HARRYHAUSEN - THE LOST MOVIES / AUTHOR: JOHN WALSH / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The history of the movies of Ray Harryhausen - perhaps surprisingly, just sixteen full-length feature films during his lifetime - has been well-documented in lavish coffee table books and biographies issued both during his lifetime and since he passed away in 2013. Less well-known are the films he didn’t make, the projects he worked on that didn’t see the light of day; the films he was invited to work on but decided against, the pitches that just didn’t take flight. This comprehensive and fascinating new book digs deep into the Harryhausen archive (specifically the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation, the charitable trust set up by Ray) and presents, for the first time, sketches, storylines, notes, and lavish illustrations created for many of the eighty-plus films that Harryhausen, for any number of reasons, was never able to bring to life through the magic of the stop-motion animation, the technique that have made films such Jason and the Argonauts, Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Valley of the Gwangi essential viewing for generations of fantasy film fans.
John Walsh’s labour of love book travels across the decades following Ray’s entry into the film industry in the 1930s - inspired by the work of Willis O’Brien on King Kong, Ray became fascinated and enthralled by the tortuous stop-motion, which brought film land’s most famous monster to the screen and which led him to work alongside O’Brien in 1949’s Mighty Joe Young. But Harryhausen was himself a fiersomely prodigious ideas-man, constantly creating storylines and outlandishly ferocious monsters and The Lost Movies gives us extraordinary access to his vivid imagination. In the 1930s, inspired by the likes of Flash Gordon, he created the Jupiterian, a grotesque six-armed alien monstrosity that, alongside the War Eagles (descended from a tribe of Vikings) and the Egyptian-inspired Satyr in the 1940s, never made it to the screen. Harryhausen was obsessed with dinosaurs and the concept of lost valleys and kingdoms; many of his stories centred around explorers stumbling across some lost civilization and the exotic, often prehistoric creatures, which roamed through their primeval landscapes. He wasn’t immune to the allure of science-fiction when it became popular in the 1950s though - It Came From Beneath the Sea, Earth vs The Flying Saucers, Twenty Million Miles To Earth and The Beast from 20000 Fathoms are amongst the most beloved in his canon - and not only does The Lost Movies include sketches and designs for scenes unrealised in these genre classics but also preliminary work done for proposed versions of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds as well as sketches presumed to have been intended for John Huston’s 1956 take on Moby Dick.
What’s perhaps most frustrating about Ray’s career is how difficult he often found it to get projects off the ground. By their very nature his particular brand of film-making was time-consuming and expensive and his career seemed to stutter when films like Valley Of Gwangi failed to find an audience and he was often forced to head back to the sanctuary of the bankable Sinbad series instead of pursuing richer ideas elsewhere which he just couldn’t get financed. Fans and cineastes alike will be surprised to learn of those projects Ray turned down, from The Empire Strikes Back (imagine the AT-AT Walkers animated by Harryhausen!), The Land That Time Forgot to The Princess Bride as much as unused ideas such as King of Geniis (Sinbad vs dinosaurs!), Sinbad Goes to Mars and People of the Mist.
The Lost Movies is a beautiful treasure trove of a book, each turn of the page revealing some beautiful new image or sketch and occasionally even a prototype model of a wonderful new creation that Harryhausen was never able to bring to life. A superb tribute and a fitting testament to a towering and endlessly-inventive creative mind, The Lost Movies is beautifully-presented with the emphasis very much on the visuals which, alongside Walsh’s considered text, provides the final word on the unfulfilled visions of one of cinema’s greatest imaginers.