Friday, May 10, 2013

A Fistful of Harryhausen! (Matt’s Picks)

    Ray Harryhausen, along with Frank Frazetta, were the interior designers of my imagination.  My dreams were built of bricks made from their images.  I can’t say that I was surprised to hear of the death of Harryhausen; as I had been surprised about ten years ago to discover that he was still alive.  Like Frazetta, he went dark in the 80s, and until the advent of the internet (and DVD special features), I had to go on rumor and innuendo.  With his absence, I assumed death.  I am glad that both men lived long enough to see their work appreciated and available to new generations of awestruck children.  Stop motion animation has a magic, something unreal, yet undoubtedly physical.  And he was a master of that magic, creating some of the coolest monsters to ever fight superimposed people.  From skeleton warriors and dragons to dinosaurs and aliens, the man knew his creatures.  Not content to tape fins on a lizard (as so many did), he made monsters that leapt off the screen to terrify and delight.  He died this week at the age of 92.  He will be missed.  But his legacy lives on.  What follows are a few of my favorite Harryhausen creations.

5.  The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms was one of his earlier films, written by his friend Ray Bradbury.  It’s also one of the earliest monster movies I remember watching (along with The Creature from the Black Lagoon) which fostered in me a life-long love of monsters and monster movies.  It’s a great design and has a more ‘realistic’ feel than many big lizards from movies of that era, being more lively, not plodding like most.

4.  The Selenites from H.G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon are a great menacing alien, big heads, big eyes, and devious plans.  Living in crystal caves on the Moon has no doubt made them rather irritable, and humans showing up and messing with their giant caterpillar cattle doesn’t help.  Plus, they probably want our women.

3.  The 7th Voyage of Sinbad features a bunch of awesome creatures, but the one I love the most has to be the Cyclops.  Some combination of traditional depiction, reptile skin, and a horn, along with Harryhausen’s brand of magic made a creature menacing and cool, without the usual dopiness one gets with the creatures.

2.  Probably the most famous sequence in Harryhausen’s amazing repertoire, the animated skeleton battle in Jason and the Argonauts is simply one of the coolest moments in adventure film ever conceived.  Just a great scene, and so inspirational for future special effects movies.

1.  The Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth is one of the coolest monsters ever conceived.  It’s semi-humanoid, but reptilian and strange.  And yet, somehow, like King Kong before, he becomes the sympathetic figure, trapped by the hatreds and violence of Man.


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