A Tribute to RAY HARRYHAUSEN
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 con 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. 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, 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.