real crab in the giant crab sequence, animating it like one of his models.
-JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) —My second favorite Ray Harryhausen movie. The sword fight with the skeletons is spectacular!
-FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964) —I’ve always loved this story by HG Wells, and Harryhausen’s effects here don’t disappoint.
—ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966) —Harryhausen joins the Hammer Films family and animates dinosaurs that chase scantily clad Raquel Welch in this Hammer prehistoric adventure.
—THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) —in the subgenre of horror westerns, this film ranks among the best.
—THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974) —Harryhausen’s follow-up to THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is nearly as good and contains some of Harryhausen’s best special effects, including a great sword fight between Sinbad and the goddess Kali.
—SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977) —Released the same year as STAR WARS (1977) it was criticized for having outdated special effects. Suddenly, Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation was passé.
—CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981) —Harryhausen’s last feature, one of my least favorites, yet still features some fine moments, including a very creepy Medusa sequence.
In my family, we all know who Ray Harryhausen is, but it pains me that Ray Harryhausen is not a household name. He should be.
For me, there are few moviemakers who have been as influential as Ray Harryhausen. The movies he’s worked on have been some of the most imaginative innovative creative films I have ever seen. They are the real deal. Movies that captivate fascinate and entertain.
To watch a Ray Harryhausen movie is to arouse your imagination.
Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation, maker of movie monsters and fantasy worlds, of movies that will live in imaginations for years to come, thank you for sharing your genius with the world.
You will be missed.
© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda
Harryhausen was one of the best. CGI may have made his style of effects seem outdated and quaint, but it wouldn’t exist without his pioneering stop-motion process. Back when it took incredible amounts of time and effort to create even a few minutes of film, Harryhausen had incredible reserves of patience and talent.
The cool thing about Ray Harryhausen was not that he just did effects, but that most of the movies he worked on REVOLVED AROUND his effects. How often did that happen, where the special effects guy was the dominant figure in movies? And not just flimsy plots to keep the action going, but decent storylines, that made his creations shine.
Michael has touched upon some of the highlights. I’d like to give my personal take on these as well.
—THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) —I remember seeing this one as a kid and being blown away by it. Harryhausen’s dinosaur on the loose was remarkable and effective, especially to a child’s eyes. And this one featured a rare collaboration between the two Rays – Harryhausen and Bradbury – as the movie was based on Bradbury’s story, “The Foghorn.”
—IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) —This was one of my favorites, involving a gigantic octopus that rose from the ocean depths to cause havoc on the surface world of humans. The way the octopus moved was uncanny, and convincing. A really underrated entry in the 1950s “giant animals” genre.
—EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) —Sure, it might look a little dated now, but it also is immediately recognizable as the work of Harryhausen. I still think that ten minutes of this movie is more visually interesting than all of the similarly themed INDEPENDENCE DAY(1996)
—20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) – My favorite Harryhausen film. I loved the story that this movie told, as well as the monster at its heart. The Ymir was a vaguely humanoid, prehistoric-looking creature from the planet Venus. In this one, Harryhausen made us care about the monster, and believe in him. The scene where the confused Ymir fights an escape elephant remains a classic.
—THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) —I remember seeing stills from this one in issues of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine, and hoped I’d finally get to see it for real. Back when I was a kid, a lot of these movies showed up on television, but you never knew where or when. It wasn’t like video and Netflix where you just call it up and watch it. It was a crapshoot. I remember watching this movie on a Saturday afternoon on a tiny black and white television, with fuzzy reception, and being astounded by it. The amazing Cyclops became one of my favorite fantasy movie creatures, as well as the two-headed giant bird, the Roc.
—JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) —Like Michael, this is my second favorite Ray Harryhausen movie, too. It didn’t have the heart of a creature like the Ymir, but it featured some of Ray’s most iconic effects. The sword fight with the skeletons might just be Harryhausen’s most memorable scene ever. I bet this one influenced a whole generation who would grow up to give us the computer effects that replaced it. But this movie had to come first.
—ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966) —Sure it makes no sense historically; dinosaurs and cavemen never existed at the same time—but this one is a classic, and was a pretty big hit at the time. The cool-looking dinosaurs almost diverted my attention away from the curves of star Raquel Welch. Almost.
—THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) – Long before COWBOYS AND ALIENS (2011), there was this classic “Cowboys and Dinosaurs” film. Cowboys lassoing a Tyrannosaurus Rex never looked so good.
—THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974) —I think I liked the story of this one even more than THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Not only did it feature such amazing creatures as the flying homunculus and the living ship’s figurehead, as well as the amazing Centaur and the Griffin (their fight is legendary), but it also starred such genre legends as the beautiful Caroline Munro and, arguably the best Dr. Who ever, Tom Baker, as the villain. The sword fight between multi-armed Kali and Sinbad is my favorite scene though, and is almost as iconic as the skeleton sword fight in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.
—SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977) —Starring John Wayne’s son Patrick as Sinbad and another former Dr. Who, Patrick Troughton. It also features such Harryhausen creatures as the Troglodyte (a giant, fur-covered caveman with a horn on his head), a sabre-toothed tiger and a giant walrus. The Troglodyte model Harryhausen used for this one was used again (with slight changes) as Calibos in Harryhausen’s last feature, CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981).
Harryhausen was one of a kind. And as Michael said, he will definitely be missed by fans of science fiction and fantasy cinema.
© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares