Friday, May 10, 2013

A Fistful of Harryhausen! (Brad's Picks)


The Passing of Ray Harryhausen marks the passing of a great American era in genre cinema.  Everything Matt said in his post, I feel the same.  The man was responsible for so much of my childhood imagination I'm not even sure where to begin.  I know that the first Harryhausen film I ever saw was Clash of the Titans.  The Pegasus.  Medusa.  The Kraken.  Bubo.  These creatures infected my idea of Mythology.  I would never be able to hear or read their name in a book again without seeing the foes of Harry Hamlin.  Rewatching the film a few years ago, I can tell you that Clash of the Titans is by no means Harryhausen's finest hour, but it was a birth of discovery - a film that lead to the Sinbad fantasies, the First Men on the Moon, Jason & The Argonauts, Mighty Joe Young and his big bad cinematic papa King Kong.  It's these films that shaped my childhood even in ways I may not have been aware of at the time.  To say that Ray Harryhausen is a giant in the pantheon of moviemaking magic is an incredible understatement - without him or his mentor Willis O'Brien, our big screen fantasies would exist upon a barren, banal landscape.  His legacy will not only live on in VHS, DVD, Blu Ray, & whatever the next format, but also in the million billion films that follow in his footsteps.  Thank you, Ray Harryhausen.


5.  His Influence:  You love Star Wars.  You love Dianoga, Tauntauns, Wampas, and Rancors.  That's Harryhausen.  You love Robocop, the ED-209 & his piggy squeals.  That's Harryhausen.   You love the Ack Acks and the flying saucers of Mars Attacks!  That's Harryhausen.  You love the zombie Pirates of the Caribbean.  That's Harryhausen.  You love every nook & cranny of Guillermo Del Toro's Hellboy films.  That's Harryhausen.  The man can be felt in thousands of creatures - not just their designs, but their personalities.  The ED-209 foot twitch.  The head tilts & smiles of Hellboy II's tooth fairies.  Harryhausen didn't just give you beautiful beasts, he gave you characters to love & fear.  And just because stop-motion has gone the way of the 8-track doesn't mean his style of monstrosity doesn't live on.  George Lucas.  Steven Speilberg.  Tim Burton.  John Landis.  Guillermo Del Toro.  Peter Jackson.  The entire Pixar staff.  The students of Harryhausen are endless in Hollywood.


4.  The Big Crab:  He may not be as iconic as the skeletons of Jason & the Argonauts or the Cyclops of Sinbad's Seventh Voyage, but the mighty crab of Mysterious Island is one of the liveliest beasties in Harryhausen's toy chest.  Constructed from an actual crab carcass, the mighty crustacean is easily the most lifelike of Harryhausen's creations - if not for the projection techniques of the time you'd swear it was a living, breathing abomination.


3.  The Unrealized Harryhausen:  When I learned of his passing, my first action was to reach for the bookshelf; there I found the wonderful Art of Ray Harryhausen and inside I tortured myself with the myriad of unrealized dream projects.  As much as I love the films we have, I cannot help but ache for the films the man was not able to bring to fruition.  Click HERE.  Watch the unscrewing of the Martian projectile, a taste of a real creature feature War of the Worlds.  I dig the George Pal version, but oooooooooo - I'd have killed to see Ray's invasion.  Not to mention his Sinbad of Mars, The Force of the Trojans, Tarzan & The Ant Men.  The man understood saga.  Adventure.  And if you dig into the unfilmed scripts you can see grande, high concept quests that would have rocked our fanboy brains.  But I can live on the dreams...and concept art.


2.  Mighty Joe Young:  This ape will always live in the shadow of King Kong - and, yeah, that's where he belongs - but! working under his mentor Willis O'Brien, Ray Harryhausen surpassed the teacher with his fluid stopmotion techniques.  Kong is an all time classic - it wins on script, creature, & iconography.  But Mighty Joe Young is the better animated film.  It's the gunshot that launched the upstart on his climb to creative legend.  He would make better creatures.  He would make better films.  But this is the beginning.  And it's a film with a lot of thrills - the lions, the fire, the ape anger.


1.  Talos:  Jason & The Argonauts has a half dozen great action set pieces.  The climactic skeleton battle is probably the most famous.  The Hydra fleece fight, the most creepy crawly.  But for my money it's the Argonauts' battle with the titan Talos that's the most memorable.  The way the metal giant stomps and treads upon the teeny tiny followers is utterly soulless.  Most Harryhausen monsters have life and character to them.  Talos is dead inside.  A tin can lumbering across Crete with the sole purpose of destruction.  His dead eyes are as equally as nightmarish as the skeleton screams.  His steamy downfall not nearly as satisfying as other outcomes, but dammit, Talos gave Hercules a serious beating and sent him on his own epic quest away from the Argo's crew.  You can't get much more hardcore than that.


--Brad

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