Category Archives: ray harryhausen

Ray Harryhausen 1920-2013

Possibly one of the greatest special effects artists who ever lied passed away today. Ray Harryhausen was a big part of my childhood, and a big part of my adulthood. He influenced so many people, and in turn, he was influenced by another genius, Willis O’Brien, whose work in stop motion animation made King Kong the classic film, and the classic character he is today. He learned at the master’s side and took that art even higher. Harryhausen was one of the greats.

I can’t even guess how many times I’ve seen Jason and the Argonauts. I seriously think a hundred times would be a conservative guess. There’s nothing by Harryhausen that I didn’t love (and that includes oddities like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the Puppetoons), but Jason is probably my favorite. I remember as a kid, channel 29 had the rights to it, and I never missed it when they aired it. The film is a beautiful piece of art, from start to finish, and it fueled my early love of the Greek myths.

I love the Sinbad films, 20 Million Miles to Earth, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and It Came from Beneath the Sea. I watch them relentlessly when they air. Harryhausen’s involvement in Beast led to a semi-rational hatred of the Godzilla films, which he felt both ripped off and cheapened his work. His statements to that effect didn’t lessen my respect and awe for his work, but man oh man, it did hurt this Godzilla fan.

I was never really a fan of Clash of the Titans, as by then, his age, and the amount of time it took to do his Dynamation, made him begin to cut corners and it just didn’t look as good any more, to me at least. But then again, Harryhausen cutting corners was nothing new, as 1955’s It Came from Beneath the Sea featured a five-tentacled octopus.

None of that diminishes Harryhausen’s accomplishments and my love for his films. We have lost one of the living legends of Hollywood, and a master of an animation style that may never be the same again. Ray Harryhausen will be missed.

Clash of the Titans 2010

Clash of the Titans ~ Okay, I was all ready. I had watched (and reviewed) the original Clash of the Titans earlier this week, dinner plans were made and tickets purchased ahead of time – I was psyched to be knocked out by state of the art 3-D effects and mythic storytelling. Man, did I have the wrong number. At least dinner was good.

The concepts of remake and source material seemed to have been thrown out right away as this new version bore only a vague resemblance to either the 1981 film and even less so to actual mythology. I always thought that the tale of Perseus and Andromeda was one of the great romances of Greek mythology, but apparently somebody forgot.

That said, it was quite a spectacle, had the filmmakers actually allowed us to see any of it. There is a lot of fast motion camerawork and superfast quick cutting so little of the special effects are actually seen. They did however make sure that every time Sam Worthington as Perseus struck a fighting pose or jumping in the air, we saw it in slow motion. For a special effects movie, they sure didn’t want us to see those effects.

The Kraken, which it should be noted is not a creature of Greek mythology at all, was one of the big reasons I wanted to see this film. Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows I’m a sucker for giant monsters, and the Kraken as shown in the previews had great potential. However, the cold hard fact is that that monster really only appears in the film for a few minutes. Quite honestly, if you’ve seen the preview, you’ve seen pretty much all the Kraken you’re going to see. Shame, it could’ve made the difference in a bad film and a bad film with great special effects.

Sam Worthington is adequate as the reluctant (here at least) Perseus. Liam Neeson makes a better Zeus than Sir Laurence Olivier, but not much better. I do like the blinding shining armor though, even its gleam fades as the film goes on. Whether this is on purpose or not, it’s disappointing. This new version gives us a new villain in Ralph Fiennes’ Hades. I almost didn’t recognize him after so many turns as Voldermort, this different make-up again made him into another person almost. Shame his special effects (these we got to see) overshadowed his acting.

Polly Walker, notoriously Atia of the Julii in HBO’s “Rome,” is wasted in what should be the rich role of Cassiopia. She gets barely a few moments screen time, and she could have not only been brilliant but saved the film. Similarly cast aside is Alexa Davalos as Andromeda. But someone behind the scenes decided to ignore one of mythology’s greatest stories and do something else. Instead we get Io as the romantic pairing to Perseus, whose background is rewritten drastically for the film. She is played by the beautiful and charismatic Gemma Arterton, one of the highlights of the film.

The cast was filled out by character actors playing the traditional sidekick template roles, seemingly from the old Sinbad films. There was the fat guy, the comic relief and the mysterious stranger – likable all, but again, like the special effects, we never got to see enough of them.

All in all, I thought it was much better than the original, but that’s not saying much considering how much I was disappointed by the 1981 film. It felt there was conscious effort throughout to be different from the original, just for the sake of being different – Pegasus is black not white, pretty Medusa not ugly, etc. And there’s also a fun cameo by Bubo the mechanical owl that did make me smile more than anything the blasted thing did in the original film.

The musical score by Ramon Djawadi is powerful and another highlight of the movie, so good I’m thinking of buying the soundtrack. I did wonder why this film was in 3-D however as there wasn’t much that needed 3-D, except to hike the already elevated ticket price. Worth seeing, but wait for DVD or OnDemand.

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Clash of the Titans – Old School

I love Ray Harryhausen, and I love mythology. This springs from an early exposure to the Harryhausen films, especially 1963’s Jason and the Argonauts. In the days before home video local Philadelphia UHF channel 29 had the practice of showing the same movie every weeknight for a week – one of these was Jason, and I loved it.

Later when I saw Harryhausen’s other work, like the Sinbad films, and especially the non-mythic It Came from Beneath the Sea and 20 Million Miles to Earth. His stop-motion work was unparalleled, and even his frequent ridiculous tirades about how Godzilla ripped off his The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (it wasn’t even his) didn’t spoil my love and respect for him. Previews for 1981’s Clash of the Titans however, did.

The effects I saw in the previews were stiff and very unimaginative. They were very unlike Ray Harryhausen’s work of the past in my opinion. And shouldn’t the previews spotlight the best a movie has to offer? It was a known fact that the stop-motion process was painstakingly slow, and an equally known fact that sometimes Harryhausen took drastic shortcuts (case in point – the six-tentacled octopus in It Came from Beneath the Sea), but nothing to my mind could excuse what I saw. I was to learn years later that this was the first film for which he had assistants, and that they had done much of the work. Still, the previews were enough to turn me away from seeing Clash, until now.

I have to say I think my initial reaction was dead on. The Kraken’s first appearance shows little movement and a lot of bad matte screen effects. The acting is horrendous. Harry Hamlin is barely passable, and folks like Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith should just be ashamed of themselves. Even Sian Phillips, the brilliantly evil Livia of “I Claudius,” is only adequate as Cassiopeia. Only Burgess Meredith turns in a decent performance, and he has to share it with a horrid metal owl.

That bedamned owl. What were they thinking? That a movie about mythology, even fractured mythology, needed an R2D2? Wow, and that’s a bad wow, not a good one. I was just about getting used to the bad seventies hair and the bedazzled armor and then this owl shows up. Oh man. And then there’s the two-headed dog – because a three-headed dog would have been harder to animate.

The Kraken in the climax is slightly more mobile but still unimpressive. For a final big bad, it pales in comparison to Harryhausen’s earlier work. Talos and the Ymir (which it kind of resembles) are vastly superior. The seemingly boneless arms are the most ridiculous in my opinion. There is very little menace to the Kraken as far as I’m concerned. What boggles my mind most is how much more superior Jason and the Argonauts is, and it was made in 1963, nearly decades previous, and the special effects are stunning comparatively.

I really didn’t like this much at all, standing by my initial opinion some three decades previous. Here’s hoping the remake is better.

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This 1935 film means a lot to me and I’m really happy I finally got to see it. One of the few times my father took an interest in my writing was when he suggested I see this flick. It must have been at some point when I was watching Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars, and he said, “If you really want to see a good adventure story, you should see She, the original, from when I was a kid.” At some point when I was older I picked up a collection of H. Rider Haggard novels, and I immediately devoured it. Asking my father about it however, I learned he’d never read the books, and had only seen the original film version of She.

Finding that version has been a long road. Even when I worked in video retail, it was considered a ‘lost’ film, with only sparse footage remaining. It was made in 1935 but was seen by a whole new generation in re-release, double-billed with The Last Days of Pompeii (also from ’35) in 1948. Recently restored by Ray Harryhausen, believe it or not, from a print that Buster Keaton had in his garage – it is now available on DVD. Oddly it was originally meant to be a color film but because of budget restraints done in black and white. The restored cut includes a colorized version that uses actual scenery and wardrobe orders to make the colors match the originals.

Now that I’ve seen it I know what my father was talking about. If he had ever seen Raiders of the Lost Ark he might have marveled at the special effects, but the rest of it would be old hat to him because of She. The sets are amazing, especially the hall of the kings, and the dance number/ceremony that takes place there is breathtaking if dated. Max Steiner, composer for 1933’s King Kong, scored the terrific soundtrack, one of his best. Randolph Scott, mostly known for his cowboy flicks, is our hero in the mode that would later spawn Indiana Jones among others, and the startling beauty Helen Gahagan Douglass plays the title role. It was the only film appearance for the Broadway singer who later became a Congresswoman.

She was adapted by Ruth Rose (the writer of King Kong) from the Haggard novel, and produced by the legendary Merion C. Cooper, father of Kong. The action is a step above that of the time, no simple movie serial with a budget is this. The saber tooth tiger and avalanche scenes are great. This is one of the great adventure flicks of not only its time, but, dare I say it, all time. Highly recommended.