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Ray Harryhausen: Magic, Monsters & Mythology Part 2
THE FANTASTIC VOYAGE OF RAY HARRYHAUSEN
"There is no comparison to his technique, none at all. Anyone who is in
the special effects business will tell you that he is the leader of the
field."--Charles H. Schneer With the Fabulous 50s coming to a close (and also America's fascination with big bugs and beasts attacking major cities), Ray Harryhausen turned his attentions towards a subject that meant a great deal to him. Finally putting
atomic age science fiction behind him, he was now free to explore the
realm of fantasy that he'd loved ever since discovering dinosaurs as a
small boy. The next collaboration between Harryhausen and Schneer would
prove to be a box office sensation, and one of the most enduring
examples of fantasy cinema ever devised. THE BEST OF RAY'S BEASTS #5 While
many fans have great affection for the giant cyclops seen throughout
THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), arguably the best sequence of the
entire picture would be the sword duel with the living skeleton. It's a
marvelous piece of motion, timing and effects trickery. The duel itself
had its genesis in a sketch drawing that proved to be instrumental in
the film getting made. The finished sequence was highly touted, and
deservedly so. It also set a precedent for Harryhausen that he would
continue to top himself for the duration of his career.
dusted off an earlier outline, and sketches for what he had titled
SINBAD THE SAILOR. The task of greenlighting a costume production of
this magnitude for a style of film that had fallen out of favor in
Hollywood was as daunting a task as the voyage in the finished film.
After going through a few title changes and dropping numerous sequences
and tweaking others, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) set sail before the
cameras in late 1957. Working with an incredibly ambitious script, some of the changes and eliminations included: the purpose of the voyage (to find a valley of diamonds)
was changed; two Roc's were trimmed down to just a single giant
two-headed bird; a villainous female character was dropped; attacks by
giant rats and bat creatures were eliminated as was a battle between two
cyclops among some others. In
addition to the overabundance of fantasy elements, Schneer was able to
convince Harryhausen they should shoot in color this time per
the subject matter. The esteemed animator relented, but was cognizant
of the problems color film stock would present in achieving the best
results possible for what he wanted to capture onscreen.
VOYAGE was the biggest obstacle for Ray up to this point. By
comparison, the animated effects in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953)
took five months to complete. The skeleton fight in 7TH VOYAGE took
three months by itself. The films final cost came in at $650,000 (nearly $76,000 went to effects). The theatrical unveiling proved celebratory for all involved, and that their efforts were not in vain. The huge success guaranteed more such fantasy pictures were forthcoming.
is] a photographic process which combines a live background, in color,
with a three-dimensional animated figure in combination with flesh and
bone actors."--Charles H. Schneer in Famous Monsters June 1963 pp51.
THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) also debuted the christening of 'Dynamation';
the name of the stop-motion process Ray Harryhausen was using to bring
his creations to life. Both Harryhausen and Schneer experimented with
the process for more than a year before they perfected the technique.
The term would be modified on a few occasions over the years with little
to no change to the process outside of a different name for marquee
say this production was influential is an understatement. For example,
Italy became notorious for producing clones of American movies that hit
dangerously close to their source. However, United Artists commissioned a
film whose similarities weren't confined solely to the storyline -- it
also utilized some of the major principal cast (Kerwin Mathews and Torin Thatcher)
and even VOYAGEs director, Nathan Juran. That film was JACK THE GIANT
KILLER (1962), which was animated by a friend and colleague of Ray's
named Jim Danforth. That picture had a bounty of pleasing sequences.
Even though it felt like a companion piece to Columbia's Sinbad movie (to put it mildly; others would call it a rip-off), the fantasy film realm is all the better for like-minded imagination being brought to the screen. MONSTER MOVIE MEMORIES OF RAY HARRYHAUSEN #2
VOYAGE was not my first exposure to Ray's Sinbad tales. The first was
GOLDEN VOYAGE, which I caught on television in the early 1980s. Not long
after when video stores were cropping up everywhere,
my dad rented Ray's first journey with the Arabian adventurer, and also
JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963). He really hyped up 7TH VOYAGE and it
definitely did not disappoint. As much as I enjoyed it, I still
preferred the second Sinbad picture of the three. However, it was quite
an epic evening to catch two of Ray's best efforts back to back. Both
the colossal cyclops and JASONs towering Talos left a huge impression on
next was a totally different type of voyage, but still a fantasy
picture. That the 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER (1960) retained the services of
Kerwin Mathews and also featured a number in the title was a good gamble
that lightning would strike twice. Despite a slew of effects (lots of mattes and forced perspective)
including a battle with an alligator, GULLIVER didn't replicate the
sizable success of its predecessor. The Dynamation process was re-named 'Super Dynamation'
to promote the production, although there was no difference in the
process. Despite not being of the caliber or excitement of the Sinbad
movie, it's a fun film filled with child-like wonder; but for those
seeking creature thrills, you'll be sorely disappointed.
DYNAMATION COMES ALIVE IN YOUR HOME!
Back in the mid 1960s and onward, it wascommon occurrence to run across ads for regular, and super 8 movies in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. By then, Ray Harryhausen's
movies had become extremely popular with kids and adults and his films
were among those selectable for purchase. These reels had approximately 10 to 15 minutes of footage per reel.The technique of stop-motion was taking off and being undertaken by a new crop of artists. Where Ray had surpassed his master, Willis O'Brien, others were likewise inspired by Ray's work and making their own movies such as Jim Danforth(WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH)and Dave Allen (EQUINOX). THE BEST OF RAY'S BEASTS #6
battle with the giant crab in MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961) seems like any
other action melding of stop-motion with live action, but it's special
in that the crab is not a construct of a rubber outer layer built around a metal armature. For this sequence, it's an actual crabs exoskeleton with the armature inside. The usage of an actual crustaceans shell provides an added layer of realism to this scene. Harryhausen
would then turn his attention back to giant beasts with a sequel to
Disney's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954). Jules Verne and H.G. Wells
were two of his favorite authors growing up, so bringing one of Verne's
tales to life offered an exciting opportunity. Harryhausen contributed four giant threats for this movie. They were all unique for their variety within the animal kingdom -- one's a crustacean, another is a bird, an insect, and finally a cephalopod.
this was a sequel to the 1954 film, there was interest in having James
Mason reprise his role of Captain Nemo. For budgetary reasons, it was
decided to go with another actor, so Herbert Lom was willing to step into the role. MYSTERIOUS
ISLAND (1961) grew on me over the years, and seeing it now, it's a fine
piece of adventure filmmaking. It has a wonderful story of people
coming together to survive amidst a tumultuous time (the setting is the Civil War)
on the title atoll while battling enormous adversaries, meeting Capt.
Nemo and escaping an erupting volcano at pictures end. Backed by a
boisterous score from Bernard Herrmann, the pounding musical cues
compliment the effects sequences nicely. Even
with all its magnificent set pieces and matinee thrills, Harryhausen
and Schneer's Verne influenced epic failed to reap Sinbad level box
office spoils. Since its release, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND has become a classic example of stop-motion enhanced fantasy filmmaking. Turning now to Greek Mythology, the dynamic Dynamation Duo gambled on their most ambitious adventure yet. THE BEST OF RAY'S BEASTS #7
try and limit to a single best scene in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)
is an exercise in futility, so the scene that made the biggest
impression on me was the Talos sequence. While most folks fondly
remember the skeleton battle above all else, for me, the giganticism of
the Talos sequence made my jaw drop when I was a kid. The scene as executed is a suspenseful sequence of fantasy perfection. In
the late 50s and early 60s the Italian Sword and Sandal movies were
popular attractions around the world. Their appeal was waning around the
time Harryhausen and Schneer were working on the awe-inspiring grandeur
of what was then called JASON AND THE GOLDEN FLEECE. It's ironic that
Harryhausen held little interest in Greek Mythology when he was younger,
but by this time in his career, the subject matter was ideal for the
Dynamation process. The project ultimately proved to be one of the teams
most ambitious undertakings, as well as their most expensive up to that time. This
story had been told in 1960 by Riccardo Freda as THE GIANTS OF
THESSALY, but minus the stop-motion animated monstrosities. It also made
up a chunk of Pietro Franscisi's HERCULES from 1957. Speaking of the
Greek demi-god, the character of Hercules had been previously portrayed
by American actors like Steve Reeves and Mark Forest in Italian movies,
but the makers of GOLDEN FLEECE didn't want a musclebound Hercules to detract from Jason's journey. To differentiate from the Italian style pictures, Nigel Green (he was a burly man, but lacked the ripped musculature) was cast in the supporting role of the fabled strongman.
THE BEST OF RAY'S BEASTS #8
While #7 on this list left me in awe, the duel with Jason and two men versus an army of seven skeletons (they were originally to have been moldy corpses)
is an amazing piece of choreography and animated brilliance. Where the
mano a mano between Kerwin Mathews and a reanimated, bony adversary set a
precedent for movie special effects in 7th VOYAGE, this sequence
intensified that on a much grander scale. Harryhausen's painstaking
effects magic in this much trumpeted scene is deserving of its accolades; and one of the best such instances of spectacular special effects in cinematic history.
sure everybody has a JASON memory, or a fondness for this picture. It's
nigh impossible to not be entranced by the wonders that transpire
onscreen for the films 104 minutes; a running time bolstered by a
bombastic score from Bernard Herrmann that is as big as the adventure of
Jason and his Argonauts. Draped in an overwhelming sense of pageantry
and two years in the making, the 3 million budget is one of those cases
where every penny is up on the screen. Harryhausen displayed an
indefatigable hand in capturing his most spectacular work up to that
time. The skeleton sequence -- which is often cited as the movies most
accomplished moment -- took four and a half months to complete all by
itself. It became one of Ray's favorites of his career. Unfortunately,
despite such sights as Jason battling a seven headed Hydra and a duel
with seven skeletons among others, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS performed
below expectations (it did much better on its re-release).
On the bright side, Ray Harryhausen married his wife Diana on October
5th, 1963 after production had wrapped. Over the years, this superb motion picture
has amassed an incredible following, and is a favorite of many. Sam
Raimi's ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992) for example, has Harryhausen's work
stamped all over it. After passing on a script titled 'Breakout of the Loch Ness Monster',
Harryhausen and Schneer moved onto other subjects. Having missed out on
animating the aliens in WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953), and having always
wanted to shoot a film based on H.G. Wells, adapting 'First Men In the Moon' was looking to be an enticing proposition. However, Columbia Pictures was hesitant to touch it. Remaking Wells' novel (the George Melies version from 1902 was famous for its effects work) was a curious
choice, but one Schneer and Harryhausen had faith in. Both the studio
and Schneer wanted to shoot in widescreen for the first time, but like
resisting 7TH VOYAGE in color, Ray did likewise here, but relented once
more. In the end, producing stop-motion photography via a wider expanse
proved problematic and not worth the effort. The finished product was
certainly a different, and unusual motion picture than what the duo were
accustomed to. It performed poorly in America and overseas, and was the
least profitable of the pictures Harryhausen worked on. It has some
interesting ideas, and faithful to the Wells story, but it's also my
least favorite Ray picture. However, the film playfully bridged fact and
fantasy considering the moon race at the time.
Harryhausen's next project would see him fully realize one of his
childhood passions. He would be bringing dinosaurs to the screen. But
this wasn't a documentary ala THE ANIMAL WORLD (1956); this would be a remake of 1940s ONE MILLION B.C. The films evolution would eventually grow into a monster hit not just because of its dinosaurs, but also for one of its stars.
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I've been a huge movie buff since childhood catching old horror and monster flicks on Shock Theater and kung fu movies at the drive-in during the late 70's and early 80's. I've had a long time fascination with, and appreciate all genres of fantastic cinema, good and bad. One fans cheese is another fans juicy steak. I like both equally and seldom find a film I truly dislike as I will find something of interest in just about anything. The bulk of the films or tv series' seen here are mostly from my childhood, or films I own in what has become an Amazing Colossal DVD collection.