Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ray Harryhausen (1920 - 2013)

 On May 7th the world of fantasy film lost a true pioneer in movie magic. Ray Harryhausen was an innovator in the field of visual effects and of course is best known for his stop motion animation effects seen in such fantasy classics as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Vally of Gwangi (1969) and the original Clash of the Titans (1981).
Awaken the Kraken!

My first exposure to Harryhausen was an airing of It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) on local television. I was enthralled by the sight of a giant octopus climbing up the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Around this time I had also seen King Kong (1933) and so I was getting a good classic dose of stop motion animation.

Quite possibly my favorite creation of Harryhausen
 In 1975 my father took me to my first movie in a theater. It was a re release of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. I remember asking my father if the monsters were going to come out of the doors (the exit doors at the front of the theater on either side of the screen) and he chuckled and told me I would see the movie and the monsters on the big silver screen. At that moment the lights dimmed and I do not remember any trailers for coming attractions; all I remember is that classic and iconic musical score from Bernard Herrman. From that moment until the end of the film, I was completely hooked!
Multi-armed death!

I marveled at the Cyclops and how it moved around on the screen. I knew it wasn’t real but it had all the makings of what my mind could dream up. This is what Harryhausen’s work did for me. It had such a dreamlike feel to it that you couldn’t help but be captured by it. The sword battle with the skeleton and Sinbad is still to this day my favorite scene of the film. A few scant years later I saw Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) in the theater. Again I was captured and mesmerized by Harryhausen’s creature creations and skill. The Trogdolyte and Saber Toothed Tiger battle was incredible to my young eyes and well honestly it still is 36 years later. This time around though I paid attention to the credits and discovered the name behind all these incredible creatures. I now knew the name Ray Harryhausen.

This creation actually only had six tentacles due to budget restrictions

That dreamlike feel of Harryhausen’s work that I mentioned earlier, to me is what set him apart from other stop motion animators. If you compare the effects in 7th Voyage to that of Jack the Giant Killer (1962 which also starred Kerwin Matthews [Sinbad from 7th Voyage]) you can see that Harryhausen’s work is superior. Harryhausen’s creations have personality and their movement is more smooth and realistic. This trait can be found on all of his work and it really appeals to me. His creatures are imaginative and full of expression, a trait that I believe is missing from most of the CGI effects of modern day cinema. 
Warriors of the Hydra!

It saddened me to hear the news that Mr. Harryhausen had passed away but when I look at his collection of film work, all the creatures that he has thrilled audiences with over the years and the stories he helped write and produce, there is no doubt that his work and his legacy will live on infinitely. 

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